Giving Thanks in the Midst of Grief

Embrace - Blog

My phone was my mama. She called me as she drove home from Hobby Lobby. Her voice shaky and unsure. “I picked up two pumpkins with words of gratitude on them and put them in my cart. Then I took them out and put them back in several times, before leaving.” She continued, “I just couldn’t do it, I can’t buy things that say, ‘Give thanks’ and see that around our home right now.” The tears started to flow, “Do you think that’s really terrible?”

My stepfather was in the last days of his fight against cancer, he was suffering greatly. My mama was up day and night caring for him and praying with him. But his body was showing signs, he had little time left with us.

“Oh, no” I said gently, “It’s ok, Jesus knows your heart, he knows you’re hurting and he knows how thankful you are to him for carrying you through this. Buying a pumpkin doesn’t change that.” I assured her that her gratitude was not defined by the decor in her home. If she couldn’t stare at those words in the midst of her heart breaking grief - it was totally understandable!

We came to visit a week later, for what would be our last time together. The first thing I noticed as I walked into the kitchen, was a pumpkin that said, “Give thanks”. Then as I turned the corner and braced myself for seeing Chris, my stepfather in his weakened state, there was another pumpkin that said - ‘Be grateful’. My heart cringed, ugg be grateful...right now? I thought she didn’t buy those things?

I embraced Chris and we talked for a while. When I returned to the kitchen to catch my breath and release my tears, my mom asked, “Did you notice my pumpkins?”

I shook my head yes. She continued, “After I got home, I took time to think about it and I thought, ‘No! This will not be our story.’ She said emphatically, ‘I will choose to be thankful’. I went back the very next day, I said out loud over and over again on the way, I will give thanks. I put those pumpkins in my cart with confidence. I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength - including giving thanks.” This verse is something she and Chris said together daily, as they navigated the discomforts of this season. She then said, “Our legacy will not be one of bitterness, but of choosing gratitude even in the hardest moments.”

I nodded and agreed, sitting in awe once again of the Lord strengthening my mama. She has always challenged me to see the positive in crazy hard situations.

Oh my, I wrestled with it each time I walked by those words in her home. There are moments that prayers of thanksgiving slip off my tongue in abundance and with great ease. This was not one of them.

It was an intense battle to shift perspective and offer up thanks. As we set up the hospital bed in the living room and increased meds. As my husband helped to set up the oxygen tank and as my boys crawled into Grandpa’s lap for last stories and hugs. Then again later that early dark morning, as I walked into the kitchen. I embraced my mother and sister, turned the corner into the living room, this time knowing it was only his body laying there. He was in heaven. I saw the words… ‘be grateful’. I turned my eyes away quickly, as the tears burned my cheeks.

We sat there by his body for a while as the sun rose outside. Just before the staff from the funeral home arrived, my mama held his hand for the last time on Earth. She wept and I held her. She then raised her other hand into the air. With tears and broken words, she thanked Jesus. She thanked him for defeating cancer, for completely healing her husband. She thanked God for the hope of eternal life in heaven.

She chose gratitude as her heart broke in grief. It was truly a sacrifice of thanksgiving in the midst of one of the hardest seasons she’s endured.

Psalm 50:23 “The one who offers thanksgiving as his sacrifice glorifies me; to one who orders his way rightly I will show the salvation of God.”

We will continue to thank the Lord for each moment shared with Chris and for an end to his years of suffering. The void left is big. His influence in our lives was great, impacting each of us deeply. We’d hoped, fasted and prayed alongside of Chris for a miracle of healing, that would restore his body and give him more time with us on Earth.

But even when things don’t turn out the way we hoped, we can choose gratitude.

In the midst of disappointment and grief - we can be grateful and place our trust in the One who has an eternal perspective that we can’t fully understand.

My mom didn’t suggest gratitude for the suffering and sickness. But it was important to her that our family recognize we had a choice to make, we could choose to see each moment through a lens of gratitude. We could thank the Lord for holding us through each breath of this journey, we could receive his embrace and his promise of heaven with a thankful heart.

It’s in these raw moments that our hearts are exposed and our faith in the Lord is illuminated.

It’s in these very seconds, when our days feel devastating, that we can offer thanksgiving as a genuine sacrifice. This kind of sacrifice brings God every bit of the glory!

The Bible tells us that King David danced in the streets and chose to give praise to God, showing everyone his trust was still in the Lord, after his son died.

Before Jesus was crucified he prayed and shared a meal with his disciples, some of whom he knew would betray him, yet he chose in those last moments to give thanks - communicating his trust was still in the Lord.

When we choose to sacrifice and give thanks despite our circumstances, our hearts begin to fill with hope. God supernaturally mends our brokenness as we dwell in His presence. When we surrender our grief and embrace Him, he brings comfort. He strengthens our arms to reach towards heaven again and again and say, “thank you.”

Not only do we find peace for the journey when we offer this sacrifice, but we’re also making a declaration.

We’re declaring our devotion to the Lord.

We’re defeating the enemy’s plan to steal our peace and wear down our faith, into a powerless place.

We’re choosing to say, “We trust you Lord - despite our circumstances.”

Dear friend, If your body aches with grief, if the words ‘give thanks’ and ‘be grateful’ pierce your heart and trigger pain. Please know - you’re not alone.  

I invite you to honestly acknowledge your feelings. Then right in the midst of that messiness - embrace Jesus with gratitude anyways.

Even if the only words you can say are, “thank you Jesus” right now - do it. I believe when they come from a place of such deep sacrifice, they are incredibly powerful!

Dig deep with me. From the ashes of where the enemy wants to name defeat...let’s raise our hands and declare victory. Together we can give thanks, in the midst of grief.

Psalm 116:17 “I will sacrifice a thank you offering to you and call on the name of the Lord.”