My family has regular discussions about current events and while I don’t watch televised news, I read widely each day about what’s going on in the world.
Even still, a steady diet of nothing but dire reports is anything but good for a heart.
So each day I try to focus on some happy moments as well.
Let me share a few with you.
This past week I’ve gotten a good bit of outdoor work done, sweated tons and walked farther and longer than usual.
Our weather turned from rainy and excessively humid to sunny and actually pretty dry (for Alabama!).
My chickens are laying well and our little local produce man had watermelons and peaches.
This afternoon I’ll hop in my not-very-big above ground pool and cool off between choreswhile Frodo the goat watches me.
Black-eyed Susans are blooming by my mailbox.
I had lunch with a friend.
And I had a video chat with four other amazing bereaved mamas.
Finding at least one thing each day for which to be thankful helps my heart hold onto hope.
I make a conscious effort to breathe in beauty and enjoy those moments.
When I was fresh on this journey it was hard to receive anything as “good”. Everything was filtered through the lens of loss. So I understand if you think this is a futile exercise.
But eventually I was able to see more than my son’s absence and feel more than pain and sorrow.
Life is still life and there are still beautiful moments. Sunlight through the trees, a baby’s laugh, friends and family around the table, flowers, furry friends, a favorite meal, or the perfect cup of coffee are all things I enjoy. They don’t take away the sorrow of missing my son but they are worth celebrating.
I’m learning to hang onto them with both hands and to cherish them as a gift.
A year ago I was in the same city under very different circumstances.
My first grandson had been born at just over 28 weeks because his mama developed HELLP syndrome and was in mortal danger. Both he and she were in the hospital while we held our collective breath, begging for them to be OK.
We were filled with quiet but uneasy joy knowing as we do how death can come to steal it away.
This Sunday, family and friends gathered to watch this little guy grab his first birthday cake with gusto and smear his mama and daddy with blue icing.
You’d never know he got such a tentative start in life just by looking at him.
Grateful is too small a word for how we feel.
Last week was a roller coaster.
My first grandchild-a boy-was born prematurely on Saturday after several days of heart stopping, breath robbing drama as his mama went back and forth to the hospital three times in as many days.
My son, his father, is deployed overseas and paddling as fast as he can to get home.
It’s all well and good when things are going just dandy to post a daily, “I’m thankful for [whatever]”.
It’s another thing entirely when the bottom has fallen out or your world is turned upside down or your heart is shattered and you can’t find even the tiniest spark of gratitude in your dark world.
Yet the Bible clearly states I am to “give thanks in all circumstances” (I Thessalonians 5:18)
I am absolutely NOT thankful that my son is dead.
I am not thankful my family circle is broken and my living children have to carry the weight of sibling loss for a lifetime.
I am not thankful that there will always be an empty chair at every holiday gathering regardless of how many show up around the table.
But the verse doesn’t say I have to be thankful FOR all circumstances, but instead to be thankful IN them.
Even on the morning of the dreadful news, I was filled with gratitude for the knowledge that nothing can separate me from the love of God.
As I held the hands of two of my living children, I was oh, so thankful that they were there and that I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that we would walk through this together as a family.
When the sun came up, my heart reminded me that the world was still turning and God was still on the throne.
And while it was a long, long time before these feelings were more than faint whispers against a background of screaming pain, I could still hear them.
Now I have learned that thankfulness and brokenness can live side by side in a heart and in a life. One does not overshadow or negate the other.
I may not be thankful for what I’m going through (frankly, I’m not) but I am thankful I’m not going through it alone.
I can come into the Presence of my God any time I choose because Jesus has made a way. I can bring my petitions before the Throne of Grace because there is no longer any veil separating me from the Father.
There’s the receiving line, “I’m so glad you came” grateful.
There’s the ordinary, everyday “I’m thankful I have food, clothes a roof over my head” grateful.
And then there is the “I am about to burst because there is no way to contain my overwhelming thankfulness” grateful.
I’ll admit, this side of sending a child ahead of me to Heaven, there are days when even though I know I SHOULD still be grateful, I’m really not.
Then there are days when I realize how very many blessings are still coming my way.
They don’t balance any cosmic scales. They don’t undo my sorrow at Dominic’s absence. But they do help my heart hold on. They do help me find light in the darkness. They do help me know that God is still working and hasn’t abandoned me.
My earthbound children are chief among these blessings.
I am utterly amazed that as often forgotten grievers, each one is finding his or her own way through the Valley of the Shadow of Death. My daughter and sons remain engaged, focused, loving and committed to one another and to me and their dad.
They have continued to pursue personal dreams and goals while also giving practical support to each other.
They aren’t perfect by any means. We fuss, we get frustrated, we have times when we’d rather not be together. But in the end, we have each other’s back.
And that is makes us all stronger. It makes us all bolder.
How much energy do we spend dancing around the truth? How many times do we gather with family or friends and cast our eyes downward so we can ignore the elephant in the room? How many shackles would fall away if just one person stood up and said what everyone else was thinking but was afraid to whisper aloud?
As family gathers around the table for Thanksgiving, we all have those subjects no one will touch. And often they are the very ones that need to be laid bare, talked about and shared. They are what keep hearts apart even while bodies sit closer than any other time of year.
Now I’m no advocate of random outbursts intended to shock and raise a ruckus but I am a firm believer in speaking truth in love.
In fact, next to carrying this burden of missing, it is the hardest thing I do.
And I am often unsuccessful.
I screw up my courage, practice my speech, lay out the strategy and then crumble, last minute, under dozens of potentially awful outcomes.
What if they get mad? What if they think I’m crazy, or selfish, or wrong?
Or I DO share and it falls flat because the words I thought would communicate love are misunderstood or misdirected or misapplied.
So instead of helping, I hurt.
But the alternative is this: we all remain imprisoned behind a wall where freedom is clearly visible on the other side. We can smell it, almost taste it but not quite touch it.
And that is not how I want to live.
I want to claim the freedom that truth offers.
So this Thanksgiving I will try again: truth in love.
Lots and lots of love with truth sprinkled in. Maybe the sugar in the pie will help.