Thanksgiving As Sacrifice

Rocking babies I never dreamed that one day my life would look like this. 

I never imagined that one of those tiny bodies I held close to my mama heart would not outlive me.

Now I sit in the same rocking chair in the dark, thinking about how so many things I wouldn’t have written into my story are now part of it.  

And if I’m honest,  it can easily overwhelm my heart.  It can carry me to a place of despair and desperation where there’s no room for thanksgiving-not the holiday OR the feeling.  

Here we are-the fifth year of holidays without Dominic-and I’m no better at it than I was at first.  

empty chair prayer

Oh, I’ve figured out how to make my way through the day.  I can lay out the plates, fill the pantry and put on a spread.  I am not nearly as prone to tears as I once was-at least not while folks are watching. 

But that easy flow of laughter and near chaos that once marked our gatherings has been replaced by a kind of mechanical plodding that moves from one moment to the next until the day has passed and I’ve survived once again.  

I always expected our family to grow larger.  I looked forward to the day we would no longer fit around the dining room table and we’d have to figure it out.  Spouses and then grandchildren peopled my imagination with such clarity!  While I never saw faces, I could hear the laughter and watch the motion of so. many. new. lives filling my home.  

This year is especially strange.  

Circumstances and work schedules and distance dictate that Thanksgiving will be spent with most of my family far away from my table.  

So there won’t be just one empty chair today, there will be several.  

And if I stare too long or focus too closely on what I don’t have, I can forget what I still possess. 

It’s a temptation-always.  

But temptation can be resisted.  I am not doomed to follow that train of thought to the bottom of the pit of despair.  

I refuse to let the darkness overwhelm the light.  

I will be thankful for all the love this house has known, still knows and will know.  I will be grateful that even though we are physically distant, we talk to one another, sharing laughter across the miles.  I will cherish the moments I had with Dominic and rest in the knowledge that in eternity we will have so many more.  

I can’t fill that chair-no one can fill that chair except my son-but I can fill my heart with good things.  

I can choose thankfulness even when it’s hard.  

Maybe that’s what Thanksgiving is really about-not an unending list of all the sweet things in life-but a short list of beauty extracted from the hard places.

Thanksgiving isn’t always bounty, sometimes it’s sacrifice.

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

 

 

 

To The Ones Who Walk With Me: Thank You <3

I have never lived alone.

When I married at twenty I moved from my parents’ home to living with my new husband.

Within seven years of marriage, we had been joined by four precious children.

dominic and siblings little children at nannys

So even though I’m an introvert and crave quiet solitude, I’ve had precious little of it until the last couple of years.

Alone is good for many things.  It makes space to hear from God and to hear one’s own heart.

It can be a respite from the noise of our crazy, busy and LOUD world.

melanie and little bit

But alone is not the best way to walk the Valley of the Shadow of Death. 

If I isolate myself from others in this frightful place, darkness can overtake me.  My mind can embrace futility and hopelessness and convince my heart that there is no reason to push on.

There are songs that were never meant to be sung alone, valleys that were never meant to be walked alone. Grief is one of those valleys. And weeping is one of those songs.

~The North Face of God

Thankfully, I’ve not been alone on this journey. 

I’ve had beautiful family and friends who refused to leave me.  I’ve met amazing, brave bereaved parents who, even in their own grief, have lifted me up and spoken courage to my heart.

hhh retreat pics of kids (2)

And Godeven on the days when we haven’t been on speaking termshas not abandoned me. 

His faithful love endures forever.  His promises will not fail.  My name (just like Dominic’s!) is graven on His hands.

But He uses people to remind a heart of these promises and His love.

I will never be able to repay the people who have been “Jesus with skin on” to me! 

They are a gift,

a treasure,

a precious ointment to a wounded heart. 

friendship

 

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