The night before Thanksgiving, I was up late finishing pies for the next day. As I sliced apples, Annalise got up – again. She’d been restlessly trying to get to sleep and her night owl nature was kicking in hard.
A bit exasperated, I agreed to let her sleep on the couch while I baked. A few minutes later though, I heard sniffling and, admittedly a bit miffed, I asked her what was wrong.
I miss Daddy, came the tearful reply. “Why does everyone have a dad but me?” she asked.
Dusting flour from my hands, I went in to her. She did have a daddy, I wanted to say. A daddy who had adored her and who we’d see again. But this night I didn’t correct; I just comforted. “I know, baby. Daddy loved you so much,” I said, stroking her hair and drying her tears.
As she quieted and I went back into the kitchen, my thoughts churned. Stink. We are five years into this and some days the grief rolls over us hard.
Grief doesn’t stay neatly tucked into convenient spaces. It bubbles up in unexpected moments and surfaces at times meant for celebration; seasons marked for festivity and thanks.
I thought of others dealing with grief while the rest of the world celebrated.
While many of us gathered with family and friends around tables piled high with turkey and trimmings, filling up on love and laughter and life, other families were admitting a child to the hospital, getting a diagnosis, watching the light of their life take a last breath.
That’s the thing about the hard – it pays no attention to plans or holidays. It matters not that it’s a national holiday or the cusp of your son’s wedding or that a category 4 hurricane is pressing down.
Right in the midst of the hard — of the ill-timed, unwanted, unexpected – God’s good hand is so evident.
We’ve prayed for the sister of dear friends for more than two years. Always interceding for the next treatment, the next surgery.
Last week, she ran out of the next option. As I was making my Thanksgiving grocery list and prepping my house for college kids, her family was calling in hospice.
Her brother found a stack of spiral notebooks in her closet. Seems shortly after she was diagnosed someone gave her a copy of Ann Voskamp’s 1000 gifts. She’d titled the first page of the first notebook “1000 gifts” and begun entering those first notes of gratitude . . . #1, #2, #3 . . . continuing on.
Paging through the journal, her brother saw she’d reached 1000 entries and kept going. The second notebook now gave thanks on both the front and backside of each page and somewhere in her third notebook, she reached entry #15,000.
Four years of daily thanksgiving. Four years of purposely looking for God’s good hand right in the midst of inconvenient, unwanted hard.
It changes a person. It changes perception and perspective. It tells our story with the whole truth, not just the half that’s heaviest.
“The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy, your whole body will be full of light.” Matthew 6:22
Even when we are physically emptying, when our gut is hollowed out from pain, eyes that see and ears that hear all that God is doing – all that God is – fill the hollow with Light.
What kind of Light was there when the clock began it’s slow, steady pace toward an earthly end?
Her brother searched for her last entries.
The morning after doctors told her there were no further options, nothing left they could do, her entry read: PEACE.
The next day recorded her final written thanks. In visibly weakening script, she wrote again — PEACE — and then, lastly – STRENGTH.
Oh that we would have eyes that really see.
We may have grief when the rest of the world is celebrating. But finding the good and gratitude in the hard opens our eyes to the immeasurable, infinite, inescapable love of our God.
Be Thou my Vision, O Lord of my heart;
Naught be all else to me, save that Thou art.
Thou my best Thought, by day or by night,
Waking or sleeping, Thy presence my light.
*This post appeared first at TrueandFaithful.net. You can connect with Lisa on Instagram or check out her family advent book: Countdown to Christmas: Unwrap the Real Christmas Story with Your Family in 15 Days.
Lisa Appelo is a single mom to 7 and young widow. She's a speaker and blogger who shares soul-deep encouragement for the adventure of faith at LisaAppelo.com. She recently authored Countdown to Christmas: Unwrap the Christmas Story with Your Family in 15 Days.You can connect with Lisa on Instagram and Facebook.
I turned the mini-van into our neighborhood, so ready to be done with the afternoon of errands. My younger two in the backseat needed some down time to free range after our full school morning and I was itching to get to my laptop for a slew of writing tasks.
I would have a delightful window of time to work on my stuff before we loaded back up to meet my 17-year-old after football practice.
I pulled into our driveway and turned the van off. Just as I was about to give some instructions for the afternoon, my cell phone buzzed. It was my 17-year-old.
“Hey,” I answered, trying to smooth over any tone that I already felt interrupted.
“Hey, Mom. I forgot my cleats. Can you bring them to school?”
Ok – let me freeze right here.
I know the consensus among so-called experts would advise a parent in this situation to just say no. Parents should not rescue, they say. Let the child experience natural consequences and solve the problem without stepping in.
Believe me when I say my own agenda was also screaming no. Turning around to help him now would mean another 45 minutes at least before we’d be back home.
But I didn’t hesitate on this one.
“Sure. I’ll bring them to the field,” I said backing down the driveway for another round trip to his school.
There have been plenty of times that I’ve knotted up with frustration or launched into a lecture or let the consequences teach but I’ve also learned that sometimes you step in to help because -- this is what a mom does.
Maybe the experts would cringe at that. Maybe they’d say I’m rewarding irresponsibility or crippling my child’s ability to figure it out.
But if I’ve learned anything in this parenting it’s that rules without mercy wind me up way too tight. We all need grace.
Some situations call for a bright-line rule.
Sometimes I need to call the child downstairs to put away shoes left in the living room.
Sometimes I need to call the child and review the rule on where to put our shoes.
Sometimes I need to hold the shoes until the child can pay their ransom.
But strict rules enforced with absolute consistency make me feel more like a master sergeant than a mom – and they don’t account for real life.
Because departures can get busy and time gets miscalculated and tasks get forgotten. And in those situations – if it’s not chronic irresponsibility – then maybe what’s most needed is not to tow the hard line but to offer grace.
Sometimes I just need to quietly put away the shoes because that’s what a mom does.
Or clean up their late night snack.
Or help them with an 11th-hour deadline.
When I reassure myself that this is part of a mom’s territory, my expectations adjust and my feelings follow. The irritation that usually rises and the sense that I’m being put out unwinds.
Grace just releases all of us.
I got an urgent call yesterday from an installer who was ready to start work on our out-of-town rental. He had special-ordered material and his worker was all scheduled to start installation except for one hang-up: he hadn’t yet received my deposit.
Because I’d forgotten to send the deposit.
The invoice had become buried under other papers in my stack and now I had two choices: I could press pause on my entire morning, load kids up in the car and drive the hour and a half to give him a check or I could call my son who lives in the same town to help.
I sent a text to my son: “Can you take a check to the house for me this morning?”
He didn’t hesitate. “Sure!”
There was no lecture. No irritation. No I'm-not-going-to-step-in-so-the-consequences-can-teach.
He extended grace when I needed it.
That’s what a family does.