Five Smooth Stones

I suspect that I am engaged in spiritual warfare. Teckla has had surgery for breast cancer and just completed three weeks of radiation. She has decided to begin chemotherapy and see if it is bearable. The prognosis after doing all this is good, but it is an ordeal. During this last year, our son Peter, who has been diagnosed with type-one diabetes, has been in the ICU four times and near death several times. Teckla and I are numb but clinging to God.

The battle has been to prevent our numbness from becoming apathy, and then despair. I would like to say I have fought this Goliath of despair with the powerful weapons of intercessory prayer, fasting, and mountain-moving faith. Sadly, if any mountains are moving, they seem to be falling on us. And I am struggling not to eat to ease my anxiety. My prayers are frequent but little more than cries for help.

The stones I have gathered from the stream bed are not impressive. I have fought the enemy by being grateful for small things. A few weeks back on Euphoria Ridge, I saw the blue flash of a skink’s tail as it darted into a crack in the rock. I thought, with gratitude, of the sunny days in Milton-Freewater when my friend Kirby and I caught snakes and lizards along the Walla Walla River. I thanked God for my free-range boyhood spent exploring creeks, rivers, and hills and sinking my puncture-weed wounded feet into the mud of irrigation ditches. I thanked God for Kirby.

I also thank God for the milkweed that has taken over one of growing beds. No monarch butterflies laid eggs on the plants this summer. But I keep hoping. And as the fall storms have blown in, I have seen many seeds take off in the wind. Perhaps these will grow somewhere and help restore the dwindling population of the western migration of monarchs. It feels like faith when the dry, gray seed pods crack and the seeds sail away.

The other day I gave Peter a ride home from Coos Bay. I saw someone shambling down the street with a big coat on, baggy pants, and shirttail sticking out the back. I said to Peter, “I miss Stanley.” We talked about how funny Stanley could be once he started telling jokes. I said I miss having someone to talk to about a mushroom I found or an unusual bird I saw. Peter and I were surprised at how much we missed my brother. I was thankful for Stanley, and for this moment with Peter.

This morning as Ari and I stepped out the door so I could drive him to school, he looked up at me, his brown eyes wide and his brow furrowed. He then said, “I love you, Pa.” We then continued to the car. But his comment was so unprompted and thoughtful that it pierced my heart with joy. All the weariness of being 67 and caring for a 5-year-old was swept away (for a few minutes). I thanked God for Ari and that moment.

This afternoon I was in the backyard and noticed there is still a hole about a foot deep around the azalea bush in the corner. I remembered our Doberman, Mira, and how she dug holes around the yard. My mom fell in love with Mira and called her “my diggity-dog.” I was thankful for the gift Mira was to Mom and the joy she brought.  

I have framed all this as spiritual warfare because the greatest temptation when faced with great loss, or numbing fear of loss, is to lose all delight in life—to become numb not just to the pain and fear but also to the pleasure and joy. So my five smooth stones against despair and apathy have been words of gratitude springing from a full enjoyment of small things. I can sense the disappointment of the enemy and feel his retreat when I refuse despair and embrace thanksgiving.

In grade school, I often carried a favorite rock or stone in my pocket. Sometimes these were agates I had found during a summer vacation at Cape Perpetua on the Oregon coast. Other times the rocks were pieces of “opal” Kirby and I dug out of the hill above Milton. I just liked the feel of them. Like a little boy in Milton-Freewater, I am thankful for the heaviness and smoothness of these five stones. I am thankful for how well they fit in my sling and how straight they fly toward despair.

About Mark

I live in Myrtle Point, Oregon with my wife Teckla and am the father of four boys. Currently I teach writing and literature at Southwest Oregon Community College. I am a graduate of Myrtle Point High School, Northwest Nazarene College, and have a Masters in English from Washington State University.
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