To say a lot has happened in just one week would be dramatically understating the last seven days. This week was one of those occasions that suddenly makes it obvious just how inconsequential the many minute worries of daily life can be. I think you’ll agree, as much as I wish it wasn’t true, that it often takes a genuinely critical circumstance for people to remember how many reasons they have to give thanks–I know I’ve been particularly guilty of this lately. Last Sunday afternoon, like many Sunday afternoons, I was stressed. I was almost out of time to get my blog post ready; I still needed to make dinner; I hadn’t done the heaped pile of laundry in my room; I needed to ice my ankle; I still wasn’t back in rehearsals yet; the weather was about to get especially nasty. It’s incredible how heavily the weight of small grievances can fuel anxiety and stress. But what’s more incredible is how instantaneously they can be forgotten. At 7:14, my mind–was buzzing with concerns, as it had been for hours, and at 7:15, it was wiped completely of those thoughts when I picked up a call from my mom in the middle of Bible Study. My grandpa was in the hospital and was going to need heart surgery.
Suddenly, the spastic atmosphere of my brain came to a jolting halt. Many of you probably know the feeling, the numbness and fogginess that takes over reality in moments of that nature. I remember sitting through our study that night, physically present among our group but entirely disconnected mentally. I glanced at my Bible, not actually registering the text being read and instead staring at my phone screen, waiting for more messages or calls.
For my grandpa, the following three days brought a whirlwind of visits from cardiologists, hematologists, and surgeons. Details about the necessary surgery came gradually, evolving from whether his blood levels would even allow for it, to when and where it was to take place. By Monday, family members had already begun planning their trips to Charlotte, where he was being transferred for the operation. For me, the next few days were a constant period of waiting and a sharp reminder of how many hundreds of miles separated me from the events and how long it had been since I’d last been able to spend time with my grandpa. I don’t think I noticed my overflowing hamper of dirty laundry once.
The first, less invasive and less risk-filled part of the procedure was completed, and my grandpa felt excellent the day after it was done. I could feel the careful jubilation through the family group text (which was graciously formed by my aunt to keep all us long-distance folks aware of what was happenin
g) –part one was a success, but in two days came the much riskier operation.
I think my family may have managed to get the entire United States of America praying that day. The only details most of us knew were that there were a significant number of stints being inserted, the entire process would take about 5-7 hours, and it was an extremely difficult surgery. My phone was constantly within eyesight: through class, physical therapy, a poetry reading at CMU that night. I think my ankle was hurting that morning, but I don’t remember much. I dropped glove walking from my car that night and couldn’t find it–didn’t phase me. The thought of dedicating any mental energy to a glove when I didn’t know whether I’d ever see my grandpa again was near abhorrent to me. The significance of any personal problems was rapidly dwindling to nothing as the time passed: by eight hours into surgery with no news, I probably could have been punched and not even cared enough to pull my eyes from my phone.
After a long, quiet car ride home, I felt a buzz in my pocket on my way up our steps. Without breathing, I yanked my phone from my pocket, totally numb to the frigid air that bit at my fingers and would have normally prompted a grumbling response. My tense body began to relax the moment I read the first words of the text. “Dr just came out- everything went well…” I whipped my head around to my roommate, who rushed in for a hug, knowing the situation and what this meant. My grandpa was alive. Our worst fears, major fears, even minor fears about the situation hadn’t occurred. I about floated inside, as stunned with the relief and joy as I’d been with fear just four days before. It was an overwhelming sensation, the realization that I could have lost someone incredibly meaningful to me that night–but didn’t.
I want to be careful not to make it sound as though there was any part of this experience that wasn’t absolutely excruciating–it was terrible, beginning to end. But in the moment the nine of us in that group text heard the news of success, each of us received a gift. The hollow pit of apprehension and dread and unknowing that had grown deep within our chests for those eight long hours was, in one second, flooded with the fullness of good news–unbelievably good news. We, all at once, in one second, felt the entire weight of the blessing that my grandpa is in each of our lives, felt it return.
I have a friend who, to my dismay, told me he refuses to put a phone case on his brand new smartphone. When I challenged the rationality of his decision, he explained that as he constantly fidgets with the phone in his hand without the case, he’s perpetually reminded of its value, of how important it is that he takes care not to drop it. This awareness of its fragility trains him to always handle it with care, care that may easily be abandoned with the security of a case.
As hesitant as I was to accept his logic (ok, so it’s more like I verbally abused his logic), it struck me in a different way today. Today, I respect the fact that it didn’t take a disastrous incident for him to establish the importance of acknowledging the worth of his phone. He knows the nature of human pride well enough to realize that people are shockingly talented at having meaningful things in their lives and then immediately taking them for granted. He’s training himself, on a small scale, to abstain from the dangerous complacency of being blessed with one of those things.
While I don’t particularly love the mechanical tone of the word train–especially when it’s being used in discussion of loving people–I can’t help but feel that the incidents of this week are prompting me to realize my need for exercise in gratitude. I’ve been reminded this week of how conditioned I am, in obsessing over tiny frustrations in my day, to completely deny the existence of amazing people and experiences and privileges in my life at the drop of a hat…or a glove. To really, truly, express appreciation for those constants, it often unfortunately takes a reminder that they’re not always guaranteed, a cracked phone screen, if you will. I’ve had an incredible grandpa (two, actually, and two grandmas too) for all 21 years of my life. I could really afford to bulk up on my appreciation of that.
I share this story not as a didactic means to make you feel guilty–I hope above all it keeps me accountable. I think I speak for my entire family when I say that we can’t give God enough thanks for the miracle of this surgery (there were multiple undoubtedly miraculous happenings through this process). As I move forward, though, I hope to make a habit, if habit-forming is what it takes, to give thanks before I realize I may not always get to. I’m clearly far from it now, but I’d love to shed that phone case one day.
Now, our God, we give you thanks,
and praise your glorious name.
1 Chronicles 29:13
Chocolate Peanut Butter Cookie Sandwiches (V)
**Makes about 12 sandwiches
- 1 cup creamy peanut butter
- 3 cups powdered sugar (vegan if desired)
- 6-8 TBSP almond milk
- 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
- 1/8 tsp almond extract
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 2 cups sugar (vegan if desired)
- 1/2 cup butter
- 1/2 cup vegetable shortening
- 8 pieces of Trader Joe’s Dark Chocolate pound plus bar (just over 3oz. chocolate)
- 1/2 cup unsweetened almond milk
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 tsp baking soda
- 6 TBSP cocoa powder
- 1 1/2 tsp salt
- more chocolate, melted in microwave with splash of almond milk
- coarse/flaky salt
- In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, place peanut butter and one cup of the powdered sugar. Mix on medium-low speed.
- Begin adding almond milk and powdered sugar, alternating between each and mixing until incorporated.
- When all the milk and sugar have been added, mix in both extracts and salt on low speed. Increase to medium speed, and mix until very smooth. Add more sugar/almond milk as needed to reach smooth but thick consistency.
- Set aside.
- Combine chocolate and almond milk in microwave-safe measuring cup or dish. Microwave for 20 second intervals, stirring well between, until chocolate is completely melted. Set aside.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, place sugar, butter, and shortening. Mix on low-medium speed until completely combined.
- In a separate bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, cocoa powder, and salt.
- Add chocolate/milk mixture to the sugar/butter/shortening mixture, and mix on medium speed until smooth.
- Begin adding the dry ingredients gradually, mixing on medium-low speed after each addition until the whole bowl has been used.
- Cover bowl, and chill for fifteen minutes.
- Preheat oven to 375°F. Line a large cookie sheet with parchment paper.
- Scoop balls of dough–little less than 1/4 cup each–and place on cookie sheet (I used an ice cream scoop). Flatten each slightly so that it forms a disc about 1/2 inch high.
- Bake cookies in the preheated oven for about 10-12 minutes, or until the edges just begin to get crisp.
- Allow to cool.
- Using piping bag (only if you care about it being neat), pipe a round of PB cream onto half of the cookies.
- Place another cookie on top of each filled cookie.
- Drizzle tops of sandwiches with melted chocolate, and sprinkle with salt to finish.