Choosing to Give Thanks

I completely forgot to go to my dentist appointment.  Then, I was surprised when someone showed up at my front door for a coffee date that I had planned and forgotten.  I asked if a person attended Tage’s funeral and was reminded that they were part of the group who was with us all day.  I found my car keys in the mailbox.

My mind is elsewhere right now.

It seems I don’t have the mental capacity to remember anything–

Except for Tage.

He is on my mind 24-7, and therefore, nothing else can be.  I know this is normal in grief.  I remember similar occurrences when Mom died.  I remember how long it took me not to constantly feel anxious that I had forgotten a commitment I’d made or a friend I was supposed to meet.

So, I’m giving everyone permission to text and remind me of anything that I need to remember.  I won’t be offended.  I need it right now.

There are a lot of other things I think I need right now:  I need alone time, far more than I would usually care to endure.  I need a lot of coffee during the first half of the day to get me moving and a lot of wine during the second half to wind me down (okay, a lot might be an exaggeration, but some definitely helps).  I need a lot more sleep than I normally require, and I need some help even getting to sleep.

But most of the time, I don’t even know what I need.

 

Thanksgiving was awful.  I had never dreaded a day like I dreaded last Thursday.  When my eyes first squinted open on Thursday morning, I cringed and rolled over.  I felt a sudden, heavy angst.  I didn’t want to do Thanksgiving.

I didn’t want to do Thanksgiving without Tage.

I wasn’t sure I had it in me to make green beans for 21 people.  I wasn’t sure I wanted to have small talk with them about the past year, but I also wasn’t sure I wanted to have real talk with them about how I was feeling that day.  I wasn’t sure I could handle being at Dad’s house for the first time without Tage, without the diaper bag over my shoulder as I followed Josh, with little Tage in his arms, up the walk to the front door.  I wasn’t sure I could handle not seeing Tage being passed around the relatives, everyone smiling at him and oohing and ahhing over how big he’s gotten, or holding him on my lap after the meal while he napped in my arms.

Last year at holiday time, I looked at my bulging belly and couldn’t wait to watch our baby’s eyes glued in amazement to the sparkly lights on the tree for the first time, or his smile as he tore a piece of wrapping paper apart, or his giggles as he played peek-a-boo with an aunt who was popping out from behind the big nativity.

Normally, I can’t get enough of the anticipation of Christmastime, of the lights, the songs, the holiday cheer, the shopping.

But this year, I don’t even want to decorate.  I don’t want to do Christmas without Tage.

I want to go to sleep and wake up in the middle of January.  How am I possibly going to just get through this season without our little boy?

But that’s just it.  I know that God wants so much more for me, for us, than to “just get through.”

 

“…give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:18).

I saw that verse multiple times on Thanksgiving.  It’s a popular one this time of year, and I’d read it many times before.  But it is sticking with me more than ever.

Give thanks in ALL circumstances.

As my pastor says, “All means all.”   Yes, our baby died less than two weeks ago, right before the holidays.  Yes, I’m looking at his picture on my desk right now as I type, and it’s making me cry.  And yes, God wants me to give thanks in this circumstance, in this season, too.

In fact, it is His will for us.  God wants me to choose gratitude in every season of life.

I thought of that earlier this week as I walked into Tage’s room for the first time since he died.  I was aching for him, missing his chubby hands and pouty lips, and I just wanted to be near him.

Slowly, I breathed in his dirty clothes;  I smoothed out his blanket in his crib;  I took out the imprints of his little feet and delicately ran my fingers over them; I sat down in his rocker, the place where he took his last breath in my arms a week prior, only now my arms were empty.  I picked up one of his blankets and clutched it against my chest because I just needed to hold something, something like him.  The tears flowed quickly and covered my cheeks.  Surely this must be one of the worst kinds of torture, to still be living when your child is not.

I rocked in the chair with his blanket and replayed moments we spent together in that room, and I ached.  I don’t want to walk this road.  I know grief takes time, and it hurts, and it never fully goes away.  I am still mad that I’m even having to do it at all, but especially just five years after losing my mom, and especially over the death of our Tage.  And You want me to be thankful?

But Lord, I just don’t feel like there is anything I can thank you for right now.  My heart is broken about what has happened, and my soul aches for what won’t happen.  I can barely function enough to do my daily tasks.  I long for Tage with a yearning I have never known until now.  How could you possibly expect me, even command me, to be thankful in this?

But there’s one more thing that the verse says…”this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”

Giving thanks in death is not human; it’s not natural. It’s super-natural.  It can only be done with Jesus.

Jesus changes everything.  I do believe that now more than ever.  Because of Jesus, I know where Tage is.  Because of Jesus, I know that I will join Tage again.  Because of Jesus, we have received many stories of how Tage’s life and death has given people Hope.  Only Jesus could take something so evil like the death of a child and make some good things come out of it.

That doesn’t take our pain away, but gosh, it sure gives some purpose to it.

As I sat in Tage’s rocker and poured out my tears and my grief, I was overcome by a sudden feeling of gratitude.

I am so grateful for Tage.  I’m grateful that God gave him to us as a gift, and I truly would rather have him for some than for none at all.  I wish desperately that it could have been longer, but I am profoundly grateful that we got him at all.

See, in this season, God knows what I really need.  He knows that, more than ever, what will really get us through whatever difficult season in which we may find ourselves — grief, anxiety, waiting, uncertainty — we need to be thankful.  Thankfulness is the antidote to the poison that grief, anxiety, waiting, and uncertainty produce in my frail human heart.  Thankfulness reminds me of what God has already done, and therefore, what He will continue to do.

Therefore, I’m going to choose to find the things that I can be grateful for as I look back on the last two harrowing months of our lives.  There are many.  Here are just some of the highlights.

I’m thankful for…

  • Tage’s incredible doctors and nurses and care through Riley Hospital
  • time with our friends and family as we stayed in the hospital
  • the MealTrains
  • cards in the mail
  • women who came to be with Tage and me so I was never alone
  • people who cleaned our home for us
  • grocery runs and other errands done
  • people who just showed up to sit with us
  • friends who took care of the day-to-day stuff (like laundry and dishes) so we could focus on Tage
  • getting a g-tube so we could have two more months with Tage
  • God’s grace that allowed us to handle the g-tubes, suction machines, and administering lots of meds to Tage
  • tears from others which lets us know we are not alone in our grief
  • good hugs
  • high-school students I don’t even know who prayed for us
  • the love I felt when people would go mascara-free with me
  • my sisters and their husbands and Josh’s sisters coming to stay with us for two whole weeks
  • the slumber parties that happened on our living room floor every night for those two weeks
  • the many pounds of coffee and bottles of wine and multi-course meals that people brought to all of us those two weeks
  • relationships that were strengthened through this season
  • our pastors who never let us be alone for a moment
  • precious time we spent quietly with Tage and others in his nursery the last week of his life
  • thousands of prayers prayed on our behalf from friends and strangers
  • people who stayed with us until late at night since we had trouble sleeping
  • the outpouring of love we received from our co-workers
  • very compassionate bosses
  • walks in the neighborhood with friends and family
  • all the faces throughout the 4.5 hour receiving line at Tage’s visitation
  • all the faces at Tage’s memorial service
  • the work crew that came to do our fall/winter house projects last weekend (see photo above)
  • the texts, emails, and Facebook messages of people continuing to check-in, even if we can’t respond to them all

I see a very similar thread in all of these.  PEOPLE.

I may not always know what I need right now, but the Lord knows our needs, and it seems that He often supplies our needs through people.  He has certainly done that for us in these months.

This Thanksgiving, I am most thankful for the people in our lives, for their sacrifices in order to serve us, and for their willingness to let their actions and presence speak even louder than their words.  We are loved.  We are not alone.

We are so, so grateful for that.

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