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23rd of November

Giving Thanks When Grief is Fresh on Thanksgiving

Give thanks to the LORD, call on his name; make known among the nations what he has done. Sing to him, sing praise to him; tell of all his wonderful acts. Glory in his holy name; let the hearts of those who seek the LORD rejoice. Look to the LORD and his strength; seek his face always.


I Chronicles 16:8-11


While meandering down our country road, a Northern Harrier flies over the just-cut corn field, now a stubble of yellowed stalks.

He soars smoothly, invisible wind holding him aloft. The white patch at the base of his tail gleams in the morning sun.

I give thanks to our God who created him and all things good.

I begin thanking God for all the good so easily taken for granted—my eyes that can see harvested fields and flying birds. My nose that can smell sweet cinnamon and pumpkin. My arms that scooped the luscious mixture into the pie crust I just rolled out on cold granite.

My eyes. My arms. They’ve caused me multiple doctors visits the past two months.

They have issues. But I’m still thankful.

And speaking of issues . . .

There are issues maybe no one sees except our God who sees all things.

There are hearts that hurt this time of year when the holidays slide in and sweep us up in family and traditions.

Or not.

Aunt Lucille died last night.

I was hoping she’d hold on until next week when I’ll be there visiting my father. Now I’ll be visiting ashes. I hurt for her husband, my Uncle Wally—wheel-chair bound with one leg lost at the hip to diabetes. He’s alone now.

Twelve years ago, Death stole their daughter, Debbie, who looked like me with her natural curls and blue eyes. She lost her fight with lung cancer at 48. I was 46.

Then, several months ago, death stole their only other child, Scott, two years younger than me. A genetic disorder finally finished off his kidneys. My aunt and uncle were too frail to travel for the funeral.

And now, on Thanksgiving, I wonder if my uncle is giving thanks. I’ll call him today and pray God gives me words. What do you speak into such dark grief? Maybe you just say you’re sorry. Maybe you just say it’s ok to say anything. Or nothing. That you just want to sit beside him and let him be anything or everything he feels like being for as long as he feels like being. Surely, when I see him next week, I’ll get down on the floor and play with his beloved dachshund who looks like a pitifully over-stuffed sausage. Heidi certainly needs the exercise. And my uncle might just need a laugh.

I think of others this day, grieving other kinds of “deaths”—the divorces between spouses, the rifts between siblings, the misunderstands, the wounding. Sadly, the relationship God intends for healing often ends up breaking.

Still, there’s always a reason to give thanks—to experience joy—even in the midst of loss.

After thanking God for the hawk and the fields that grew the corn I’ll place on the Thanksgiving table this afternoon, I walk into the local grocery and fill my cart with food. Just like that.  A can of whole cranberry sauce. Fresh green asparagus stalks. Huge Idaho potatoes. Orange yams. Local Jonathan and Granny Smith apples. I thank God for all the people who harvest and prepare and ship such gifts. I thank God I can pay for such gifts. And then, God gives me two surprise gifts.

As I push my cart full of food near the check-out lane, an elderly gentleman with two boxes of stuffing in his hands comes up behind me. Just two boxes of Stove-Top stuffing. I ask him to go in front of me. He smiles wide and thanks me for letting him go first as if I’m sacrificing so much.

A simple kindness can warm more than one heart.

Then, I see the man in this thirties with thick, wire-framed glasses at the end of our lane. He bags groceries. That’s his job.  He struggles to find a place for two gallons of milk on my piled-high cart of Thanksgiving food he’s packaged and placed, ever so carefully so the eggs and the bread don’t get crushed.

He tries one way. And then another. And yet another.

I want to tell him to just put those two gallons of milk on the bottom of the cart made just for gallons of milk.

But I don’t.

I stand there and pray for patience—the kind patience God gives me every single moment of my differently-abled life here on Earth.

After the man finally finds just the right spot for the two gallons of milk, I look him in his eyes peering through Coke-bottle glasses and say:

“Thank you for packing my groceries. I really appreciate you.”

He doesn’t say, “Thanks.”

He doesn’t say, “You’re welcome.”

Instead, he says, “Can I help you to your car?”

What?  Can he?  Help me?

I hesitate for a couple seconds. I wonder. Would we both be blessed if I said yes?

Maybe it’d be a good thing to be helped by one who maybe would like to be appreciated and valued enough to carry on a short conversation between conveyer belt and car trunk.

So I say, “Yes, please. That’d be kind of you.”

We walk to my car, talking about Thanksgiving—how he’ll be celebrating with his family and I’ll be celebrating with mine. We talk about our favorite Thanksgiving food. And right there by my car, as this man lowers the lid and begins to roll my empty cart back inside, I say,

“Thank you for helping me. Happy Thanksgiving!”

Without turning, he says, “Yep.”

That’s enough.

I stand watching his back as he pushes that cart through the sliding grocery store doors and disappears inside. I slip into my leather seat and thank God once again:

You just gave me the most unexpected, incredible Thanksgiving gift, God!  Surely you see and care for us all!  Surely you’re providing perfectly for that man—for my grown kids—for me and my husband. Surely, your mercy and goodness follow all of us, all the days of our lives.

And even in the midst of raw grief, You are providing.

Thank you for my 85-year-old father taking care of his older brother bound to a wheelchair, grieving his lost family. Thank you that my dad’s still healthy enough to care for his younger brother with dementia.  Thank You for the good in family. Even more, thank You for the good in humanity that You spark and fan into flame for the good of us all—every single day.

Oh God, I give you thanks! For You are good and your love endures forever. Your faithfulness continues through all generations. You are the Light of this world and the Hope for the hurting—the Giver of all things good.  Thank you for another opportunity to thank you on this Thanksgiving Day.

 Thanks to our daughter, Anna, for this art.

  • Happy Thanksgiving you guys,

    Thanks Heather for for your unique ability to share the melange of emotions so many of us feel, but lack the ability to express adequately. I am so thankful for the friendship of you and Todd and your family. Our hearts go out to your family and all the recent losses. We pray for your safety as you guys travel. How can we help while you are gone?

    Please uphold our son Rob, his wife Tami, and their two girls in your prayers. They made an emergency trip out to South Dakota to Tami’s parents. Tami’s mom is slipping deeper and deeper into the clutches of alzheimer’s. Up till now Tami’s dad has been able to care for her at home, but now he has been diagnosed with a large tumor on his spine and bone cancer. The pain from the tumor on his spine and the bone cancer sent him into the ER several times this past week. Last night they wound up 100 miles away in the hospital in Rapid City where he will stay for several days. Tami and her mom drove back to their home in Belle Fourche. Rob stayed with the girls in their motel room.

    Please keep Rob and Tami in your prayers as they struggle with what is the best path forward. The must return to their jobs and the the girls back to school and are thinking now that is best to take Tami’s parents back home with them to Port Washington. Pray for wisdom and stamina for them.



    • Heather MacLaren Johnson Nov 23, 2017 at 11:41 pm

      Oh my, Larry! I’m sorry to hear of these recent struggles within your family. I will certainly be praying for Rob, Tami, their girls and Tami’s parents. Thank you for letting me know! I know our faithful God will give Rob & Tami wisdom and stamina to do His will in serving Tami’s parents in this difficult time.

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