Thankfulness is a word we throw around pretty nonchalantly. We utter a “thank you” to plenty of people through out the day whether it be to our family members, a coworker or a grocery store clerk. I never really thought much about being thankful until I found myself navigating through a situation in which I felt I couldn’t be thankful. In January 2010 our 5 1/2 month old baby boy, Case, died of SIDS. Grief was a process that I was familiar with, my mom had died 9 years before, but I didn’t “grieve well” through the loss of my mom. I wanted to do things differently, I had a five year old son and a husband to “grieve well” for. But how do I do that when my baby had died? Well, I did not always do well, but I strived to do well. From the very beginning I wanted to allow God to turn these ashes into something of beauty. I wanted to allow the loss of my baby to make me better, not bitter. That’s where thankfulness came in.
At some point during the early stages of grieving I ran across the verses in 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, Be joyful always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” Give thanks in all circumstances? How could I ever say that I am thankful that my son died? There are just some situations that life brings us that we cannot be thankful for. But the verse says “give thanks in all circumstances.” And I found that even in the darkest time in my life, I could always, always find something to be thankful for.
In the coming months I would journal and I would blog. I would write about the ugly things, like when I would find myself standing in the middle of the room at a loss of what I should do because I didn’t have my little baby to take care of anymore. Or I’d write about when my 5 year old son asked me “Why do you have black tears?” when my mascara would run down my face. Or when months later, while laying in bed my 5 year old told me “That day at school I couldn’t wait to get home and snuggle Case…but he died that day.” But I’d also write about the beautiful things. One of my friends gave me One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp. It took me awhile to start reading it, but once I did I was underlining, folding page corners and writing things down like a crazy woman. I wrote this in my journal:
“How do I give thanks for something that seems so senseless? How do I give thanks for something I would have never asked for? By choosing to see the ways God has used it for good. Look for the blessings!”
I was realizing that when I give thanks I allow myself to see the beautiful things God is doing all around me, despite my unfathomable sadness. And that is what would keep my heart from becoming hard and bitter.
“When we lay the soil of our hard lives open to the rain of grace and let joy penetrate our cracked and dry places, let joy soak into our broken skin and deep crevices, life grows. How can this not be the best thing for the world? For us? The clouds open when we mouth thanks” (One Thousand Gifts, p.58).
I didn’t realize it at the time but I was forming a list of things to be thankful for surrounding Case’s death. It took me awhile but on the second anniversary of Case’s death I compiled a list of blessings, of things that when I looked back I knew God had a plan the whole time, of things I could be thankful for. Here are just a few examples:
-Case was such a mellow baby and a great sleeper. It was such a blessing that I wasn’t always stressed or sleep deprived while he was alive. I was truly able to enjoy having him.
-We struggled with sending Lane (our 5 year old) to Kindergarten that year, he was really young for his grade. But we decided to and I thank the Lord everyday that Lane was at school when Case died during his morning nap. He was able to say goodbye to him under much calmer circumstances in the hospital. And a month after Case died we pulled Lane out of Kindergarten and sent him the next year.
-I was so heartbroken that my mom wasn’t alive to help me through as I grieved my son. But one day I realized that she was there for me. When Case got to heaven she did not walk… she ran to meet him and she held that baby boy when I couldn’t.
The list went on and on, about the dear friends I met through Case’s death. How old friendships deepened. And most of all, how 2 months after Case died I found out I was pregnant with our little Star of Hope, Estelle Hope who was born just 10 months after Case died. And how God prepared me to be a mommy to another fragile, little life.
I learned that living a life of thankfulness, isn’t just about saying thanks. I was learning what it meant to live life eucharisteo, which means thanksgiving, but also holds the greek words charis meaning grace and chara meaning joy. To live a life of thanksgiving in God’s grace and finding joy in all circumstances. I have not always been good at this. At times along the way I have let bitterness take root, mostly in my marriage and my attitude toward others who can’t understand me or haven’t “been there.” But… I am a work in progress.
We can put thankfulness to work in every area of our lives. I once read a quote “An attitude of thankfulness, breeds generosity.” Wouldn’t that attitude get us so much farther in our marriages, in our friendships, in our businesses and places of work?! Here are three steps that can help you incorporate more thankfulness into your life.
1. Read the powerful book One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp. Her deep, poetic writing is moving!
2. Keep a Thankfulness Journal. I recently started doing this, there are many ways to do it, do whatever is comfortable for you. Ann Voskamp has a One Thousand Gifts printable on her website. There is a printable for every month outlining 3 things to write down every day that you are thankful for. For example: June 7th you would write down “3 gifts in what you are reading.” By the end of the year you will have a list of over 1000 gifts. Click here to sign up for to her free printables.
3. Think of and reflect on a time when you were going through a deep struggle. Make a list of all the good things that came from that, the new direction in which it led you, the friendships that were formed. What kind of beauty was brought out of those ashes?