Just Keep Livin’: How Thankfulness Shifts Our Perspective

Excerpt from Blended with Grit & Grace. 

The measure of obstacles we overcome is often a sign of the greatness waiting for us on the other side. When I reach my breaking point, I think of you and the obstacles you have overcome in your life, and it gives me strength. —Ryan, 2012

When Ryan and I met in 2010, we were in a season of death, with the passing of our spouses Jason and Kaci, and this loss included a burial of lifelong dreams. Dreams of a nuclear, intact family. Expectations that we would grow old with our spouse. A dream of biological parents raising the children they chose to bring into this world, and the assumption that the biological father would walk his daughter down the aisle one day. Buckets of grief and despair and unmet opportunities filled our hearts.

The next few years, we enjoyed a resurrection as our lives merged and birthed new realities: our marriage and blended family; a simple life in rural Tennessee, where we learned to work the hard clay earth with our bare hands, where the sun wrinkled our brows, and we slept deeply at night after a day’s labor tending to children, chickens, housework, and gardens. A good life. A difficult life. A life where every moment was a teacher in some capacity. A life where I birthed a book, a teaching career, a nonprofit dream, and another child. Buckets of hope and growth and beauty.

As I grapple with these words, I once again find myself in a season of decay and confusion, with our family enduring broken bodies over the past year: Ryan’s shoulder surgery; my fractured foot, which continues to hinder my participation in favorite activities like walking, tennis, and yoga; and Lucas’s brain surgeries, which resulted in his month-long admission in PICU in December 2019. As I write these words, my children have just reentered the craziest school year of their life after a five-month hiatus, where every part of me was broken as a pandemic swept across the world: my control, my plans, and my pride—nothing working out like I thought it would. And I still grapple with numerous unanswered questions and concerns about how the future is going to play out. Will they stay in school? Is school good for them? Will they get sick? Broken ideals and realities surround our family as we restructure and determine how we’ll proceed from here. And through these trials, we’ve buried systems that used to work when the world was one way, and now they no longer serve us emotionally or spiritually, and we wait because we know.

I know because I’ve been here before. I remember August of 2010, the most difficult month of my life, as a tumultuous month full of overwhelming obligations and demands—work, Lucas’s birthday, family pictures, doctor’s appointments, four children farmed out on a daily basis to anyone, and everyone, the arrival of hospice equipment, nursing staff in and out, important phone calls determining life-or-death decisions, and ultimately good-byes whispered and a funeral prepared for a young husband and father. I wait and I remember. I recall that this is familiar soil, deep and dark and rich soil where perhaps I’ve not been buried but have instead been planted, and now I await my reemergence into the light.

I wait for a resurrection.

And I am confident that growth will occur in due time because that’s how the gig works. It’s how our lives are rigged.

Everything remains in motion: a continuous movement of death and resurrection, waves upon waves washing away the brokenness and grief and moving what remains to the shore— natural disasters and despair and divorce and special needs and bereavement not excluded, a blending of grit and grace. It’s all involved, collectively and individually; ashes to beauty and back to ashes again; circular movements until the maestro sweeps his baton for the last time and bows his head in holy reverence; that moment when his beloved creation leans into the finality and releases a labored breath—bursting through the birth canal into an everlasting resurrection.

And until then?

We rise up out of the boat and walk toward the land; we walk toward the Rock of Ages from whence there is no shifting sand. We move toward a purpose higher than ourselves. We pursue life and do our darndest to live in the present and practice thankfulness. Loss has a way of bringing a newfound appreciation and respect for the present. There are lessons in despair that are incredibly painful, but these lessons are also remarkably life-giving as we navigate forward into a new reality where pain bequeaths joy.

Gratefulness has the ability to carry a family forward as they navigate the numerous roadblocks encountered to get to a healthy place of peace and fulfillment. I should preface— there’s no set arrival date to this place of peace. The process will be ongoing until the day we die. Ryan would love it if I could just give him a future time when we will no longer struggle with anything and instead live in peace and harmony until the end of our days, but that’s not how life works—not in a traditional family nor in a blended one. But we keep lifting ourselves up out of despair. Keep willing ourselves to rise out of the muck and put one foot in front of the other. We keep moving forward, one step at a time with determination, grit, and grace.

We Just keep livin.

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