The holidays are fast approaching. I have always loved the holidays. I love the family traditions. I love the Christmas music. I love the gathering of family and friends. I love the laughs and the food and the memories.
This season is different. This season has me scared. I am trying to figure out how to go about approaching this upcoming season. I would like to crawl in bed and hide under the covers until it is over. That seems like the easiest way to survive this season. I realize that hiding is not the best way to live through this season, but that may be all I can handle.
Last year we had our first holiday season in the DR. We experienced a missionary Thanksgiving filled with laughter, wine, great food, games, and hymns. I think back to what a great day that was. I was so thankful then… for everything. Wow, God was good. I praised Him for it. I thanked Him for the wonderful friends that surrounded us, the new traditions we were starting, and the celebrations we were having with my little family all there. I remember sitting back and watching my two daughters and my husband laughing with friends they had made over the past few months. Friendships that they already held so dear I knew they would last a lifetime. Now I look back on that day, and I smile because it was so good… and then I wince. I wince because there is also pain. There is pain because Thanksgiving was also the beginning of my journey with Ella, and the pain of her journey is still so fresh that even the great memories hurt deeply.
This Thanksgiving will be different. This Thanksgiving there is a hole in my heart, and it is painful. This Thanksgiving I do not feel very thankful. It is sometimes hard to look past the pain. It is hard to look past the void of a baby that should consume my night and day. The void of diapers I should be changing, cries I should be soothing, and meals I should be feeding. That void is very evident to me in every moment. This Thanksgiving my family will not all be at the table. I will not sit back and silently watch them all have fun. I expect this to be a very painful reality on what used to be such a happy day. I feel as if I am bracing for a storm of emotions to overtake me. Maybe the storm will be fierce and leave a path of destruction behind it. Maybe the storm will not be as severe as predicted. With storms it is hard to know how strong they will be before they hit. This is what makes me want to hide in bed.
A common theme in the moms’ support group I am a part of is “choose hope.” Hope is a choice. Hope is a choice because we don’t always feel hopeful. We often feel hopeless, helpless, stuck in a pit of despair. We are not. Even when it feels like we are, we are not stuck in a pit of despair. We are not helpless, and we are not hopeless. So we must choose hope – choose to recognize hope – the hope that is given to us by our loving God.
This is how I have decided to approach this Thanksgiving. I will choose thankfulness. I will choose to acknowledge my thankfulness each day. Our family began a thankful tree at the start of November. It is good to say out loud the things we are thankful for and it is good to write them down. It is good to say out loud the good in our lives so the good is not drowned out by the bad. I will choose thankfulness because I am thankful. I have a lot to be thankful for this year, and I know that. But being thankful does not take away the pain.
An attitude of thankfulness is commanded by God. It is His will for us. “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” 1 Thessalonians 4:13. “All circumstances” includes grief. We should be thankful in the midst of our pain. Thankfulness, just like hope, takes a lot more of your energy when you are in the midst of grieving. Thankfulness is a constant choice, not an emotional reaction. Thankfulness can be draining. Some moments I succeed in choosing thankfulness. Some moments I do not.
I am realizing that when you are grieving, you are often a mix of contradictions. Even when you have good days, it still hurts. When you make happy memories, you feel sadness because someone is still missing. When you laugh, you think back to how much you recently cried. And when you are thankful, you still deeply ache for the one who is no longer with you. I imagine this holiday season I will have struggles, and I will have triumphs. If my struggles are many and my triumphs are few, that is ok.
I will choose thankfulness. In choosing thankfulness, I am still sad. That is ok. God sees me. He knows my thoughts. He knows my pain. He is my help. He is what will get me through the tough moments this season, and He is the reason I am thankful. He will give me peace. Peace that I will not be able to comprehend. Peace that will see me through.
“Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:2.
This Thanksgiving I will not be able to look at each member of my little family and be thankful that they are all with me; they are not. One of them is spending Thanksgiving with Jesus. While I rejoice for her, I grieve for me. My heart hurts this holiday, but God is still good and I will still praise Him.