Where Grief Meets Gratitude.

It stands on the left side of the road and I smile as I approach it, reaching out to touch the familiar bark.  There aren't any special marks.  I haven't scarred the trunk in an effort to document my time here.  But I know this tree.  I've memorized this spot under the sway of branches and falling of leaves.  When you wrestle with God, you don't forget about it.

And I remember the first time I stood here, only a few years ago.  I was supposed to be walking until my heart felt lighter, until the grief was gone, until the ache in my muscles could overcome the numbness in my chest.  Instead, the falling rain was holding me hostage and anger caused my blood to boil.

"Are You even there?" I yelled, throwing my words toward heaven.  "Do You even care?"

I was heartbroken and devastated over the passing of a young friend.  She was beautiful and so full of life when, all of a sudden, she was sick and then gone.  And I just couldn't wrap my mind around any of it.

For over a month, I couldn't gather any words for my Heavenly Father.  I simply sat in silence and questioned His goodness and His wisdom.  I avoided Him, afraid that my hurt and questions would drive me too far from His heart, afraid that our relationship would never recover.

But under that tree, I finally faced God.  Like a full-blown crazy lady, I loudly poured my heart out.  Sobs escaped from the very core of my being and bitter grief burned in my chest. 

When I was finished, no booming voice came from heaven.  The tree didn't set fire in front of me.  On the outside, I just looked like a psychopath yelling at the sky in a rainstorm.  But on the inside, miraculous things were happening as God was gathering my broken pieces that I had finally placed in His capable hands.

I learned that His heart broke with mine.  I wasn't alone.  And He was, and still is, big enough to deal with my tough questions and broken heart.

My grandfather passed away earlier this year, and to say that I handled it gracefully would be a complete lie.  Much like when my friend passed away, I grew angry.  I was devastated.  And then I realized, once again, that His heart breaks with mine.  I'm not alone.  And He was, and still is, big enough to deal with my tough questions and broken heart.  

Yet I face the holidays with a crippled joy.  It's so hard to be grateful in grief.  Whether it's the loss of a loved one or the loss of a job, the loss of a relationship or the loss of a dream, grief and gratitude aren't often synonymous.  And for good reason.

My heart catches when I think of my friend and aches when I miss my grandfather, but I always remember that day under the tree.  I always remember that day when I wrestled with God, when I finally approached Him and said, "I'm not leaving here until something changes in my heart."

And I feel much like Jacob after his wrestling match in Genesis, when his name is changed and his identity is altered all because of one tiring and painful encounter during the night.

I have wrestled with God and I have wrestled with grief and I am not the same person that I was before the match.

So although I feel grief, it does not root out gratitude.  And although I feel sadness, it does not eradicate joy.  And although I am fighting, always fighting, to find my footing in my faith, it does not weaken my belief in God.  In fact, it only enriches and deepens my love for Him.   

Gravel shifts under my feet as I leave this beloved tree, this place where some of my deepest hurts have collided with my greatest moments of peace.  Friends, if you're struggling to find Him this holiday season when everyone around you is bursting with joy and peace and a million other pleasant things that you just can't seem to get a grip on, please know this above all: our God is good, even when our hearts hurt and ache like old wounds that never quite healed right.  He is good even here, where grief meets gratitude. 

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