I am sitting in the walk-in clinic and my throat is on fire. I lean my head back in the chair, longing to be at home, and I am now imagining a day, a week, a month, where I have few obligations. I conjure a day spent, windows open, piano music in the background by way of Alexa, dusting the hutch, brushing our dogs, not a care in the world. Strings of days void of all deadlines as I pause to sip fine coffee, take leisurely strolls through the neighborhood, texting our children and phoning my husband at work just to say: Hey there, husband of mine.
I close my eyes, lost and treading water in my pretty little palace of unreality, waiting to be called back for my throat swab. Suddenly, a woman trips over my extended legs as she leads her coughing daughter from the waiting room to the common restroom.
I pull my aching legs back as her little brown-haired pixie, maybe five-years-old, passes by. Another spasm of coughing erupts, as the mother propels her sick little one into the bathroom with a Hurry up! as she closes the heavy door.
She glances my way.
I don’t mean to stand over you, she says, but my daughter will probably need my help again. She thumbs toward the closed door and rolls her eyes in great exaggeration, seeking comradery in the annoyance of children.
Not today, Mabel, I am thinking.
You’re fine, I say instead. My throat hurts so much that it is painful to speak.
And then I hear: Mommy!
The woman pockets her phone and sighs, shoulders slumped in frustration as she enters the restroom. She must not realize how paper-thin the walls are as she closes the door behind her. Echoes of spoken impatience flood the waiting room. I am both annoyed and embarrassed on her behalf.
Your daughter is sick, I long to say. Be kind to her.
They emerge from the restroom, mother and daughter, hands dripping. Paper towels must have run out, I imagine, and I watch as they plunk down into a chair across from me.
The mother slides her favorite world from her back pocket and begins the almighty scroll, her thumb breaking records and her eyes desperate, as the little girl leans against her arm in between coughing jags. The mother’s eyes remain fixed to the screen as she inhales all of the juicy tidbits that will never satisfy. She has disappeared into a dark forest, utterly lost in false reality, into a place light years apart from the actual terra firma she has been gifted: the little person coughing beside her.
I am now convicted of my judgy thoughts. I ask God how it is possible for me to be thankful and peaceful with a throat aflame and aches all over while a mother masquerades across the aisle and a little girl is all alone as she presses closer, seeking comfort from her distracted parent?
The Holy Spirit nudges, bringing to mind my own recent thoughts. (Matthew 7:3)
Okay, so I was not on my phone, but I was definitely scrolling through escape scenes that diminish my current reality. Imagining a carefree life void of sickness, deadlines, genuine relationships, and weighty responsibilities. Void of everything God had graced to me in this actual here-and-now.
And isn’t this the pulsing drumbeat of grumbling? Wanting something just out of reach? Escaping to a plot of earth where the grass grows only a bit greener?
I was blessed with a bona fide friend during my later years of college. Thursday nights were our meet-for-dinner-in-the-dining-commons-and-engage-in-honest-come-to-Jesus-conversations.
In other words?
Genuine accountability and discipleship. But never mind the labels. We were friends. And real friends speak truth.
I had no idea at the time how rare such friendships are.
The two of us swam to the deep end those Thursday evenings so long ago.
I will never forget her words:
Kristin, a grateful heart is always satisfied.
So I close my aching eyes and pray for the little hacking girl and her mother. I try to put myself in the mother’s place: maybe she didn’t sleep a wink last night, or maybe she lost her job and is frantically scrolling for job opportunities. Thus the apathetic, lukewarm distractedness.
Maybe. But regardless? It’s not my business.
So I turn it around and thank God for the precious gift called motherhood, with all of its twists and turns and beauty and heartache.
I see the receptionist running a credit card payment and ponder the bill I will receive from today’s visit, which momentarily distracts me from practicing thanksgiving.
So I turn it around yet again and offer gratitude for my husband’s work, my work, and for our children’s jobs. God is our Provider, and every paycheck is his grace in our lives.
I am on a roll now, and I remember another stunning gift – prayer. You, dear God, allow your lowly creatures of dirt and rib to speak directly to you at any given time, our words a sweet aroma. (Psalm 141:2)
Thank you for walk-in clinics.
Thank you for Advil.
Thank you for a bed to sleep in and warm, soft blankets.
Thank you for the perfect weight of our grandson in my arms, and his little boy laughter.
Thank you for the most stunning fall I remember, and for the leaves now dropping and crunching under my feet as I walk.
Thank you for gifting us with stars and moon and sun, cold winds and fluffy snow.
Thank you for birds that sing and deer that graze.
Thank you for the gift of a growing family.
Thank you for nieces who correspond the old fashioned way as I joyfully pluck letters from our mailbox.
Thank you for Christ Jesus, who is coming back soon.
The little girl begins hacking again as the doctor calls my name.
I would love to share that the mother brushed back her daughter’s hair and planted a tender kiss on her forehead, pulling her close and reassuring her of her presence.
The truth? She kept scrolling.
I wish I could report that I felt better quickly, and that all returned to normal the next day, and I caught up on my work, but I didn’t.
I will say, however, that as I walked into the exam room feeling much like thin soup, my heart was well, robust once again, soft and tender and full of gratitude to God.
He had used a sore throat to bring me to the mirror of my pathetic self: tired, whiny, judgmental, and disquiet of heart.
But as the Holy Spirit flicked his spotlight, I was graced with the opportunity to see and turn back to God.
Yes, a grateful heart is always satisfied.
I was no longer daydreaming, filling my mind with a different set of circumstances, but instead choosing to thank God for what is, and what he is doing today.
Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say, Rejoice. ~Philippians 4:4