Tales from a Grateful Heart

About a month ago I woke up with severe chills and a fever. I thought I was coming down with the flu, so I immediately went to see my family doctor. He quickly ruled out the flu, but cautioned me to keep a careful eye on my right leg which was aching and appeared to have a slight discoloration. He said. “It could be something more serious…cellulitis—an aggressive skin infection.” Twelve hours later there was no doubt. I woke at 3:00 in the morning with a lower right leg that looked like it had been dipped in boiling oil. I ended up getting a week of IV antibiotics in the hospital, and two weeks of IV antibiotics at home. And since the infection got into my knee joint, I had to have arthroscopic surgery to rinse it out. Six weeks later I’m back to work, although I’m still doing physical therapy to overcome the effects of the swelling.   

Many of you may remember I was in the hospital last year at this time for open heart surgery. In fact, the timing was almost identical: in both cases I was down on Good Friday and up by Easter. I appear to have found a new way to celebrate the holiday that honors the ancient tradition. As it happens, the two medical issues are connected. The bypass operation required the use of a vein from my leg for spare plumbing parts; and its removal made the leg more susceptible to infection. 

So why did I title this story of medical woe, “Tales from a Grateful Heart?” Well, in March we led a day-long retreat with exactly that theme. In my preparatory scripture research for the event, I discovered the word “thanksgiving” listed 69 times in the Bible, the word “thanks” 169 times, and the word “praise” 393 times. And the vast majority of those verses are not extolling us to be thankful for what God does for us, but rather to be thankful for who God is. The words “Give thanks to the Lord for he is good; his steadfast love endures forever,” appear in I Chronicles and in Psalms 100, 106, 107, 118, and 136. We thank God simply for his goodness and his love—apart from any material blessings.   

It’s this type of gratitude that relates to my health issues. Because in the midst of crisis, all I can say is: God showed up. What do I mean by that? Did I learn an important lesson? Was I changed for the better? Did I see a silver lining somewhere in the dark clouds? Maybe. But truthfully, in some ways I have fewer answers now than I did before. What I do have, is a deeper experience of my lack of strength, the limits of my understanding, and my absolute need for God. And in that need, I mysteriously encountered the presence of God—the God who loves me, regardless of whatever is happening or might happen.  

Gratitude, at its core, is a realization of our dependency on God. And grateful dependency is what allows us to experience God’s grace in our lives.