- - Sunday, March 10, 2019

The warm winds of spring have begun, at least in the Mid-Atlantic region. Migrating birds and butterflies are fluttering into newly leafy trees and bushes before heading farther North.

College baseball has been in play for a couple of weeks, and Major League Baseball is in full swing in Florida and Arizona. There’s nothing quite like the crack of a bat or the smack of a baseball hitting leather. Or seeing the teams lined up for the National Anthem. Or smelling peanuts and hot dogs. Or hearing the beer guy yelling, “Beer here!” Or, in New York and Boston, “Beah heah!”

Amid the cacophony of a 24/7 news cycle, it’s hard to step away long enough to appreciate what we have in America. City drivers have to watch constantly for head-down pedestrians. Even people on country paths trip over tree roots while staring at their smartphones.

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I’m not advocating withdrawal from smartphones, which are a miraculous invention — just for taking the time to feel some gratitude for life itself.

The turning of the seasons is a profound reminder that we’re living on an unlikely planet that’s beaten astronomical odds against sustaining life, and that our Creator’s plan includes the hope of spring to get us through a harsh winter. If you’ve spent your whole life in San Diego, you don’t know what I’m talking about. You’re spoiled in a different way.

It’s true that seasonal joy can go only so far and that we live in an uncertain world. Natural disasters like the killer tornadoes that just blew through Alabama are inexplicably awful. Some people face tremendous hardships, such as an ALS diagnosis, confirmation of cancer, the loss of a loved one or the loss of a job. Some despair that they’ll never beat an addiction. The news is almost continuously disturbing, from the border emergency to the opiate crisis.

But if we look around us, we can be cheered by the glories of nature and by people with the amazing ability to inspire others regardless of their own condition. These folks focus outwardly instead of inwardly, where obsession with one’s own happiness beckons but rarely delivers.

Hearts turned consistently inward tend to be unhappy, which affects the whole person. As Proverbs 15:13 says, “A merry heart makes a cheerful countenance, but by sorrow of the heart the spirit is broken.”

A woman who was a longtime dear friend just passed away. She suffered bouts of depression and various ailments that often robbed her of joy. But she would brighten whenever she voiced appreciation for something. After a heavy winter storm left a foot of snow in her backyard, she told me on the phone over and over that “it is so beautiful out there.” She sounded happier than she had in years, like a little girl marveling over a puppy. She just kept repeating how lovely it was. It made me happy to hear her so happy.

There is no magic bullet for overcoming life’s hard knocks. Faith in God helps immeasurably, however, and the currency of Heaven is gratitude — for life, for love, for God sending a Savior, even for being able to take the next breath and the one after that.

“Mercy and truth go before Your face. Blessed are the people who know the joyful sound!

“They walk, O LORD, in the light of Your countenance.” (Psalm 89:14-15)

You don’t have to be an impossibly cheerful Pollyanna to see and experience the power of gratitude. It lights up the soul and shines outward. Even Oscar the Grouch is no match for it, especially on a beautiful spring day.

Of course, there’s a time and place for everything. When we’re in a funk, the last thing we want to hear is some “goody two-shoes” as Oscar would say, prancing in with loud admonitions to cheer up. But just being available for someone hurting can help bring healing.

Gratitude can become a way of life. When things are very hard, it takes a conscious decision to be grateful, just as people can decide to love us when we’re at our most unlovable. Humor helps a lot, too, and laughing at minor misfortunes sure beats whining. My wife wishes I could remember that when attempting home repairs.

Today, we can choose to rejoice that spring is on the way, and be grateful for things like smartphones and baseball, or whatever floats our boats.

Mostly, I’m grateful for people in my life whose inner light breaks through and lifts up the rest of us.

• Robert Knight is a contributor to The Washington Times.

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