“Portrait of Peace”, Darlene Pitts
I watched curiously as Gram stationed herself on the couch with the radio and her trusty metal flashlight that was always under her pillow at night. Her face was anxious as she listened to the weather report and looked out the window once more. She began to sing again, under her breath. “Jesus is the rock in a weary land, a weary land, a weary land. Jesus is the rock in a weary land, a shelter in the time of storm.” I turned back to my blanket fort, smiling at the pearly light filtering in through the mint green crocheted baby blanket that formed one of the walls. It was beautiful. Nestled in my little fort with a book, storms were exhilarating, not scary.
“Thank you, Jesus, alleluia, thank you, Jesus, alleluia, thank you, Jesus, alleluia, thank you, Jesus, alleluia…” Curled up next to her in the double bed we shared, I sighed just a little louder, hoping to muffle the sound of Grandma’s prayers. I couldn’t even get away with telling my little sister to shut up, so there was no way I could use those words on Gram, but I thought them in the same repetitious rhythm as her chant. OK, “shut up” was too disrespectful, but wasn’t there a Bible verse somewhere criticizing the Gentiles who repeated the same words over and over? Probably wouldn’t go over much better, though. Perhaps sensing my growing irritation, she switched to song. “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, sweetest name I know. Fills my every longing, keeps me singing as I go.” My thought about Jesus keeping her singing verged on the profane.
Thirty years later, lying in bed, the only sounds are the quiet breathing of my sleeping babies and my rapid panting. Another panic attack. I continue the self talk, trying to find calm. In retrospect, the anxiety and panic attacks aren’t surprising. This is my own little tornado season, a wild time when my workload is about triple what it is during the rest of the year. Throw in some stressful personal situations and some hormonal issues, and it makes sense that I am shaking like a leaf in the middle of an Oklahoma thunderstorm. I have so little to complain about, and many of these things are good stresses, but my equilibrium has departed for the moment. “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus…” I can’t find any other words right now. Just a choked calling out of His name.
As the panic slowly begins to recede, I fight the temptation to pick up my phone, knowing that if I do I will start calculating the amount of time I have before I have to get up and then start surfing or reading and that that will keep me awake. Sleep is such a key right now, and such a fight. I will my body to relax, using some of the same techniques that had helped in labor. I start praying in tongues almost silently, my words just a breath so as not to wake up the kidlets, and gradually the murmur of the prayer lulls me back to sleep.
Fear, anxiety, worry. I know that these old enemies have been attacking women in my family for generations. I had thought they were vanquished, at least in my life. Yet here we are, squaring off again. I never learned the story of why my grandmother was afraid of thunderstorms. I doubt that I would have fully understood since I have always reveled in thunder and exulted in flashes of lightening. But something tells me that Gram understood these storms of life gusting around me now–she had seven children who lived, survived the loss of two husbands, and all without most of the resources that I take for granted. She weathered so much. I imagine her in bed, decades before I was ever born, tears raining as she plants her heart against the gale winds blowing over her family, wielding her hymns in the darkness just like her trusted flashlights. All of those prayers, however obnoxious they seemed in my childhood, hold a much different place in my heart now.
The patter of the raindrops speeds up, keeping time with my heartbeat and breath. Deliberately, my breathing slows back to a normal rate. Gram’s voice sounds in my mind, “There’s within my heart a melody, Jesus whispers sweet and low, ‘Fear not, I am with thee; peace, be still’ in all of life’s ebb and flow.”
“Portrait of Peace” by Darlene Pitts, used by permission