I am looking back over more than twenty years of illness and thanking God for them. Does that sound strange? Ah, but they have brought me gifts, those weary years. I do not enjoy sickness nor suffering, nor the nervous agony and exhaustion that are harder to bear than physical pain. And an invalid must bury so many dear dreams which have death struggles and refuse to die decently and quietly. But God has a way of taking away our toys, and after we have cried for awhile like disappointed children, He fills our hands with jewels which “cannot be valued with the gold of Ophir, with the precious onyx, or the sapphire.”
And what friends He has given me! Are there more loyal friends than those who stand by the sick through the years? My family and friends have prayed for me, encouraged me, quietly sacrificed for me, washed my dishes, rubbed my aching head, offered me everything from new books to their very life-blood for blood transfusions. I should like to speak of a very devoted and tender husband, but that is a matter too personal.
The Gifts of Laughter and Vision
I know that laughter is not listed as one of the gifts of the Spirit, but I do thank God for it. He has undoubtedly given it to man, and personally, I fail to see how an invalid could bear life without it, or how our families could endure us unless we had some sense of humor.
I have thanked God many times for a love of beauty. How He must love beauty, since He took pains to make so much of it! I often think how much pleasure He must derive from all that He has created. Surely He wants us to appreciate it, not to go about with blind eyes, oblivious to so lovely a gift. I am reminded of the verse in Kings, “And the Lord opened the eyes of the young man; and he saw.” There is so much that we could see in the physical as well as in the spiritual world if we would let God touch our eyes. Perhaps He has given to sick people, as a compensation, a freshness of impression, a heightened appreciation of the things which are commonly taken for granted because we are accustomed to them—the marvelous tracery on the wings of a butterfly, the intricacy of a spider’s web, a child’s laughter, and the morning star alone in the sky.
I shall never forget one evening years ago. I had been in bed most of the time for five years, and that particular summer, I had not been out at all. My eyes as well as my soul needed far horizons to keep from growing nearsighted. So that evening I managed to get to the hammock on the front porch. The stars were bright above me, depth beyond depth of velvet space. The branches of an old elm tree were black against the sky, and the shadows of leaves in the moonlight fell over me.
The shadow of a leaf is a marvelous thing, with all that it implies of stationary laws, of creation, of growth, of God. I looked at them as though I had never seen them before. I saw so many wonders that night, wonders that God had made, of earth and sky and winds and trees. And always people passing, footsteps approaching and dying away, never realizing (how could they?) how wonderful were freedom and strength. How my heart went out to these passers-by, each one more precious to God than all the wonders of the night sky. And how surprised they would have been to know that someone, back in the shadows of the porch, had prayed for them! Machine loads of gaily laughing young people, small boys breathless from an evening game of tag, bits of conversation. A child begging, “Daddy, carry me,” and a voice saying tenderly, “Lovey, do the new shoes hurt your feet?” It made me think of a tender Shepherd carrying the lambs of His flock. The memory of my magic night has never left me, and often when things grow flat and stale, I go back to the time when, for a little space, I really saw, when all of earth and all of heaven, all the things terrestrial and the things celestial, were in the living air about me.