My grandmother went to an old fashioned little Baptist church in a dying farm town. It was one of those white clapboard buildings where no one is under 40 unless one of the baker's dozen parishioners brings her grandchildren. They had the cardboard fans in all the pews, with a watercolour Jesus knocking on a door. The fact that they were sponsored by the local funeral home always made me think that Jesus was coming to take away a dead body--The Galilean Undertaker or something like that.
The style of hymns we sang went with the style of the church. I still remember the big four. "Trust and Obey"; "What A Friend We Have In Jesus"; "How Great Thou Art"; and "When Upon Life's Billows".
That was a strange song to learn when you were four and five years old, but it does capture the imagination. Frankly, I think that one hymn is a large reason for my preferring hymns to worship choruses. I'm a wordy person. Tell me this isn't a mouthful:
When upon life's billows
You are tempest-tossed,
When you are discouraged,
Thinking all is lost,
Count your many blessings,
Name them one by one,
And it will surprise you
When you see what God has done.
As Mr. Off The Marketastutely pointed out, it does appear that we are living on a patch of dark cloud over here these days. I am tempest-tossed, or as C.S. Lewis once said,
Part of every misery is, so to speak, the misery's shadow or reflection: the fact that you don't merely suffer but have to keep on thinking about the fact that you suffer. I not only live each endless day in grief, but live each day thinking about living each day in grief.
And that right there is exactly the problem. The shadow of the misery, the darkness piling on darkness.
And that's why a seemingly bromidal task like "counting blessings" is the best thing I know to do at this time.
So here goes nothing:
1. I have a loving spouse
Lewis, in his magnificent gift to everyone, A Grief Observed writes about the death of his wife. Thankfully this possible impending death is not that of my husband. As tragic as it is, God has left me with other comfort.
2. My ill health
For weeks I laid in bed or on the couch loaded with drugs and watching summer pass by my window. And I wondered what the point of it was. Why was I just laying there with little company other than my dogs? Hours and hours were spent with my big black dog at my side, and me angry that I couldn't go places and do things. Now that I realise those may be some of the last healthy days of his life, and I got to spend nearly every minute with him I thank God for slowing me down to enjoy that precious time. Although maybe next time He could just give me a cold.
3. What Pete Townsend Said
Was it Pete Townsend? "Hope I die before I get old..." Me, personally, I look forward to being old. Good thing, seeing as how it happened about five years ago. But for Casey, our beloved dog, it appears that disease may take him now. He's only seven. He's had the spirit of a puppy, the boundless energy and good heart of a young dog. As hard as it will be to watch him diminish rapidly, there is maybe a tender mercy in having him live eternally in our hearts as a puppy, without the years of infirmity that old age brings to dogs. I would keep him forever if I could, but I've always known that wouldn't happen. Maybe this is a sort of kind alternative. Ask me again in awhile.
4. All of you who read this and respond kindly
When I first got the dogs I worked at A Horrible Job with Very Mean People. My dogs were still puppies--not even a year old--but in the course of one lunchtime conversation I mentioned that I would have to take time off from whatever job I was doing when my dog(s) died. The Chief VMP mocked me incessently, repeating that statement to everyone up to and including the president of the company. "She's going to take time off when her DOG dies!" When I would take time off for any other reason she would hector me. "Did your precious DOG die yet?" The implication always being that dogs were not anything worthy of that degree of consideration. But here in blogland I've actually come across more people with real sympathy and empathy for this situation than I ever thought possible. I'm thankful to know each and every one of you and to share in your kind spirit. And I only hope that I can one day repay all of you the kindnesses you've shown me.
And there's more and more and more, which I won't recount here. This is already long past the polite length for a blog entry. But that's the nice thing about taking comfort in counting blessings. When you actually look, there may be more than you ever assumed.