In my last post, I talked about God’s reminder to me that C.J. was not mine, but His, and I promised you a story that illustrates this point. It is a story that someone shared with me after we lost Hannah, and it has been very meaningful to me, and to many others. It is recounted by John Claypool in his book “Tracks of a Fellow Struggler.” He was a pastor who lost his daughter, Laura Lou, to leukemia. During the grief that followed, God brought to his mind a story from his childhood that greatly helped his attitude while grieving. I want to share it with you:
“We did not have a washing machine during WWII and gas was rationed. It was going to be a real challenge. At about that time one of my father’s younger business associates was suddenly drafted into the service. My father offered to let them store their furniture in our basement while he had to be away. Well it so happened that they had an old grey Bendix washing machine. And as they were moving in, my father suggested that maybe they would let us use their machine in lieu of our letting them use our storage space. So that was how it happened to get to our basement. The next question became, who is going to become the wash person in the family?
In that mysterious way that families assign roles, I became the wash person at the grand old age of eleven! For the next four years, I had a ritual every Tuesday and every Friday. I would come home from school, gather up the wash, take it down into the basement, fill the old Bendix with water, put in the clothes, put in the soap, and then watch as the plunger would make all kinds of configurations of suds. It had a hand roller that you could take the clothes once they were finished and you could wring them out. I can remember as a child trying to stick my finger and see how far I could go without it cutting off circulation. In other words, I became affectionately bonded to that old mechanism in those four years.
When the war was over my father’s friend came back. One day when I was at school, a truck came to our basement, took out all of their things, including the washing machine, and nobody had told me. It was a Tuesday. I came home and gathered up the clothes, went down in the basement, and to this day I can remember my sense of horror as I saw that empty space where the old Bendix had been. I put down the clothes and rushed back upstairs and announced loudly, “We have been robbed! Somebody had stolen our washing machine!”
My mother, who was not only a musician but also a wise human being, sat me down and said, “John, you’ve obviously forgotten how that machine got to be in our basement. It never did belong to us. That we ever got to use it was incredibly good fortune.” And then she said, “If something is a possession and it’s taken away, you have a right to angry. But if something is a gift and it’s taken, you use that moment to give thanks that it was ever given at all.”
That was the memory that resurfaced that night for me. I remember thinking that Laura Lou was in my life the way that old Bendix washing machine was in our basement and I heard the voice of my mother say, “If it is a gift and it’s taken, you use that occasion to give thanks that it was ever given at all.” And that memory helped me to decide that night to take the road of gratitude out of the valley of sorrow. The Twenty-third Psalm speaks of walking through the valley of the shadow of grief. I would suggest to you that the road of gratitude is the best way I know not to get bogged down in our grief but to make our way through it.
Therefore, the part of the Bible, that became my Bible was that old story that taught me that life is gift, that birth is windfall, that all, all is grace. And I give you the gift that was given to me and I pray that somehow the sense of life as gift will enable you to make a brave and hopeful journey, not just into the valley of the shadow of bereavement, but through that valley to the light on the other side. May your journey be a brave one. Amen.”
I have been thinking about this story as we prepare to return to Indonesia on January 3. Of course I am sad to leave behind our family, C.J., and the fun memories we have made on this furlough. And it’s okay to be sad. But, rather than FOCUSING on the grief, I am trying to follow John Claypoole’s advice and take the road of gratitude. To remember that this time has been a gift from God. And to be thankful. I imagine I will need some reminders along the way.
Want to join me on the road of gratitude?