We had no beds for our children after Hurricane Katrina. I remember sitting on the curb outside of an old K&B Drugstore that had long closed down in the small town outside of New Orleans where I had grown up. My oldest daughter struggled as a toddler to sit beside me while my younger daughter, only five months old, slept in her car carrier in front of me. My husband had gone in alone to the retired drugstore that was now a donation center to locate a baby bed. I sat shifting through our present state in my mind: we had several college degrees, had worked hard to care for our budding family, and enjoyed a large supportive family. Here we sat, though–naked. Hurricane Katrina had stripped us and exposed us to great vulnerability. Why was all of this happening? As I sat on the curb, I pondered, “Do I matter? Do we even matter?”
Twice, as I sat melting in the Louisiana sun, federal and local aid workers approached offering aid to me and my family. I denied the help and dug more deeply, “Does any of this matter? People are suffering so greatly in so many places, how can God hear the cry of the poor?”
My husband emerged with no baby bed, and we moved to our car. We had a car. I wept as I sat in the comfort of our car. My husband comforted me as he drove to a local Kmart and walked me around placing simple wash cloths and clothes for my girls into my hands. “We will have what we need,” he said. I felt the softness of the washcloths and felt the grace of God pour into me through the mundane and practical moment.
As my hands rubbed the simple fabric, I felt the warmth of God wrap around me. God hears. We matter to God. Emily Dickinson wrote in her famous poem Hope is a thing with feathers:
Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune without the words,
And never stops at all,
Hope rises when we know the presence of God. Like Dickinsons’ bird, it perches in our soul and sings a song that does not stop. We have all had moments when we have felt the rising of hope inside of us. I began a list of all the things in my life that I was grateful for.
I remember looking into the eyes of my children and husband as my heart rose in gratitude. I considered all of that my eyes could capture: my husband, my children, my extended family, my friends. Hope rose in me as gratitude expanded in me. The more gratitude that I gave to each beautiful thing in front of me, the more hope began to sing that “tune without words.” Even today, more than 15 years later I feel hope because of the gratitude I felt in the days that followed Hurricane Katrina.
As subsequent “storms” passed through the lives of my family and friends, I tried my best to stand beside them and water the seeds of gratitude so that hope might grow. Too, as a spiritual director, I try to encourage moments of ongoing gratitude in prayers of gratitude.
How has gratitude grown hope during a storm in your life? How could gratitude help hope rise in you during a current storm you are enduring right now?
- In stormy moments pause and practice an Examen. Sometimes in these tough times, I like to listen to an audio version of the Examen because my brain is usually cluttered.
- Watch this video with the words of Brother David Steindl–Rast OSB.
- Here too is a great Ted Talk by Brother David Steindl–Rast OSB.
- In times of storms, I like to begin a physical list of those things for which I am grateful. I am a fan of Ann Voskamp’s practice found here.
Photo by JW on unsplash.com