My girls and I, we live our lives side by side as the days turn into months. We wake early, we stay up late, we walk down the street to check the mail and stop to gather the pebbles — the best ones, the shiny ones, the ones that look like a pearl.
These are the markings of a life.
And yet at the same time . . .
The kitchen table that holds the five of us was only set for four, the world breaks and groans, and I lay on the floor and break alongside — it’s too much, too hard.
These are the markings of a life, too.
We stood there on a Monday in January, hugging our soldier, their Daddy, my mountain of a man, saying goodbye for the one million days he would be gone.
“Daddy?” The three-year-old said. “I love you and I don’t want you to go. I’ll be waiting here for you to come back home to us.”
And so he left and we waited.
And so he walked the streets of Mosul and we walked the trail to school and back home again.
He called on the phone, I heard bombs in the background and I fell to the floor. He was fine, we were fine — were we all doing fine?
The girls needed a drink, needed a hug, needed to show me the caterpillar that was crawling across our front porch so I got back up and took a deep breath and marveled at the wonder of a ladybug on a flower.
These are the markings of a life.
And these markings of a life could mark me up if I let them. These pieces of life could break me to pieces if I let them.
So I had to learn how to not let them.
In the year that held our hardest hard — nine months separated by an ocean, by eight time zones, by war — I made a choice. Fear wasn’t going to win, darkness wasn’t going to win, I wasn’t going to let my daughters witness a mama who crumbled when life got hard.
It seems so complicated, really, to be resilient in the face of life’s hard, but I’m finding that it’s pretty simple: A grateful heart and a firm foundation go hand in hand.
The thing about gratitude is that it’s a little bit sassy. It’s a feisty declaration that there’s something bigger going on. There’s no fluff to a grateful heart; it’s gritty, it’s resilient, it’s daring and courageous.
See, celebration, finding the gifts, cultivating gratitude all point us to the same thing: The goodness of God despite and within suffering. As we determinedly fight for hope and grace, purpose and peace, we discover a foundation that no longer crumbles because we are now sure of how we are loved: Always, no matter what.
And so the harder the year became, the more tightly I held to my practice of gratitude. The more I learned how to remain in this very moment, the more I was able to notice the presence of Jesus right there as well. As I turned my heart toward Him and away from fear, I discovered grit and gratitude were there too, just waiting for me to take hold.
It came in the bigness of the sunsets and the smallness of a toddler reaching for my hand. It came in the barely-there prayer and the quiet of the morning. It came in pieces, in minutes, in simplicity, really.
Surprise of all surprises, I found my whole heart in a hard year by simply living as Jesus told us to live: Compelled by love, in the moment, with Him.
Saturday afternoon, ice cream dripping down the cone and onto sticky fingers. We catch eyes and my six-year-old smiles.
“This year was good.”
“Say that again? What? What did you just say?”
“This year. The one we just lived? It was good.”
“Kiddo? I couldn’t agree more.”
And just like that, in the smallness of a mundane moment, I see another gift.