How can I keep from singing

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I'm not going to lie.

It's been a rough winter.

From dog bites to anxiety attacks to the harshest winter anyone can remember (seriously, the farmers whose ancestors immigrated here from the northern parts of Scandinavia are sick of this winter), I have found myself wallowing in the darkness, wandering in cold places, lost in the wilderness.

My husband did a sermon recently on the temptation of Jesus. He noted that Jesus didn't choose to go into the wilderness, he was lead there (I would venture to guess he might've been dragged). For some reason, the knowledge of Jesus' unchosen time in the wilderness was a comfort. That he didn't desire any of this death or pain and that he understood my own little version of wilderness because he'd been through it, big time.

When my five-year-old came inside today from playing in the melting snow (more like mud, really), she was gloriously happy, red-cheeked and dirty, making her mother breathless by talking a mile a minute about how she'd collected rotten vegetables to feed the bugs in her ant house, how she'd helped Daddy fix the tractor.

After she ran back outside, she left some of her spring behind.

For months, I've been begging for life, crying out for spring, searching for one bright spot of green poking through the wintered earth.

My daughter brought life right to me. Her hands were filthy with it, her eyes sparkling with it, her voice a song to life anew.

I felt so grateful. And I began to sing and cry because I couldn't help it:

"No storm can shake my inmost calm while to that rock I'm clinging; since Love is Lord of heaven and earth, how can I keep from singing?"

My life flows on in endless song;
Above earth's lamentation,
I hear the sweet, tho' far-off hymn
That hails a new creation;
Thro' all the tumult and the strife
I hear the music ringing;
It finds an echo in my soul—
How can I keep from singing?
What tho' my joys and comforts die?
The Lord my Saviour liveth;
What tho' the darkness gather round?
Songs in the night he giveth.
No storm can shake my inmost calm
While to that refuge clinging;
Since Christ is Lord of heaven and earth,
How can I keep from singing?
I lift my eyes; the cloud grows thin;
I see the blue above it;
And day by day this pathway smooths,
Since first I learned to love it;
The peace of Christ makes fresh my heart,
A fountain ever springing;
All things are mine since I am his—
How can I keep from singing?*
*I used to think this was an Enya song. But then I discovered that it's actually an old Quaker hymn. And Love is Christ the Lord. Beautiful!

The force of thankfulness

I have two reactions when I look at this picture of my children, both with black eyes.

First, I wonder what to say when I accept the trophy for Mother of the Year.

But in all seriousness, I think of the tiny moments that could change our lives but that don't. And I think of what gratitude really means.

I had two moments this week.  The first involved Dandelion, a spiral slide and a stick she was holding.  When I heard her scream and flew across the gravel to her, I didn't realize how potent in my mind was a television show I'd seen recently (a very fictional bit of silliness) where the cops were tracking a biological disease in which the victims died with blood in their eyes.

Guess what was coming out of my three year old's eye when I got to her? And guess what my first thought was?  Death by biological disease.

In fact, she had cut her eyelid and it healed very quickly.  But the long stick was found and thoughts of what could've been haunted me for a few days.

Two days later, while cleaning up a broken glass, I heard the sound of furniture falling to the ground.

Which was actually my son falling down a small (thankfully carpeted) flight of stairs.  He was lying face down, his sippy cup of milk close beside him.  And a massive knot already forming under his eye (I believe the cup was the culprit).  Maybe it's the things we associate with falling down the stairs, but this one shook me up too.

He was back to his rascaly self in no time. I knew when he started pulling his sister's hair that he was going to be alright.

These are moments for me when I wonder what thankfulness really is.  Do we allow ourselves to imagine what could've been so that we can be thankful that it wasn't?  How much imagination do we give to the almost future?

I've heard prayers that set us against other people's pain while concluding, "thank God that's not me." Is it right to feel 'blessed' that we don't have the pain that other people have?

That doesn't sit well with me.

There is so much pain in the world and I've limited my news reading because it can become overwhelming.  But I wonder about the balance.  Because I think we aren't supposed to separate ourselves from the pain of others but instead, to take it on as best we can.  While there might be less I can personally do about the violence across the world, I can do something about the pain in my own community.

I don't think I can alleviate another person's pain most of the time.  But maybe I can help her live with it: by a cup of tea, by babysitting her child, by writing a poem or a song, by sharing music or giving money or making a meal.  Maybe it's only a start or maybe it's the best I have to offer.

Maybe compassion is part of gratitude.

Could it be that empathy can only flow out of a life that is lived in thankfulness?