The wall hanging at Sunny Escape
After our 16-hour drive, we brought our bags into the cottage, Sunny Escape. Yes, the cottage has a name, and it has been in my family for generations.
I breathed deep the familiar smell of Sunny Escape. A smile touched my lips as my eyes scanned the main room.
My husband continued to bring things in from the car. My son worked to find a place to store his monster truck collection for the week. But I stood frozen.
My eyes landed on the wall hanging above the kitchen window. My smile faded.
There hung a bronze-colored circle. It was a simple piece of home décor, but it made me feel betrayed by Sunny Escape. Inside its scalloped edge, grape vines encircled the words “In Everything Give Thanks. 1 Thessalonians 5:18”
Really God? I silently prayed. This place is supposed to be an escape! We are trying to run away from Thanksgiving. How can I possibly give thanks in everything?
I couldn’t face Thanksgiving at home. I couldn’t face the normal food, family, and football traditions. Normal felt impossible. This was supposed to be our baby girl’s first Thanksgiving. How could I be grateful when I was so overwhelmed with grief?
So, a few days before Thanksgiving we packed up our car and drove south from our home in Michigan until we reached the Gulf of Mexico and Sunny Escape.
We were trying to escape the expectations of Thanksgiving. But the moment I laid eyes on that wall hanging, I realized there was no use. Thanksgiving had followed us.
I didn’t say a word about the wall hanging to my family. I was tempted to take it down and hide it. But I didn’t.
That week we slept in, walked on the beach, hunted for shells, played at the park, and watched movies. We enjoyed the quiet days in Sunny Escape. The wall hanging seemed less taunting as the week went on.
On Thanksgiving Day, we didn’t want to cook. So, we ate cheese and crackers, jello, and plastic-wrapped cupcakes. After our “big meal,” we headed to the beach. I sat on the cold sand and watched my husband and son fly a kite. My son’s laughter danced in the wind.
Flying a Kite on Thanksgiving Day
This. I whispered. I am thankful for this, God. The words of the bronze wall hanging came to mind. “In everything give thanks.”
Is this the “everything” I am supposed to be thankful for? I asked God. I am thankful for all of it. Even the grief.
I couldn’t stop the tears as I thought about the words of my prayer. Could I actually be grateful for grief?
Grief is hard. It’s not always logical. It’s uncomfortable, bitter, and exhausting.
Grief is like a magnifying glass. It magnifies our view of what we no longer have, or perhaps never had. But, at the same time, it can also magnify the view of our blessings.
Grief can magnify our focus on eternity. It can heighten our awareness of our Heavenly Father’s sacrifice for us. It can make the moments of heart-swelling joy feel like a taste of heaven. And it can help us decipher the most meaningful pieces of our lives from unnecessary stressors.
God met me on that beach. The powdery sand became Holy Ground where he revealed something new to my heart:
Gratitude is the secret of seeing God’s goodness even in grief.
As I moved forward after that first Thanksgiving, there was no denying my sorrow. Yet, I grabbed onto the magnifying glass of grief with both hands. I allowed God to reveal the beauty of who he is through the lens of my everyday life.
This year, you may feel like escaping from Thanksgiving. You may feel, as I did, that there is nothing to be grateful for. Dear One, God sees you. He wants to reveal his goodness to you even in this season of sorrow. Your heart may feel overwhelmed with disappointment and dread, but God is still good.
Here are a few ideas to help practice gratitude in grief
Ask God to magnify the good around you.
Pray Psalm 87:17 “Give me a sign of your goodness, that my enemies may see it and be put to shame, for you, Lord, have helped me and comforted me.” (NIV)
Document the good.
A steaming coffee, a cute dog, your warm slippers, a pretty leaf. Find something good and make a record of it. You can make a list on paper, or your notes app. Or you could make a photo journal by taking a picture or a short video.
Let life stay quiet for a bit.
It’s okay if you don’t do all the expected things. Putting on a brave face to please others only delays healthy processing and can build resentment.
Get in God’s word.
If you are unsure of what to read, start in the Psalms. You’ll find good company in the words of many of the psalms of lament.