Morning has broken. The sun’s light creeps dim in the kitchen. The trees stand still, at attention, waiting for the wind to wake them. Inside the home, the family gathers around the table to break the bread of cereal and oatmeal, coffee and juice. Whole milk dribbles down the chin of the youngest while the oldest scoops bites too big of yogurt. Daddy swigs his last sip of black coffee as I add more blueberries to my oatmeal.
A basket sits in the middle of the table. It holds pieces of paper, words on scraps. It is a basket of thanks, a collection of gratitude. It holds words from my husband and sons and words that crept out of my own pursed lips, words that slid through my own gritted teeth. One son says, “I am thankful for Batman,” and I write it down. The other son says, “My chickens, Mommy” and I copy his words. Daddy grabs the marker and writes as he speaks, “I am thankful for my family.” Six eyes shift to me. “What about you, Mommy? What are you thankful for?”
I stare at our basket of thanks, scraps of paper piled high, weeks worth of gratitude mounting in the center of our table. There is so much to say to the child’s question, so much for which to be thankful. Yet, I am silent. Perhaps, I do not know where to begin, and maybe I do not know how to end. It feels wrong and empty to offer thanks for measly things when that for which I am most unthankful swallows Batman and chickens into the dark, bottomless belly of sorrow.
But He says to give thanks, always, in all circumstances (1 Thessalonians 5:18). Could He mean this too? This season, when I slam into birthdays and holidays with every new week, and each gathering is laced with undertones of sadness? Must I give thanks even now, in the middle of staggering pain, while I visit my son’s grave and drive home to dress a turkey? Did He mean it when He said, “in all circumstances?” Even this?
The eyes around the table are still waiting for my offering. “Mommy, what are you thankful for,” he asks again. “This,” I say. For this, I am thankful. No, not for the grave, not for the death, but for this, this gathering around of a family with hearts broken, but hearts full, offering thanks on small scraps of paper as a trail to Him. I am thankful for a family who sits down together in the thick mud of grief to give tiny, meager offerings. I am thankful for the son in heaven who knows gratitude complete, and for the sons at the table who are learning gratitude in pieces. And I am thankful for the One who sits on the throne, and the One who sits at my table, the One from whom all these blessings flow. “Yes,” I say. “I am thankful for this.”
Did you mean it, Father, when you said, “in all circumstances?” Even this?
Yes. Even this.
He asks me to give thanks in it, not for it. I toss my words into the basket. And there it is, my thanks in it all. It feels small and unimportant beneath the weight of heavy loss. It feels small and unimportant beneath the blanket of abundant grace. But it is what we have, the offering that we can make. And so we give thanks, even now, in the middle of this. Yes, even this.