Perspective and Thanksgiving


It’s so easy to feel thankful for wonderful things.

It’s easy to express thanks for the nifty stuff.

It’s a choice to “give thanks in all things.” (I Thes. 5:18)

But while I was drinking coffee this morning (something for which I find it VERY easy to be thankful!), I was pondering some weird stuff that I truly FEEL thankful for, and realizing that it’s all in the perspective.

For example:

I am thankful that I am a mother who has buried a child.

In 1996, Beatrice Marie was born with an incomplete central nervous system, cuddled with me for two hours, and then crawled up on Jesus’ lap to stay.

I was NOT thankful to be at her graveside in 1996.

I was NOT thankful to celebrate Christmas without her that year, to see her first birthday come up on the calendar the following July, or to answer the question, “How many kids do you have?”

So why am I truly thankful for this now?

People like to say that time heals all wounds, but that’s a load of hooey. Time turns a whole lot of wounds into festering, gangrenous disasters. So it’s not time that has taken me to a place of thankfulness.

It’s my perspective on the experience.

At the time that she died, I tried really, really hard to have a godly attitude about it. (I tried really hard at everything back then, because I figured God liked me better if I was trying hard enough that I was exhausted all the time. So thankful to have been flooded with grace since then!) I read books on grieving, on losing a child. I participated in an online support group and prayed for others who were grieving and tried to encourage them even while my own heart was bleeding.

And honestly, my externals weren’t half-bad. I avoided whining, stayed positive for the most part, and leaned hard on God for the courage to get pregnant again. (Thankful for that, since it resulted in Jonah’s arrival in 1997!)

My attitude wasn’t bad….my perspective just wasn’t right for thanksgiving.

We often confuse these two things: attitude and perspective.

Attitude:
A settled way of thinking or feeling, typically reflected in a person’s behavior. (dictionary.com)

Perspective:
A mental view or outlook. (ibid)

My attitude was mine to choose; I settled the way I would think about Bebe. I chose to believe that God was trustworthy, and if He took her to Heaven then I would accept that this was ultimately good, whether I ever understood it completely or not.

My perspective was:
UP CLOSE.

I had no choice about that part. I was right smack-dab in front of the little 24-inch casket that held her body. I was in the same room with the baby blankets she did not need, the clothes she would never wear, the toys she’d never cuddle. I was surrounded on all sides by my own body — the postpartum aches and pains, the hormonal surges, the sleeplessness. It was all so close I was going cross-eyed looking at it.

From that perspective, it is impossible to be thankful for the privilege of burying your child. 

You can choose to give thanks to God for His comfort as you grieve, for His trustworthiness in caring for your baby….you can give thanks for SOMEthing from that perspective, but you can’t give thanks for THAT thing yet.

Just like my over-40 eyes find it impossible to decipher the dosage instructions on the bottle of Tylenol in my hand, my soul found it impossible to be thankful for Bebe’s death when it was right at the end of my nose.

Now my perspective is long-range.  Those same over-40 eyes have no problem reading road signs as I drive.  My soul finds it easy to give thanks for all that Bebe’s life and death meant to me and countless others who have crossed my path in special ways because of her.

Here are just a few reasons I am thankful to be a mother who has buried a child:

* I am quick to have compassion on those who are walking through an intensely personal grief.  Whether they are losing a child or walking some other private, no-one-really-understands-but-me road of suffering, I am quick to give them the benefit of the doubt, quick to pray for them, quick to challenge others to respect the private nature of their suffering.

* I am less tightly tethered to my living children than I would have been had Bebe never died.  Yup.  While some mothers CHOOSE to cling more tightly to the others when one child passes away, I CHOSE (attitude) to instead study and learn the truth before me, that no matter how hard I try I cannot guarantee the safety or success of anyone….even if I gave birth to them.  That choice was made not once but many times, and in the early years my perspective was still too near-sighted to see that this would pay off over the long haul; I kept choosing by faith.  But now my perspective allows me to see that facing the ultimate threat to my child (life or death) and losing did not destroy me, and it did not destroy her, either.  I can believe the same for my living children when they encounter really hard stuff.  I don’t have to convince myself that it will ultimately be good no matter what; I have already lived it and seen it to be true.

* I am less bound by time and space than I was before Bebe’s death.  While I know that God is eternal and omnipresent, He always seemed remote.  After I said goodbye to my daughter, I had a strong motivator for digging into these qualities of God and seeking to understand them better.  Missing her made me realize how much I missed Him….because I didn’t really understand His presence with me even as He is seated high above all things of earth.  Realizing how much I missed Him brought me into a deeper hunger for His presence, a hunger He was quite happy to satisfy.

Take stock over a quiet cup of coffee.  What can you say you are now truly thankful for because your changed perspective (over time) has made it possible?

Or ask yourself a hard question:  Is there something for which you COULD be truly thankful but you haven’t allowed your changed perspective to spur you toward a choice to give thanks?

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“Walking on Water” by Madeleine L’Engle Is Rocking My World

Anybody else read this book?
How have I lived this long without it??

“Reflections on Faith and Art,” she calls it.

3/4 of the way through the book I looked in a mirror:

“Perhaps the artist longs to sleep well every night, to eat anything without indigestion, to feel no moral qualms, to turn off the television news and make a bologna sandwich after seeing the devastation and death caused by famine and drought and earthquake and flood.

“But the artist cannot manage this normalcy. Vision keeps breaking through and must find means of expression.”

A whole series of posts will be coming out of this one. I think I am even going to give myself time to write them over the next few weeks!