Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Reflections on Gratitude

“That is why I tell you not to worry about everyday life—whether you have enough food and drink, or enough clothes to wear. Isn’t life more than food, and your body more than clothing? Look at the birds. They don’t plant or harvest or store food in barns, for your heavenly Father feeds them. And aren’t you far more valuable to him than they are? Can all your worries add a single moment to your life?”
Matthew 6:25-27 (New Living Translation)

I woke up this morning in the after-glow of Tampochocho. The cares and burdens of modern life here in America haven’t yet been able to choke out the roots of those wonderful days.

At about 8:00 A.M. I left for Wichita to have the Veteran’s Administration review my current medications and to get some of them refilled. Being a veteran has some benefits for which I’m very grateful.

By 8:20 I was passing by mile marker 109, one of my favorite places in all the world. Any time I pass by that wondrous point I get a sense of my own smallness, which I believe is very healthy for the American soul. I gazed off to my east. There was a stiff breeze from the south, about 20 to 30 miles an hour, which caused the tallgrass to bend toward the north. The wind stopped momentarily and the tallgrass stood erect, like platoons of soldiers coming to attention on command. I took it as an opportunity to pull the car over, stop, and meditate on the beauty before me. There, a sense of peace and well-being overwhelmed me. I was so keenly aware of being under the great umbrella of grace, sharing the moment with the birds of the air and the lilies of the field, basking in the truth that as it is with every grain of sand, every hair on my head is numbered. It was a quiet, yet powerful moment.

At 8:40 I resumed my journey. For the next fifty miles or so the grace and peace of the day settled in. It was as though the gentle fire of everlasting life was beckoning me on. As one mile marker gave way to another, I saw faces of loved ones in my mind’s eye radiating back the love of God to me. There was my wife Nancy, my sons and daughter, my brother Bill, his wife Marilyn and their children. Thom, the young Vietnamese student who lives with Nancy and me, was there. My sister was there, as were my grand-children, Ashley, Josh, and Rebecca. So were Pastor Mike and his wife Jannie. Gerald Clock and Larry Hayes were there at mile marker 81, close to El Dorado Lake. Not far behind was the rest of the group Nancy and I had gone to Mexico with. And, so it went. With each face that passed gently past my view I sensed God’s love mirrored in each.

I arrived at the Robert J. Dole V.A. Hospital at 9:40. By 10:00 I was sitting in a waiting room, a newly anointed member of “Team Three.” A few minutes later the call came, in a quasi military fashion – “Dillon!”
I wasn’t sure whether or not to salute or stand at attention and wait for orders. “That’s me,” I replied.
“Right this way, Mister Dillon. I’m Lisa and the adventure begins here.”

Normally I feel a chill in a doctor’s office, but today it was different. The overpowering sense of everlasting life that had beckoned me down the turnpike seemed to be there in the room with me. I felt, as John Wesley famously said, “strangely warmed.”

The routine proceeded. My blood pressure was 125 over 70, or “right on the old bazoo,” as Lisa put it. “No fever.” “Ears clear.” She peered intently into my eyes. “They’re a bit red, looks like you either have allergies or you’ve been crying.”
“Little happy tears,” I confessed. “Just something that happened on the turnpike.”
“I see. Well, next I get to ask you some questions.”
“Any family history of diabetes?”
“Heart disease?”
“I don’t think so.”
“Do you smoke?”
“Gave the habit up forty years ago.”
“How about alcohol?”
“A couple of glasses of wine a year or a nice cold Heineken occasionally after I mow the lawn on a hot summer day.”
Then, she broke the routine, with what seemed an odd question. “You don’t suppose you could pray that we’d all get tomorrow afternoon off so we can get an early start on visiting relatives for Thanksgiving, do you?”
It took a moment for the question to register, then realizing it was a perfectly good question I said, “Absolutely…Sure thing…I’ve got an in with the Almighty.”
Lisa smiled. “I kinda’ had a feeling.”

By the time it was all said and done, I’d gotten a pneumonia shot, blood tests, and a complete thumping of the tires. I think I got a clean bill of health. Along the way I got to meet a lot of wonderful people. Their faces, like the familiar faces I’d seen along the turnpike, mirrored back the love of God I was feeling as I’d made my way south. There was Doctor Khanam, a young physician from Bangladesh and Bao Linh Duong, a pharmacist from Vietnam. In the pharmacy waiting room I got to sit with an old band of brothers. Most looked worn and weathered. Their pot bellies and the graying temples had become their latter day badges of honor. Some were in wheelchairs, some carried oxygen bottles. I felt a bit out of place. I don’t have any of the visible scars of service, only memories, most of which were healed years ago. I offered a few silent prayers for those I saw and spent another few moments expressing my gratitude for the good health I have.

On the trip home to Emporia the grace and peace once more overwhelmed me. This time it came in short waves, with the faces once more passing into view. The small happy tears flowed at mile marker 71…and mile marker 92…and then again at mile marker 109.

I’m back home now and the keyboard I’m typing on looks like it’s lit up by heavenly, neon lights. The warmth of everlasting life seems to be filling the room.

Come Thursday friends and family will be in for Thanksgiving dinner. I’m not sure how long the glow will last. I hope forever, but I don't really know. There are a few words from a Van Morrison tune that express how I feel right now – “Wouldn’t it be wonderful if life was like this all the time.” Not knowing whether the fire will still be burning a couple of days from now, I feel compelled to express my thanks now. I’m grateful for faces…I’m grateful for the opportunity to lift small, silent prayers to heaven for bands of weary brothers and clinic nurses…I’m grateful for living under the great umbrella of grace and love… I’m grateful to be living in the presence of the sparrows that fall and the lilies of the field…I’m grateful to know that while I will one day wither, like that grass that withers and fades, that my days aren’t fully numbered yet…And, most of all, I’m grateful for light of everlasting life.

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