I admit it: Sometimes my attitude stinks.
I wake up heart sick—breathing sighs, swallowing complaint, coughing up rot. It spreads quickly, my gray brooding. Suddenly I look around, and my husband and children carry my heavy. My ungratefulness wraps their shoulders, black and thick-chained. And together we ache, weary of this place, and our blinded eyes gaze recklessly upon darkness.
And that’s when the Spirit grips me by the shoulders, Father-fingers pressing strong. He whispers hot words I know, words I don’t really want to hear just then. How long will you wickedly grumble against me? I have heard your complaints. And if you choose this, I will offer you exactly what you say (Numbers 14).
And I repent at the sound of grief in His voice.
“You choose the attitude, it doesn’t choose you.”
I whisper it in the morning light, rebuking myself, pressing into the run.
And that’s when I begin again, gathering gifts, breathing deep. That’s when I realize I can run, and that’s a gift. That’s when I notice the glittering dew gems scattered everywhere on the grass. I smell the honeysuckle blooming, catching the lingering memory of honey on my lips. And back home, I count the fat-stemmed sunflower that blooms mysteriously under my mailbox—a surprise–and the blossoms that came just after like bright frills, just below, a matching happy yellow. I count the sunny bird perched there among them, hidden until he takes his elegant flight. I fill up my arms before I return to them, so I can walk back inside our house ready to scatter glory instead of shadow.
It’s a hard fought choice, this joy, this light-bearing gratitude. Trust me, I know. It’s a discipline. Never believe the joyful have it easy. Thoughts can be Spirit-gilded, but every life hurts.
The truth is that sometimes—too often, really— I forget that I get to choose the eyes through which I see, that this freedom is God’s first gift to me. Start your list. Label it: 1. You get to choose. See, when I’m heart sick, I forget that. I forget that Who (or what) will be your Lord? is a question for every morning, for every moment, for every circumstance.
Gratitude is the attitude sculpted by the intentional observation of grace, and joy is a collection of true gifts gathered up in our arms, too many to hold. I want to weave those gifts into a blanket to cover my family, a warmth to chase away the cold, a covering for our living that is so bright with glory that our eyes see nothing else. And so I wrap my children in my arms and whisper into their tears: You get to choose. And I wonder, the way a mother does, if they really hear me. Because the way I fight for joy, I know it’s asking a lot of them.
“Sometimes I’m sad and I don’t really know why.”
Casually, she speaks, in the afternoon as we unfold out of the van, as we lift bags and plant our feet on the ground. She could be saying anything, the way she flattens the words, the way she presses out her feelings. ”You know, Mom? You know how sometimes you feel like you could just cry and you know it’s nothing—maybe just that you’re tired?”
I smile, seeing in her the gathering storm, all the wild feeling that shapes a woman. She is in one moment a candle and in the next a roaring fire, and all that burning threatens the integrity of the soul-house, the tissue and bone still too small to contain so much heat. Her body can’t quite keep up with what’s simmering inside her. ”Yes. Welcome to what it means to be female,” I say, laughing, reaching for her, smoothing the hair on top of her head as I nudge her into the house. ”When I was your age, I felt that way a lot, especially at night. I learned to tell myself, ‘You’re just tired. Go to sleep. You’ll feel much better in the morning.’ Sometimes I still have to tell myself.”
“I do that,” she says, “and I think about what I’m thankful for. That always helps.”
“That always helps,” she says, and this too is a gift. Thank you.
I offer this silently to God, stopped suddenly by the rush of Spirit, a flood of scripture and memory and truth. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts…And be thankful (Colossians 3:15). Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things (Philippians 4:8). Take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5). Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18). It’s never been just a simple suggestion, and it’s a hard teaching for a child—for me!—that we choose the heart-ruler.
“You choose the attitude. It doesn’t choose you,” I say, because she knows I will, smiling with her about this mantra we share.
These words live, passed down, echoes of my own rooting. I remember thinking them harsh when tears stung my little girl skin and my dad tightened his arms about my shoulders, expecting the better choice of me. But the teaching abides every time I find myself in the pit of despair, it is the ladder I find with my hands, thickly plaited and thrown strong against life’s dirty walls. It’s the lesson that lays the corrective lens in my empty palms when I am blinded by the desert dust.
You get to choose.
I spoke just those words, living, strong, right into her ear as she lay hungry in a hospital bed, her body poisoned by diabetic ketoacidosis. It wasn’t the first time she heard me say them. But this is the day she remembers; the day tears soaked her cheeks and the eucharisteo came hard; the day she understood the difficulty of the choice; the day I insisted she count blessings with me when the complaint twisted her bitter. Hard fought joy casts the deepest roots. I remember crying with her that day, wrapping my arms around her thin body, praying she would soon feel full again. And together, we gathered gifts like scattered pearls, and we tasted the sweet of them on our lips.
And so she grows, and woman blooms wild in her heart, and I smile deep because she has heard me, in spite of all my struggling.
And I can see it, bright and thick-stemmed: God has rooted her for joy—a surprise waiting for the days when life hurts.