When You Just Don’t Feel Thankful

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)

thanks in all things blackboard

REALLY?????

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.  

nothing-can-separate-hands

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.  

sunrise trees

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.

And I am always, always thankful for that. 

you are not alone

Thankful Heart, Broken Heart

I think I will repost this every year as long as I maintain this space.  

It may get old for some, but it will never get old for me.  

While my heart is turned toward thankfulness this time of year, I’m also profoundly aware of my own brokenness…

Thanksgiving has always been my favorite holiday.

My birthday sometimes falls on the day itself, and I have often been able to celebrate with extended family and friends-a full table of food and a full house of fellowship.

Read the rest here:  Thankful But Broken

Grateful

There’s all kinds of grateful.

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. 

Life this side of loss is a battle.  

No one wants to go into battle alone.  

I’m thankful I don’t have to.  

beach-and-family-better

 

 

 

Songs in the Night

The months when I can sleep with windows open are my favorite.

I love fresh air and I love falling asleep to the sound of the breeze tinkling my wind chimes or the rain drip, drip, dripping on the leaves.

Last night I had been asleep for a few hours and woke to a sound I rarely hear after dark-a bird (probably one nesting in the tree outside my bedroom window) was singing her heart out.  I listened for awhile, thinking that surely something had startled her awake and as soon as her eyes took in the night she’d hush her melody and go back to sleep.

But she just kept singing.  

Chortling through chord after chord, note after note, trill after trill.

I fell back to sleep before she did.  

And as I was drifting off, I was reminded of this verse:  

psalm 42_8

I’m thankful for open windows, singing birds and daily reminders that I am not alone on this journey through the Valley of the Shadow of Death.  

Jesus is here.  

He loves me. 

He gives my heart songs in the night.  

Any one can sing in the day. When the cup is full, one draws inspiration from it; when wealth rolls in abundance around them, any one can sing to the praise of a God who gives an abundant harvest. It is easy to sing when we can read the notes by daylight; but the skillful singer is the one who can sing when there is not a ray of light to read by—who sings from their heart, and not from a book that they can see, because they have no means of reading, except from that inward book of their living spirit, where notes of gratitude pour out in songs of praise. No one can create a song in the night by themselves; they may attempt it, but they will learn how difficult it is.

~C.H. Spurgeon

Gratitude and Grieving: Appreciating What I Have, Acknowledging What I Miss

Gratitude does not undo grief.  

There, I said it.

Gratitude is important.  It is (in my opinion) a necessary ingredient for a healthy and hope-filled and useful life.  It is the key to any real happiness a heart might find on this broken road.

But it cannot fill up the empty place where Dominic used to be.  

Grief does not preclude gratitude.  

Although some broken hearts swear it does.  They have convinced themselves that if they cannot have the one thing they really want, then nothing else matters. 

That’s a lie as well.

Grief is hard.  I am grieved because I no longer have the earthly companionship of one of my children.  But I refuse to dishonor Dominic’s memory and the life he lived by holding onto grief so hard that I squeeze out the love and life that is still available.

I am grateful AND grief-filled. 

I appreciate what I have: 

  • Three amazing children here and one in heaven.
  • A husband who loves me and works hard to provide for me.
  • Family and friends who care about me and love me well.
  • Food.
  • Shelter.
  • A home where animals (wild and otherwise!) bring me great comfort and pleasure.
  • Strength and relatively good health.

I acknowledge what I have lost: 

  • The earthly companionship of my son.
  • The family I once had-we are no longer an unbroken circle.
  • Secure confidence in the future.
  • Sense of who I am.
  • Unbridled joy.

These things are not mutually exclusive.  

Dark and light add contrast.  You need both to see the whole picture.

walked a mile robert browning

If you are struggling and believing either of the lies-that gratitude undoes grief OR that grief precludes gratitude-may I ask you to try something?

Make a list of BOTH.  

Give your heart permission to appreciate what you have AND acknowledge what you’ve lost.  

I truly believe that is the healing path.  

#thankful AND #broken

I wrote this post Thankful But Broken, in November, 2015-just barely 18 months after Dominic ran ahead to heaven.

If that’s how I felt THEN, it’s even more how I feel NOW.

Both the thankfulness and brokenness have burrowed deeper into my bones.

Losing the earthly companionship of a child I love has shattered my heart into so many fragments that I can’t find them, much less piece them back together.

But it has also made me oh, so aware of each day’s blessings and of each moment’s sacred holiness.

be-thankful-for-today-change-in-one-moment

I can receive more freely because so much has been stolen.  I appreciate what I have because I know what it is to long for what can never be again.  I can both hold onto and let go of people and things and trust that in the end all shall be well.  Because I know exactly what it feels like when all is most certainly NOT well.

The cracks in my heart make room for more love, more joy (muted though it is) and more thanksgiving than my whole heart could have ever held.

heals the broken heartedI am truly thankful.  AND truly broken.

So my November exercise is to embrace BOTH.

My ‘Thankfulness Journal” has two lines for each day:  “I am thankful for” and “I am broken over”.  Like the Psalmist, I choose to breathe out my brokenness in lament and breathe in the promises of God in gratitude.

I am sad and shattered that this life is hard.

I am encouraged and comforted that God is good.

I can admit both and still be faith-filled.

faith is deliberate confidence

 

 

Thankful for Support

My grandmother had two sisters who didn’t have any children.  

They were often tapped as babysitters when someone in the family needed to leave their kids home for an extended period of time.  And while my aunts meant well, and certainly were never hateful or cruel, there was a giant gap between what they THOUGHT they knew about children and what they ACTUALLY knew.

So many sentences began with, “If you were my child….”  But I wasn’t.  And the boundaries set between me and my parents had been hashed out through trial and error in real time in real life-not some hypothetical perfect world.

It’s like that in my grief journey as well.  

There have been many well-meaning but woefully uninformed people who offered advice.  Some of it was helpful but most of it was predicated on misinformation and lack of real-life experience.

The MOST helpful advice has come from fellow bereaved parents.

They share their hearts and their hopes, their failures and their victories, their fears and their faith.  They don’t have to-they could simply focus on their own pain and refuse to offer aid.  

But moms and dads a few steps ahead of me in the Valley turn back and hold out a hand and say, “This way.  I’m right here with you.  You can make it!”

And for that I am oh. so. thankful.

 

buckets to put out flames

The Power of Lament to Make Room for Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving was always my favorite holiday.

I loved everything about it:  the color scheme, the food (I love, love, love to cook-it was never a burden), family and friends gathered around the table, and the wonderful slowness of the day as it lingered into nightfall.

It was more flexible than Christmas for including all sorts of folks who otherwise didn’t have someplace to go. Living near colleges meant that  we welcomed students from around the world-we might have two or three dozen laughing faces milling about.

happy-thanksgiving

 

It was wonderful.

And I loved going around the circle, tummies bursting, to share what people were thankful for and why.

When Dominic left us everything  changed.

Oh, I was (and still am) so very thankful for so very many things-my family, daily physical provision, ongoing care and love of friends, the enduring faithful mercy of God.

photo (20)

But there’s something else too:  there is deep sorrow at the unavoidable FACT that when God COULD have stepped in and changed an outcome, He DIDN’T.

pain-behind-every-tear

And I’m having to learn to open my heart to thankfulness while also bearing witness to this pain.

Praise and lament in the same breath.

I have plenty of company.

be broken brennan manningThe world we live in is full of pain and suffering.  Injustice reigns.  We make our way through thorns and by the sweat of our brow.

It is just plain hard.

The psalmist acknowledges that.  He doesn’t rush past the pain.  He doesn’t gloss over the broken places.

He empties his heart of the feeling that God has forgotten.  But he doesn’t stop there-he chooses to bring the emptiness back to the only One Who can fill it up again.

Like the psalmist, I’m learning  that I must exhale before I can inhale.

I must admit the burden of hopelessness to make room for the blessing of hope.

“With my voice I cry out to the LORD: with my voice I plead for mercy to the LORD.”

I ADMIT I FEEL ABANDONED:

In the path where I walk
they have hidden a trap for me.
Look to the right and see:
there is none who takes notice of me;
no refuge remains to me;
no one cares for my soul.

AND YET I WILL CHOOSE TO TRUST:

I cry to you, O LORD;
I say, “You are my refuge,
my portion in the land of the living.”

IN THE HOPE THAT GOD HEARS:

Attend to my cry,
for I am brought very low!

SO THAT MY TESTIMONY MAY BE ONE OF PRAISE:

Bring me out of prison,
that I may give thanks to your name!

Psalm 142, selected

As I sit at the table, cherishing the companionship of those I love and missing the one I can no longer see, I will embrace thanksgiving and lament.

I will exhale and inhale.

I will beg for grace and mercy because I can no longer beg to be spared from sorrow.

I will ask for eyes to see and a faithful heart while I wait.

worn snow

 

 

 

 

Thanks for Listening!

One year ago today I began sharing my grief journey publicly on this blog.

IMG_1790

 

 

You can read that first post here.

 

It was (and still is) scary to expose my thoughts and feelings to a wider audience than just the pages of my personal journal.

I’m never certain that what is helpful for me is necessarily helpful for anyone else.  But in writing it down I find that I am able to sort through things better than when I leave it bouncing around in my own head space.

I decided upfront that I would be as honest as possible about what I felt and how I was coping.  I wasn’t sure if I would post only a few times or a lot, if it would turn into a day-by-day diary or a more sweeping revelation of deeper things.

I think it’s kind of been both at times.

And here we are, 366 days (it was a leap year) and  355 posts later and I’m still here and you’re still listening.

I don’t claim to have any special gifting or knowledge or ability.  I am simply one mama whose love for both her child in heaven and her children still here demands that I speak out.

My heart is full of  love and pain.

thank you

And my heart has been blessed beyond measure by those who read and share what I have written.  I’ve met-in person and virtually-many bereaved parents who are helping me as I continue down this road.

I am so very thankful for each one.

I pray that for those who read these words and know the pain of burying a child, I am speaking things you may think or feel but are not willing or able to express.

And I pray that in hearing them spoken aloud, you are affirmed and encouraged that you. are. not. alone.

Dominic matters.  

Your child matters.  

It’s not only OK but absolutely necessary to admit that life after child loss is a struggle.  It is also just fine to take your time working through the pain and sorrow and overwhelming changes child loss brings.

For those who read my posts and do not share this pain, I pray you gain insight into what bereaved parents feel and how burying a child changes EVERYTHING.

I hope you are better equipped to offer the ongoing support we need and crave.  I hope you learn that this is not something we have chosen, it is something that happened to us. 

And I pray that all of us will be more willing to extend grace, mercy and love to one another.

Words are not neutral.  

They bring life or death.

They wound or heal.

May each of us be an instrument of healing for someone’s hurting heart.   

its hurting again

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wow! Just. Wow!

I’m always a little frightened to expose my vulnerable underbelly to the sometimes vicious wilderness of the worldwide web.

So when I clicked “send” for yesterday’s post I had immediate regrets-was it too personal? too negative? too self-focused?

I am overwhelmed by the comments both on the blog and on Facebook-comments of encouragement, understanding and hope-not condemnation or condescension.

All I can say is,  “Thank you!”

And I was reminded that isolation is a powerful weapon in the hands of the enemy of our souls.

But godly community disarms it.

So I want to make sure that everyone who reads this blog knows about two online Facebook sites that offer hope and healing through the truth of Scripture and the Good News of Jesus Christ.

Each has a public page visible to anyone on Facebook and features posts of interest to bereaved parents and those walking with them.

While We’re Waiting is a large, well established non-profit organization.  In addition to the online presence, it offers in-person support to bereaved parents through retreats and support groups.  I am very grateful to the Sullivans and Browns who founded the group after experiencing child loss-their obedience has been a blessing in my life and in the lives of many other grieving parents. 

Heartache and Hope is the name of a page I created as an additional resource, along with the blog, for those who are grieving a child.

To receive posts in your newsfeed, simply “like” the public page and benefit from the encouragement.

From each group’s public page, bereaved parents and grandparents can request admission to a closed discussion group.

The private discussion groups are just that-private. Only bereaved parents and grandparents may participate.  It’s a safe space where everyone understands and shares your pain.

As I read and was encouraged by each comment on yesterday’s post, I thought of an image many of us have seen-a defensive circle of elephants facing outward-the vulnerable calves safely tucked in the middle.

circle of elephants

A lion can prowl around the edges but knows it is already defeated.  Nothing can penetrate the powerful perimeter that protects the potential prey.

Peter warned early believers:

Most importantly, be disciplined and stay on guard. Your enemy the devil is prowling around outside like a roaring lion, just waiting and hoping for the chance to devour someone.

I Peter 5:8 VOICE

That’s what community feels like.  

I’m surrounded and protected.  

That old lion-the enemy-can roar all he wants to.  He can’t touch me.

For God did not choose us to condemn us, but that we might secure his salvation through Jesus Christ our Lord. He died for us, so that whether we are “awake” or “asleep” we share his life. So go on cheering and strengthening each other with thoughts like these, as I have no doubt you have been doing.

I Thessalonians 5:9-12 PHILLIPS