So, Why Am I Thankful?

Even in tragedy, we still have so much to be thankful for. 

As I pause to reflect on my life this morning, I can’t help but be thankful. And, not because there are people out there that have it worse than me. After all, tragedy is all around us;  disease and famine prevalent. Sadly, we all know and have experienced suffering in some way. The past thirteen months have been a torrential downpouring of grief, loss, heartache, and heaviness. Losing our first born son on October 24th, last year, was only the beginning of a journey undesired. A journey that has revealed things in me that were hidden. I’ve yet to adequately put into words all that my heart has to say. I don’t know if I will ever be able. But, it comforts me to know that God hears every cry, every thought, and every detail of my heart; the very language it speaks.
Just now, as I type, I hear a loud thump downstairs. My first thought is that Christiano just woke up, but quickly my mind remembers that he is no longer here with us. Yes, there are still those moments that I forget for a second, and there are other moments that the idealistic pictures in my brain cause me to think there’s still a chance that he will walk through the door.
So, why am I thankful? Well, for many reasons. For starters – I am still here. There were many times in the beginning of my grief journey that I didn’t know if I would make it. There were other times that I wanted not to make it. ‘If i could just fall asleep and wake up in heaven,’ I would think to myself. Not only am I here – alive and breathing, but I am present. I am wide awake to the life that I have been blessed with and aware of God’s unending love for me. I am thankful for His love that endures all of this with me and for a savior who laid his life down for mine.
 I am thankful for my husband and the changes I have seen in him. I’ve seen him let go and let God in a brand new way. For him seeing God in me and encouraging me that there is a bigger picture than the one I can visualize. I am thankful for my daughter who makes my life so much fun. She has been more than just a daughter, but a true friend to me this past year. When I think of her hugs, her silly dances, her beautiful mind – well, I can’t help but light up. I am thankful for my sons, all three of them; for teaching me so much about love, for seeing me through eyes of grace and mercy. To Brian for not letting me slack and for lovingly nudging me forward; for telling me I’m strong when I feel so weak and for reminding me from who my strength comes. To Nate for the powerful prayer sessions when I can’t seem to pull it together and for all of the cuddles and snuggles. For always telling me ‘you’re the best mom ever,’ and meaning it with your whole heart. For our family as a whole – I’m thankful. We’ve grown even closer to each other and closer to the Lord. We love harder and make each day matter most. We don’t wait for tomorrow to say things that can be said now, and we make our moments count. For a church that is family; a place that I can go no matter what condition I am in, and for impact – the most wonderful group of young people. They are loving, kind, and give the best hugs ever. For my family who have been true friends, and for the friends who have been more like family.
For the mothers who have gone before me or ahead of me in the most agonizing journey known to humankind – thank you for loving me. I couldn’t do this without you ladies by my side. To Tammy – you have encouraged me to remember that this isn’t our forever home. You’ve gone ahead of me, and you always made me feel normal when I thought I was crazy. Thank you. To Debbie – you let me in to your most sacred place and loved me. You called me honey and sweetie, and you have loved me even in your pain. Thank you. To Joann – we met in the very beginning stages at a support group for grieving parents. You had only recently lost Nicholas, and you shared your mothers heart with all of us. I knew right away we would be friends. Your love for your son was immediately recognizable to me. Your wisdom and love are so helpful to me. Thank you. I still hurt for you, every day. I love you, and I know that we were meant to be friends. To Cathy; who, just last week, unwillingly joined us on this journey. We are forever connected. Please know that I am here for you. Seeing you on Tuesday made me realize that God put me in your path for this very moment. Thank you. Just like he has put the three ladies In my path to help me, I am here to help you. I love you.
And, lastly, I’m thankful for the eighteen years that I had my little boy. For his abundant joy, his infectious spirit and his hearty laugh. For his unique humor, his masterful story telling skills, his giving heart and his old soul. For his unconditional love, and his charming personality. For all of it. Even for the tough times, I am thankful. You certainly weren’t perfect, Christiano, but you were perfect for me.
I’ve heard it said that we can all find something to be thankful for. But, I don’t think we have to search very far. There is just so much to give thanks for today. Even in the darkest moments, the light of God shines brighter. And, for that alone, I am thankful.

Happy Thanksgiving, friends. I pray that you all find some beautiful in your day.

IN EVERYTHING GIVE THANKS. 1 Thessalonians 5:18

My Heart

‘…He noticed that many times along the path of his life there was only one set of footprints. He also noticed that it happened at the very lowest and saddest times in his life.’ – excerpt from Footprints in the Sand

I think it is fair to assume that most of us, or even all of us, have heard the famous work of Footprints in the Sand. I have read or heard it dozens of times throughout my life and always thought, ‘that’s nice.’ 
My younger years were filled with much heart ache and pain. I was always crying about something. My teen years were a struggle as well, mostly because of my own poor choices. So, at nineteen, when I surrendered my life to Jesus, I was severely broken. I remember, as I made my way to that altar, feeling a peace and a love that I had never experienced before. It was as if God showed up just for me. He came and met me right where I was. And, from that day forward – life just kept getting better. 
Of course, it didn’t happen overnight. It was a process of renewing my mind to this brand new way of living. But, God was helping me to grow, and, for the first time in my life, I felt hopeful about my future. In my experience, hope is not something that can truly come alive in our hearts until we know Christ. For, He is the hope of glory.
Over the next ten years, we continued to follow hard after God. We wanted the life that He laid out for us, so we trained our children to know the Word of God, and we lived by example in our love for the Lord. We instilled Godly values and virtues in each of their little hearts, and they all had a personal understanding of God and His Word. 
Don’t get me wrong; life was far from perfect. We were young parents, 23 and 25, with four young children, learning how to walk out the Christian life. We were not taught how to be married, or pay bills; we weren’t sure how to keep a house organized or cook for a big family; we had no formal training on how to raise children, and we had to rely on the Lord for all of that. So, there were lots of trials, and lots of errors. We learned as we went and leaned on the Lord for encouragement. However, we did have something so wonderful from God and for each other – we had love. Whoever said, ‘all you need is love,’ is so right. Love is God, and God is love. Love truly is ALL you need. We had easy days and hard days; good years and bad years; seasons of harvest and seasons of drought. But, one thing remained – the Lord and His unfailing Love. 
I’d say one of the best days was Chris and I’s fifteen year wedding anniversary. We were finally financially ready to have the wedding ceremony we never had. When Chris and I were planning, we both had this yearning in our heart to glorify God. We wanted people to see what God can do with a broken life – that He will forget our sin and remember all His promises to His children. And, that day did JUST that – it glorified God in our lives. We were given the beautiful privilege to stand before our God, our children, our Pastors, and our closest family and friends to say ‘I do’ all over again. Gabriella was my matron of honor and Christiano was Chris’s best man. It was a beautiful ceremony, and there were only a handful of dry eyes in the room. 
Christiano made this post on his FB the morning of the vow renewal.
‘Today is a special day. I get to see the most beautiful woman I have ever known and the man I have spent my whole life looking up to renew their vows to each other. My parents’ marriage is an inspiration. They are an example to the world that it’s never too late to do the right thing. I love you guys.’ 
That post still takes my breath away. All parents wait for the day that their child will SEE. And, Christiano saw. 
That night, as I looked around at the 200 plus people, I said to myself, ‘Wow, God. You did it. Our life has been completely turned around, and You get all the glory.’ It was the most beautiful realization to have. To see the fruit of God’s promises and the fruit of our labor collide and make this beautiful life. I remember thinking that life would be smooth sailing from here; that we had overcome by Christ and our testimony. No one could have ever prepared me for what happened 13 months later. 
Losing Christiano has felt like I’m dangling in the depths of hell, so desperate to be pulled out. And, I wonder how does my life glorify God now? How does our life look appealing to anyone? We’ve dealt with the greatest loss there is, and sometimes I feel like we’ve just plain lost. We’ve lost the fight; we’ve been robbed; we’ve been battered. And, the recovery is so slow… But, God is still good. He HAS carried me. I don’t always see Him in my days, but I see Him when I look back. Just like the Footprints in the Sand, I don’t always know when He’s carrying me, but I do know He is always with me; watching, comforting, and loving me. And, He knows when I need to be held. I don’t have to ask – He just picks me up when I can no longer stand. But, the truth is, sometimes, I feel ashamed of my life, and I want to hide it away. Sometimes, I feel like I failed God or I failed all of you who are watching. I’ve lost friends, and I think it’s because my life is too painful for them. No one wants to think about what it would be like to lose a child. But, it has happened to more people than I ever realized before, and God has asked me to share my story. My life, His glory. That’s my hearty cry and my hope. 
 It is incredibly painful to walk through this sort of tragedy without friends by your side. So, reader and friend, when I thank you for walking this with me, I mean it. With every intricate particle of my heart, I am grateful for you. My prayer for those of you who have followed our story, is for you to know that our God is a good God and that you would realize the height, the depth, the length and the width of His love for you and for me.