I’ve made a conscious and intentional decision today to be grateful. One might think that wouldn’t be an earth-shattering and momentous announcement. I follow Jesus and believe in a good and amazing God, so being grateful kinda seems like a no-brainer . . . except when it isn’t. This might be somewhat of an isn’t time.

Pastor Kyle and I had the honor of helping one of our families say goodbye, way too soon but when is it not, to a husband and a dad who is gone suddenly from an accident with a 4-wheeler checking his cattle. He loved his wife, his boys, and he loved the land and his animals. His brother called him “cat-man” because of how he talked to the cats on the farm, one of which would ride the tractor with him. I sorta don’t feel so bad about talking to my cats now. Driving out to the farming community passing fields and pastures and farmhouses and barns to do a sacred and humbling thing is both an honor and takes my farm-heart home. My bro-in-law and nephews and great nephews ride those cow-checking pasture-traversing 4-wheelers and things can happen so fast and without warning and sometimes in ways too big to repair. We can say we’re glad he was where he was and doing one of the things he loved the most, and it’s still simply too hard to fathom, and put words to, and make everything alright, because it just isn’t and won’t be for those who loved the most. And . . . it will get different. Not always better. But different.

I choose to be grateful today that Monday was an absolutely and rather surpisingly beautiful and warm February day. It was a little muddy in some places at the cemetery which is situated right at the edge of a Reservoir down a windy gravel road that even this farm girl likely would not have found if not following the funeral home people. Clear blue sky, blazing sunshine, and some farmers in suits and boots pushing the Dodge Charger that he’d driven for 650,000 miles over the course of his life. NOT. EVEN. EXAGGERATING. Of course it had to be in the processional, and of course it was no good in the mud. So there they were, his friends and neighbors and cousins, and even an 80+ years old father-in-law gathered behind the car to push it through the slicker-than-snot muddy spot. We all agreed he might’ve been cussing a little bit that we took his car out there but was also getting a huge kick out of dressed up farm guys having to push it out of the mud. Some moments in life are too beautiful to know how to explain. On a non-coat-wearing day in February you want to linger in the sacred places, and so we all stayed a long time. There was talking and laughing and tears and hugs and some “thank you ma’ams for the service” with hats in hand. And finally a spouse standing strong and straight underneath the tent alone with a casket, and the boisterous crowd of people suddenly in lowered voices and speaking quietly together of deep sorrow. Some with wise and complete knowing, others with an empathy of knowing none of us are finally left out of that circle.

The daughter of my high school librarian was there. Again, not even kidding. A high school librarian in Almena, Kansas in the late 1970’s had a daughter at a funeral in 2020 where her mom’s student was the pastor doing the funeral. You can’t make this stuff up. Classmates of mine and maybe even of my sister’s, do you remember Mrs. Piszak??? Her daughter looks JUST LIKE HER! Mrs. Piszak passed not long ago living well into her 90’s. I think she was the one who first suggested Richard Adams’ book “Watership Down”. I still love that book, and Madelein L’Engle’s “A Wrinkle in Time.”

I’m grateful for farms and families and cousins and 4-H buildings and potlucks and church kitchen ladies who wait til everyone else has filled their plates and then stand in the kitchen visiting while they eat and talk about what’s happening in town. I’m grateful for United Methodist churches who are connected across miles and geographies and seek simply to serve together in times of need.

I’m grateful for a niece-in-law who webstreams my great newphews’ basketball tournaments from Brewster, Kansas, so an old great-aunt can watch when she can’t be there and smile when she hears her nephew with great clarity call one of his son’s by both his first and last name to tell him quite loudly and firmly to “block out”.

I’m grateful that it’s Wednesday and it’s not supposed to snow until late tonight into tomorrow so we uniquely have a week where having Confirmation is not at risk of being cancelled. I think I’m grateful that a week from today we enter the journey of Lent and will once again be invited into an awareness of our mortality and the loving nature of a God who seeks our redemption through the depth of a love that reminds us that death does not have the last word. Because finally that great good news is what keeps us going through the unexpected, and the broken beyond repair, and the bittersweet, and the paradoxical beauty in the midst of deepest sorrow, and the promise of everyday as a gift reaching into every tomorrow.

The video this week simply makes me smile and makes my heart happy. It’s a flashmob from a random school’s pep assembly with the teacher’s doing the unexpected and the energy it brings to the students is contagious. One of the gifts of this week is a musical educator who travelled the miles to bring comfort to a colleague with an unsurpassed voice in talent and in compassion. Colleagues in public school education have firsthand knowledge how hard they all work for the sake of our young people. The support they give one another is humbling, and we are grateful.