January first, everything is so new and virgin. Or that’s what the idealists among us want me to believe. Somehow it gets me every time – the hope that the world turning one day older will somehow change everything. Then, at least in my story, the cherry gets popped and everything resolution-related goes to hell in a hand basket. Before that, though, there’s always this moment when I pray and ask God to show me what this year should be about. It’s a tradition I watched my dad form, adopting a word to guide where the heart and mind should go in the new year. This year I adopted a phrase.. a repetitive prayer of “thank you, thank you, thank you.”
I don’t know exactly where the prayer came from, I just know the other prayers I’ve tried of “I’m gonna be better.” and “I”m gonna get skinnier.” never went well. On this 2017 new year day I had so many moments of thanksgiving. We woke up with some of our best friends in our house, after a late night raucous sleep over. We ate good breakfast and nursed gentle hangovers. When they said goodbye, we stayed in our p.j.s and played games and watched movies with the boys. I just kept looking at our kids, our home, at husband, and whispering little repetitive thank you’s. It was all such a gift.
That evening as the sun was going down way too early, as it selfishly does in January, the sunset was one of the most beautiful things. I remember how starved I was for beauty at that point. Dark, midwest winters are not friendly, so this color and light through the grey was gift-wrapped. I stood in the kitchen and whispered to the Spirit in the air, “thank you, thank you, thank you.” That was the moment I know what the new year would be about.. thanking God for the little and big moments of surprise grace and beauty – the moments that were clearly gift-wrapped by someone who is not me.
Naturally, I thought these moments would involve all the good, glamorous scenes of life – trips to Europe we’d been talking about, running on the beach with my kids, friends gathered around long tables, health, wealth, success. Six days later, the migraine hit. We didn’t know what was happening for the first six hours. I remember googling symptoms of a stroke. The last time I had heard of someone doing this, it was the sister of a dear friend, and she turned out to be having a stroke. I wasn’t having a stroke, but blood supply was being cut off to certain parts of my brain temporarily, or that’s what the neurologist told me. My migraines mimic signs of stroke but MRI and some telltale signs show they are “just complex/complicated aura migraines.” “Sporadic Hemiplegic Migraine” was his diagnosis.
I didn’t say my “thank you..” prayer about anything for several weeks after the migraine hit. I spent over a month in bed in and out of migraine hell. Some days I lost my mind in fear and desperation. Other days I binge-watched Netflix and tried to forget this was all happening. Some days I just cried and slept and cried some more about the time lost, the normalcy lost, the seconds lost with my boys. At one point I remember telling Jeremy, “I just want to stand in our kitchen at night and chop onions for dinner.. I want the normal back.” Weeks grew into months and months brought the perspective that I have bad days and good days. Time helps us see that grace is waiting to be found in both our good and bad days – she doesn’t discriminate. On the bad days I’m fairly worthless and so, grace has to come upstairs and down the hall to me.. and she does. On the good days, I’m starting to catch myself saying my “thank you.. “ prayer again but it isn’t about colossal beauty or trips to Europe or running on a beach or anywhere else. International travel and running are off-limits to my body until we figure out how to fix what’s broken.
I said the “thank you, thank you, thank you.” prayer the other day while wiping down my kitchen counters. I was spraying and scrubbing off the mess of dinner prep, meat fats, sticky rings from juice glasses, drops of soup spilled on the stove, and the flecks of spilt coffee grounds. I realized I had just spent an evening in the kitchen with my family. I had chopped an onion for dinner! It almost took my breath away, how gift-wrapped and sacred that mundane moment was. I paused, whispered “thank you, thank you, thank you.” with tears in my eyes. I made the scrubbing my prayer, watching dirty surfaces become clean, watching health restored to my home and my family .. all because grace intervened and gave me a good day, a day of participation in my life.
That’s the miracle lately. That’s where the joy is for me. Not in waiting for everything to get better forever and ever, amen.. that decision is beyond my pay grade. The joy and grace are found in grabbing the moments, seconds, and days as they come, in squeezing every single drop of life I possibly can out of them before it runs out. The miracle of grace comes in the form of cutting onions and cleaning kitchen counters.
I also have more use for my “thank you..” prayer these days, thanks to you, dear heart. I mean it. Every time I’m well enough to write a letter to you. Every time I realize you’ve given me seconds of your one and only, oh-so-fast life to take in what I wrote. Every time I read an email or response from you telling me how you share this human story with me – it’s all so gift-wrapped. I read what you wrote, I think about grace and what she says to us, and I write back as I whisper, “thank you, thank you, thank you.”