A few years ago we developed (and confessed) our childless fistbump: The fist-bump about celebrating the as-things-are-right-now moments.
This year, that’s how I’m thinking of Thanksgiving. This year there are some big, OBVIOUS things on my gratitude list. Only the easiest year ever to answer “what are you thankful for?” There are also some less obvious griefs. I know Thanksgiving tables everywhere will be filled with equal and sincere doses of gratitude, grief, and granax (Xanax-induced-gratitude).
My friends at Homefront Magazine invited me to write about how I learned to give thanks in all things, something I had to wrestle to the ground in our unplanned unparenthood – or better said, something that had to wrestle me down. Also, that’s very different than gratitude FOR all things. So very different. Tuck that one in your back pocket because it’s name is grace.
So I thought I’d share the article this morning because maybe as you head into a day of thankful fist-bumping, maybe a little reminder wouldn’t hurt that gratitude and grief are not exclusive of one another. That the thankful-fistbump can be an expression of both. And that practicing gratitude is practice – we get better at it the more we work that muscle.
So, my friend, thankful-fistbump to you and yours, whatever you’re bringing to the Thanksgiving table today. 👊🏻
Homefront Magazine excerpt (Unplanned Parenthood, November issue)
She’s got angel’s hair – so blonde it’s almost white. With an angel’s face to match.
She’s four. And precocious. And already carries a fierce stubbornness that is going to make her a challenging teen but amazing woman. She’s in her question-asking stage – Why this? How that? I know some of the answers, but not all.
As we sat together and watched Up, she narrated. He likes balloons, she’d say with a grin. Her giggle was infectious as the love story of Carl and Ellie unfolded.
When they started painting the nursery, she turned to me with a conspiratorial smile and half-whispered she’s going to have a baby. I then saw her head go sideways when the next scene shows Ellie sobbing in the doctor’s office: why is she crying?
Ah, this answer I know. She’s really sad because she isn’t going to have a baby, I answered. Why can’t she have a baby? Well, not everyone gets to. She let that answer sit – I could see that it was brand new information for her brain.
But did she get happy again? Yes. Yes she did.
How? Well, she had a different adventure.
Contended, my niece snuggled in and took a deep sigh, as if the breath she’d been holding had depended on how I answered that question. I marveled (and chuckled inside) at how simply her child-heart had accepted that answer. Because it was an answer my grown-up heart had wrestled with for years.
See, I had set out to be a mom. Instead, He taught me about being His child.
I had waited and watched for the day my womb would be full. Instead, He entrusted me with emptiness.
Owning, living, and braving our story of unplanned unparenthood meant learning how to thank the God who gives and takes away.
Even though I knew I was to “give thanks in all circumstances” (1 Thess. 5:18), I spent many days ready to punch the next person who reminded me. And barrenness can take so many shapes and forms, but mine was literal, and my tears were fresh on the day I came across this odd instruction in Isaiah: “Barren one … go enlarge your tents and strengthen your stakes” (Isaiah 54:2). It sounded kind of, well, cruel. And confusing. Two things that I know God is not. So I simply asked Him “what does this mean?”
I looked at my ‘tents’, the rooms in my heart. I looked to expand when I wanted to shrink. I made more time for friendships. I signed up to be a counselor at a camp for foster youth. I dug into Scripture and discovered loss doesn’t have the last word. I turned to my ‘stakes’ – my marriage. I looked for ways to strengthen it. To invest in it. To fight FOR my man and not with him as our hearts wrestled with an undefined future. I guess you could say I began practicing gratitude before my heart knew what it was doing.
And this passage in Isaiah – this odd instruction to expand when everything in your world says to shrink – goes on to tell us that God has compassion on us the same way we have all the warm feels for newborn babies. [Insert eye-roll about God using a newborn baby metaphor to speak to a barren woman, but I digress.] And THIS is where we find the freedom to give thanks in every circumstance – whether our tents are small or large, our stakes are strong or weak – we are His babes. YOU are His child before you are anything else … before being a wife, or a mom, or a non-mom, or a businesswoman, or a ministry leader, or any of the many labels we can carry.
I love that we get to practice gratitude even before we understand it – and even on days we want to punch the next person who suggests it. That we can encourage each other to ‘enlarge our tents’ and ‘strengthen our stakes’ because we know that fullness and emptiness can exist at the same time, and that we don’t have to carry empty, barren spaces silently – be it an empty womb, an empty heart, or an empty place at the dinner table.
You mamas amaze me. You have been entrusted with the sacredness of fullness, even when it means nights empty of sleep. Your tents are stretched and pulled on a daily basis (and I’m not just talking about breastfeeding). Your stakes are tested by the hour. And they hold. I think most of you know what a sacred role you’ve been given as MOM. I love that we get to remind each other that the sacredness is there with or without that title. Because before we are anything else, we are His beloved littles. Having all kinds of different adventures.