Unearthing a happy birthday

In amongst the guts of family life, the hidden messiness of relationships, there is the golden nugget at the center of the walk in Christ's footsteps. Surrounded by dirty dishes and tempers flaring and children late to bed instead of early on what was "supposed to be" a special night, right in there with the ugliness and failure and disappointments lie the greatest blessings, the happiest moments. What happens when two people marry each other for love and dreams and find out instead that they must sacrifice both for the service of the other? God steps into the gap and weaves a thousand threads that bind them forever together. He weaves children into the story, and years and years of walking hand in hand even when circumstances almost forestall your walking at all.

God helps you raise your camera and see your wife and children in a vignette of beauty that ignores the mess that crowds in from all sides. God makes beautiful in a way an outsider could never understand. And that cake with forgotten ingredients is a thing of beauty to the wife who looks through the eyes of love Christ bestowed.

God leads you to the child standing in a frightened moment by your over-full fridge, a child frightened by the very dinner you have been struggling to prepare for hours on end. He helps you ignore the late bedtime and he loosens the tight bands of anger that swell around your throat and brings laughter bubbling up from some deep reservoir you'd forgotten.

"Papa?", she says. "IT has legs! Did you shoot that?" We all laugh, and she brings forth a trembling hand to just touch the lobster tails in the fridge. Husband stands guard to give her the gumption. Wife ignores the fish smell invading the kitchen. In between the moments of over-due baths (full of splashing) and pajamas (dug out of endless piles of unfolded laundry) and difficult bedtimes (full of tears and parents raising voices and hopeless grasping at routine after all was torn up again for a sick little girl)...in between the chaos and the cacophony and wits' end, there is grace and love and joy. It is the promise for those who will take up their cross and follow...If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father's commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. (John 15:10-11)

The day is long over, and we are still reveling in our celebration plucked out of the cannonade of post-hospital life. My first reaction when Aaron pulled out Julia Child at 10 p.m. was consternation, I admit. A testament to his years working in seafood restaurants, a brief 30 minutes later Homard à l'américaine simmers fragrant on the stove; and every dish we own is dirty. Two wine glasses are polished from among the chaos, and the sparkles of a Beaulieu Chardonnay distract from all that does not sparkle elsewhere. At some point in the evening, I realize that I have become strangely comfortable with carving joy out of the granite bank of disappointment. It is part of what He is working, this Spirit that now lives in me. God opened up my soul with cancer, cracked open the hardened shell of protection I had constructed, layer upon layer. He got into the tender underside of my heart when the suffering piled on top of what should have been a brief stint with "the good kind of cancer". And then came Amelia, and the loss of the last semblance of control I was clinging to. Now, in a new way, I can say that I am crucified with Christ: neverthless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:20) Thirty-one years of flailing about to protect what never belonged to me in the first place, and I feel the dawn of a new time of my life on this crazy, chaotic, calamitous, crippled birthday.
...walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. Now the works of the flesh are evident: impurity, sensuality...enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, ...and things like these. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another. (from Galatians 5)

Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend. Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for and creates a vision for tomorrow. ~ Melody Beattie

To educate yourself for the feeling of gratitude means to take nothing for granted, but to always seek out and value the kind that will stand behind the action. Nothing that is done for you is a matter of course. Everything originates in a will for the good, which is directed at you. Train yourself never to put off the word or action for the expression of gratitude. ~ Albert Schweitzer ~