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Voices—In the whale's belly

Gather cover Septemberby Elizabeth Hunter

As I write this, our family is regaining balance after several difficult days where everything happened at once. Over the same weekend, two of my in-laws went through the first of a series of hospital interventions and stays, with serious caregiving implications, and my brother and his wife suddenly had a brand-new, beautiful baby, three months early. Tiny, but strong, Matthew, their first child, will need months of care in the neonatal intensive care unit, as they ride the rollercoaster of ups-and-downs this involves.  

Meanwhile many people I cared about were on edge. Television news covered senseless shootings. Incidents of violence against women and children filled the newspaper. An angry woman, a stranger, spit on one of my co-workers on purpose, for no reason, leaving her distraught.

An angry man behind me in line at the local coffee shop complained loudly because I’d asked the cashier about the ingredients of a snack for my youngest son, who is allergic to peanuts. He’d been in line less than a minute. In a blaze of anger, I told the cashier to please serve the man first, since his need was apparently more important than anyone else’s. “Thank you,” the man said, suddenly calm. The nerve! I thought furiously. But I was ashamed. My petty comment brought me nothing, as Anna Madsen explains (“Es bringt aber nichts,” page 7), and was made in front of my children, no less. Switching gears over coffee and hot chocolate, I congratulated my oldest son on making the honor roll throughout the year. Here was something to celebrate! Well, actually, he said, the year had been “awful” with middle school bullies engaging in verbal bullying and cursing him and many other children.

Aaaargh! Was nothing fair? Had we fallen, Jonah-like, into the belly of a whale? It reminded me of Judith Viorst’s best-selling children’s book, Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day. (See this issue’s Bible study on p. 28, “Jonah and the terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.”)

Yet my in-laws were alive. Baby Matthew was gaining weeks and weight. My coworker was writing about her terrible encounter in a faith-filled way. God’s love and mercy had carried all of us through. How could I have forgotten? Over the years, God had been with us, even while I lost sleep over a long list of things: one child’s learning disability, our other child’s surgery, a health scare involving my dad, the financial implications of my husband’s transition from more than full-time to part-time work, a confrontation with a loved one about a past hurt, a flood that caused major uninsured damage to our home.

Can you see the hand hidden on the cover of this September issue of Gather? Whether we know it or not, we are held by a God who “is willing to go to the depths—to suffer the worst—but who refuses to stay there,” writer Amy White declares (“The way is through,” p. 19).    

During tough times, Karris Golden advises (p. 17) speaking of God’s gifts. I like to think of Martin Rinkhart, who wrote “Now Thank We All Our God,” in the midst of the Thirty Years War, after terrible days in his own life.     

Now thank we all our God, with hearts and hands and voices,
who wondrous things has done, in whom this world rejoices;
who from our mothers' arms has blessed us on our way
with countless gifts of love, and still is ours today.

Thank you for the reminder, Martin.  

Elizabeth Hunter is editor of Gather.

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