Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Flashing Lights and Winter Woes, Revisited.

**While scurrying around this week, I stumbled across this post from my {old} blog.  It is dated almost exactly one year ago, and it was good for me to revisit these thoughts and be reminded about the many blessings in my life as we approach yet another NEW year!
On our way home from Ohio this Christmas, my three kids, husband and I were driving through the foothills of Kentucky on 75 when suddenly the check engine light started flashing like crazy. I grew up in a home where cars regularly had flashing check engine lights and we simply covered it with black electrical tape, but to Steve it was new and scary. We slowly and carefully prayed our way through the next three states, hoping that our 1997 Plymouth Voyager would give us one last trip home.

As we sat for six hours in van-related thought and conversation, I kept thinking about how although I had never been “proud” to drive a little white mini-van from the 90's, I had taken for granted the fact that it would be around to get us where we needed to go for at least a few more years. As much as I had kicked and screamed about having to drive a mini-van in the first place, I realized not only had our tiny Voyager made us mini-van fans (with its sticky sliding doors and low gas mileage), it had also found an endearing spot in our hearts.

Cynthia Ozick, one of my favorite essayists, said, “When something does not insist on being noticed, when we aren't grabbed by the collar or struck on the skull by a presence or an event, we take for granted the very things that most deserve our gratitude.” How true is that? How often does it take a flashing “check engine light” to get our attention? I started thinking about all the things I take for granted daily, the endless list of things I fail to appreciate, the lack of gratefulness I show to everyone and everything around me, and I was completely overwhelmed.

The very fact that we made it to our home from the highway was something to be thankful for since 37,261 Americans are killed annually in crashes (U.S. Census Bureau). I am not the kind of person who is afraid to drive my car or fly in a plane, but the fact that we have the luxury of driving in cars and flying in planes and safely returning to our homes in the first place is really pretty remarkable if you stop and think about it.

One week after Christmas vacation we made the decision to cut our cable. Those who know me will sympathize with how much I have grown to love the convenience of cable TV and most of all, the undisputed best modern day invention: the DVR. It was painful to pack up the box to Dish Network and heartbreaking to lose hours of saved material on the DVR. I had more than begun to take advantage of the ability to pause, rewind and fast forward live television and I had forgotten how to sit and actually watch a commercial. I took for granted that my DVR box would always say, “Good morning! What do you want to watch today?” I miss my 140 channels and I hate the black pointed bunny ear antenna above my bookshelves. After a week though, I am honestly realizing I do not miss aimlessly lying in bed watching shows I don't really care about. I am already enjoying going to bed earlier and reading more. But I digress.

If there is one thing that never ceases to amaze me, if there is one thing we all take for granted daily it is the created universe. Just the ability to sit here typing this—I am held down by gravity, I am breathing oxygen in a perfect atmosphere as the perfectly sized Earth perfectly rotates around a Sun that would burn us if we were closer and freeze us if we were any further away. I could go on and on about this. Many more facts here.

In fact, the simple act of breathing is a work of art that leaves me speechless when I really think about it. When I take a breath, there are so many intricacies that go into making my heart and lungs work in perfect unison and it is really almost shocking that more things don't going wrong or that we aren't sick all the time. For those of us who are visual, here is a neat video

A few years ago I read Where is God when it hurts? by Philip Yancey and although it's not the kind of feel good book you want to just pass out randomly to your friends, I learned a lot by reading it. He talks repeatedly about working with leprosy patients in India. I never knew that leprosy is actually a disease of the nervous system; basically those with leprosy lose the ability to feel things and therefore hurt themselves routinely because they lack the ability to tell when they are in danger (i.e. touching a burning stove, wearing shoes that don't fit and ruining their feet, etc.) I had never looked at the ability to “feel” as a blessing before. I had never realized that even the ability to hurt is sometimes a good thing. We take for granted the fact that when we hurt, whether by slamming our fingers in the car door or when we are slighted by someone we love, if we lack the ability to feel intense pain, we would also lack the ability to know love or joy. We would be apathetic robots with an “I have it all together” status, but feeling nothing.

All this is nothing new and I write it mostly for myself. I am sarcastic and melancholy and I have the emotional capacity of a grape nut. I know it's impossible to skip around singing praises for every breath we take and every blessing we receive, and frankly I would be tempted to trip you if you skipped past me. However, if we stop daily to appreciate just a fraction of the amazing things happening in our lives, we might all be a little less crabby. If I pretend like the orange check engine light is flashing every time I enter the Voyager, I might savor the times when we reach our destination, instead of fussing and whining when we inevitably break down.

“When it comes to life, the critical thing is whether you take things for granted, or take them with gratitude.” G.K. Chesterton


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