“Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.” (NIV) Colossians 3:15
I buckled her in the pink car seat and was flooded with every emotion, from anguish to thankfulness. With trembling hands, I placed the black book in her lap. Her blue eyes met mine and, although I didn’t want her to see me cry, salty tears escaped.
“That is your book baby girl. It has pictures of us. It has pictures of your life here. It is yours to keep, to remember…” pain attacked my throat, “I hope you remember us. We love you. We are so thankful you were here with us..”
The little girl, our foster love of eighteen months patted the book and said, “Dank you, mommy.”
“Your welcome angel.”
I kissed her warm cheeks, breathed in her perfect and familiar smell and forced myself away from the car. A car that would momentarily pull from our driveway and deliver her back into the arms of her restored birth family.
“Bye-bye mommy!” She chimmed, oblivious to the finality, and then she patted the book, a photo album we had put together, pulled it to her chest as if she knew the relevance, “Dank you, mommy.”
A blur of tail lights and heartbreak were all I remember after that until sunrise peeped through the slats of our bedroom blinds. I was assaulted with the reality of the first day without her.
I did the only thing plausible, I rolled off the bed and hit my knees. Sobs escaped me. What in the world did I sign up for? Save the children? Die in the process? And I heard her, “Dank you, mommy.”
And I whispered, “Thank you, Father.”
I won’t lie. It wasn’t poetic. And it wasn’t on purpose, it was a flood of every single thing I had adored about being with that baby girl. Words poured from me that were a melody of praise from the day I met her until that moment on the floor, and the reality was they were songs of Thanksgiving.
As if an out of body experience, I heard myself giving thanks for that little girl’s past, her future, her parents, her grandparents and the impact she had on our lives and the lives of everyone around us. I was thankful for knowing her, loving her, and mourning the loss of her.
This, this was most foreign to me. I wasn’t thankful for the loss? But wait, yes, I was. And not in the cheesy ways of “better to have loved than lost…” but rather in the ways of restoration. Her birth family was restored. And suddenly I realized, I was becoming restored in my thanksgiving.
This, while perhaps was just what it took to get me up off the floor, I was in fact, up off the floor. This was the new breath in my lungs. I couldn’t afford to curl up and die so I would stand and be thankful.
I managed through the day. We met each challenge with a word of thanks. A tiny pink sock, through the anguish I muttered, “Thank you, Father, a reason to see her next week.” Later, as I washed her sheets I reminisced her golden locks asleep in her crib and growled a disingenuine, “Thank you, Father, that I even got to know her.”
Still, I trudged on.
Grief and life bled together on the pages of our family calendar, thankfulness carrying us from one day to the next. This day we were thankful for a text with her picture and a cheery report from her mom. The next day we were thankful we only cried five times, instead of six. Again, thankfulness in the smallness seemed to carry the weight of the enormousness.
A few weeks passed, and we felt strong enough to take a temporary foster placement, a little girl with a broken leg. Her cast had rubbed a terrible sore on her thigh. Together, my husband and I carefully bathed her, doctored her wound, lotioned and dressed her for bed. I tucked her in and read her a book. As I stepped out of the room, I heard her say the first thing she’d muttered since her arrival,
“Thank you…” I answered back.
From the deepest place of thanksgiving, daily we are restored. When we are grateful in the midst of despair, with not much to be thankful for we are brought into a light of all that is right in a world with very much wrong. I won’t pretend I came up with this formula or that I am some legend or mystic who manifested healing by focusing on do-gooding. But in my darkest hour, someone greater than I reminded me to give thanks, and it soon became a habit that saved me.
And for this, I am most thankful.
Have there been seasons of sorrow in your life where thankfulness was a place of comfort?
As a family can you identify places where inserting thankfulness as a custom might replace negative feelings or bad memories?
How does your family practice thanksgiving year round?
About the Author: Jami Amerine is the author of the book Stolen Jesus: an Unconventional Search for the Real Savior and the popular blog Sacred Ground Sticky Floors. She and her husband Justin have six children and live in northern Houston. They are advocates of foster care and adoption.