On Grief and Gratitude

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We had not said a permanent goodbye to a single person in a whole year. One whole year. I would be lying if I didn’t say I hadn’t felt so lucky in a long time. That’s the thing about overseas missions, most especially when everyone is single and young. There’s a lot of movement. We don’t necessarily have any “lifers.” This isn’t bad; it’s just different. While we’re here, we’re just as committed. While we’re here, the work is just as important.

We could see it coming for miles, the way you know the end of a novel is near not only because the problems are getting solved and the characters are coming back together but also because the stack of pages held by your right hand is becoming thinner with time. We were not surprised, and it came with our blessing. The next season was near for the two staff members who helped start this whole thing.

It’s weird, standing in the gap of transition. If you have ever done it in any capacity – if you’ve lived at all, I’m sure that you have – then you know. Where, to the left is all that has happened, and to the right is all that will happen, and there are you are wedged in the middle, trying to find the right time to let go of the rope and make the leap to the next place. The past cannot be dragged into the future or else it is no future at all; it is simply a repetition of the past in a million different ways. It’s a Groundhog’s Day of sorts. And nobody, not even the beloved Punxsutawney, wants that.

This morning, I read a list article that was titled: Twenty-Two Things I Would Tell My Twenty-Two-Year-Old Self. The likes of Buzzfeed and Relevant Online have made me a bit weary of overdone list articles, but I wondered if there might be one gem in there. There were quite a few, but one stuck out like a fern in a field of wildflowers: Make friends with change. She isn’t going anywhere.

I am by nature a creature of habit. Ask my mother, all my schoolteachers, my best friend, my dog. I will have the same thing for breakfast everyday for weeks – months! – and be perfectly fine. I like the rhythms of daily living, the routine of consistent Friday afternoon lunches and Tuesday morning coffees. I like that it’s dependable, that I can build off of it, that the steadiness can be leaned upon when it feels like everything else is in chaos. So, as you might imagine, change has never been a friend of mine. Rather, a rival I have always been trying to outrun.

And how cliché, right? The even-keeled middle child-turned-careful twentysomething who still gets as nervous looking at the end of a season as she does when she’s looking over the edge of a cliff. What if we don’t make it?, I have asked myself every time, glaring at the unfortunate presence of an enemy named Change.

But such is life, and Life is a friend of Change, and Change is the daughter of Growth. If we will ever find anytime to do anything and go anywhere – change is a key ingredient. It’s actually what we long for the most, I think: good changes. But any length of time wounded by the answered fears of bad changes is enough to make us all cringe and crawl back underneath the rock we were leasing.

Two weeks ago, Change came blundering back in. We were feeling the effects of her entrance, the shifting of our own tectonic plates until at last we were standing at the front door, saying goodbye with tears spilling out that tasted like both gratitude and grief.

Can the two co-exist? I have wondered lately if the presence of one has invalidated the reality of the other. Can I really be that thankful if I am this sad? Am I really that sad if I truly feel this thankful? The answer is simple, not any shade of gray. The answer is yes; gratitude and grief can co-exist simultaneously. They can both take up residence in the same room of your heart.

I told myself in preparation of it all that I would let myself feel all of it, the rainbows of thankfulness and the thunderclaps of sorrow. It’s not an easy idea, but I can tell you now it was a good one. Because this is what I found out: if you let grief and gratitude co-exist together, if you pay them both the same amount of attention, if you slow down and build your ebenezers – stones of remembrance with laughter and tears – eventually you’ll have made your peace. Eventually Grief will take up less space, and one day you’ll find that he packed his bags and left a little love note on the bed: You did good, kid. Thanks for paying attention.

And all that will be left is gratitude. The thing about Gratitude is that she can share her space. She just needs to be tended to. If she’s tended to, the other emotions will give her more space over time. If she’s not tended to, she will disappear. And life without her is the worst.

I think that’s what God meant when he promised to turn mourning into joy. I think this is the process. A good, full life requires risks and hope and dreams and change. It means betting on the possibility that the change will be good when it comes around. Some may call it foolish – that’s okay. But if you know the One who holds you, the One who orchestrates all things together in perfect timing, if you deeply know His character then you will inevitably come to trust it, and then the there will not be space for Worry to loiter just before Change comes back around.

May we be a people who make space for the things that matter (i.e. love, compassion, gratitude, grief, hope, trust.) and keep out the things that don’t (i.e. fear, worry, control).

Here’s to the ebb of grief and flow of thankfulness that comes with ending and beginning again.

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adventures guatemala staff/friends/family: 2014 – 2015. a really fantastic year.
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adventures guatemala staff/friends/family: 2015 – 2016. a year of big dreams lies ahead.
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