We’d been married 205 days when my body failed my first (un)born. We’d been apart for 148 of those days.
My soldier left in the fall, in the brilliance of the dying leaves. He left, and I was pregnant and blissfully naive in the way you can only be when you have yet to suffer real loss. I said goodbye to my husband at midnight in a nondescript gravel lot, with my head tucked up under his chin, breathing in deep the smell of him, and holding my breath to keep it for a year, or maybe forever, if the worst should indeed come to pass.
It was the Monday before Thanksgiving, the 205th day of our first year together, when I sobbed out my goodbyes to the life I had cherished for a joyful, hasty, twelve weeks. And it was Thanksgiving Day, the 208th day, when my sturdy, handsome soldier strode down the driveway and gathered the broken pieces of me into his arms. Five days we had together, to grieve, to repeat goodbye. Five days of emergency leave for us to calibrate loss, to weep in the night, and to welcome grace as we learned the new, unwelcome lines of our story.
Thanksgiving is a bitter, unwilling sacrifice when measured against what we have and lose. Or what we never receive, and think we deserve. Or even against what others have, versus what we don’t. But, oh the Almighty, the Namer and Counter of Stars, He is good always, and merciful too, in our bitterness and grief. In 2005, and still today.
But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.” (Lamentations 3:21-24)
His covenant of mercy and grace is as sure as the covenant of day. He is faithful in our loss. He is faithful in our fear. He is faithful in our grief.
Four times my soldier has left us in the fall, surrounded by the dead and dying leaves. Four times I’ve held my breath in fear as he went a half a world away, and it’s easy to be afraid of the death and the dying, to give in to the decay, to feel abandoned. But our story is longer, richer now, overflowing with four small lives, and even more loss. I spent two Thanksgivings of my first girl’s life a continent away, separated by the service I chose to this country. We’ve grieved another child gone in the days before Thanksgiving. We’ve buried friends.
I have arrived in a place where I would not know myself, or my life without the loss. The terrible moments change us, they carve into our souls and make new, uncomfortable shapes. I’ll tell you I am at peace with the shape I’m in, but I’m just honest enough to admit that most days, I wouldn’t have chosen His method of carving. I can grieve what could have been while I am grateful for what is. And always with a sacrifice still, of thanksgiving, and of praise.
So while the trees raise a hallelujah chorus high with the fiery gasps of their dying dress – and while my heart is breaking – I can say, “It is well with my soul.”
Your dark days will not mirror mine. Our stories are individual threads of joy and sadness woven into the days of the earth, and I could never imagine all that you may have endured. But the gospel binds a multitude of wounds, and so I can share the gossamer threads of my story with you, certain the master Weaver loves us all.
And on this Thanksgiving Day, and all the others before and after, I will sing a sacrifice of praise and thanks, a bittersweet response to the mercy we’ve been shown. A grief-tinged, grace-laced hallelujah chorus of my own.
Sing with me, won’t you?