The night before Thanksgiving, I was up late finishing pies for the next day. As I sliced apples, Annalise got up – again. She’d been restlessly trying to get to sleep and her night owl nature was kicking in hard.
A bit exasperated, I agreed to let her sleep on the couch while I baked. A few minutes later though, I heard sniffling and, admittedly a bit miffed, I asked her what was wrong.
I miss Daddy, came the tearful reply. “Why does everyone have a dad but me?” she asked.
Dusting flour from my hands, I went in to her. She did have a daddy, I wanted to say. A daddy who had adored her and who we’d see again. But this night I didn’t correct; I just comforted. “I know, baby. Daddy loved you so much,” I said, stroking her hair and drying her tears.
As she quieted and I went back into the kitchen, my thoughts churned. Stink. We are five years into this and some days the grief rolls over us hard.
Grief doesn’t stay neatly tucked into convenient spaces. It bubbles up in unexpected moments and surfaces at times meant for celebration; seasons marked for festivity and thanks.
I thought of others dealing with grief while the rest of the world celebrated.
While many of us gathered with family and friends around tables piled high with turkey and trimmings, filling up on love and laughter and life, other families were admitting a child to the hospital, getting a diagnosis, watching the light of their life take a last breath.
That’s the thing about the hard – it pays no attention to plans or holidays. It matters not that it’s a national holiday or the cusp of your son’s wedding or that a category 4 hurricane is pressing down.
Right in the midst of the hard — of the ill-timed, unwanted, unexpected – God’s good hand is so evident.
We’ve prayed for the sister of dear friends for more than two years. Always interceding for the next treatment, the next surgery.
Last week, she ran out of the next option. As I was making my Thanksgiving grocery list and prepping my house for college kids, her family was calling in hospice.
Her brother found a stack of spiral notebooks in her closet. Seems shortly after she was diagnosed someone gave her a copy of Ann Voskamp’s 1000 gifts. She’d titled the first page of the first notebook “1000 gifts” and begun entering those first notes of gratitude . . . #1, #2, #3 . . . continuing on.
Paging through the journal, her brother saw she’d reached 1000 entries and kept going. The second notebook now gave thanks on both the front and backside of each page and somewhere in her third notebook, she reached entry #15,000.
Four years of daily thanksgiving. Four years of purposely looking for God’s good hand right in the midst of inconvenient, unwanted hard.
It changes a person. It changes perception and perspective. It tells our story with the whole truth, not just the half that’s heaviest.
“The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy, your whole body will be full of light.” Matthew 6:22
Even when we are physically emptying, when our gut is hollowed out from pain, eyes that see and ears that hear all that God is doing – all that God is – fill the hollow with Light.
What kind of Light was there when the clock began it’s slow, steady pace toward an earthly end?
Her brother searched for her last entries.
The morning after doctors told her there were no further options, nothing left they could do, her entry read: PEACE.
The next day recorded her final written thanks. In visibly weakening script, she wrote again — PEACE — and then, lastly – STRENGTH.
Oh that we would have eyes that really see.
- See that not one day of hard, which feels so unexpectedly hurled into the planned rhythm of our days, happens outside the perfect, precise timing of God.
- See that not one moment of hard happens apart from the inexhaustible goodness of God.
- See that not one step of hard is taken away from the everlasting arms of God.
We may have grief when the rest of the world is celebrating. But finding the good and gratitude in the hard opens our eyes to the immeasurable, infinite, inescapable love of our God.
Be Thou my Vision, O Lord of my heart;
Naught be all else to me, save that Thou art.
Thou my best Thought, by day or by night
Waking or sleeping, Thy presence my light.
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