The last time I saw my brother was over dinner at a Cracker Barrel on I-65. He was headed home for Thanksgiving, and I was sad I wasn’t. He wore a grey Freed-Hardeman sweatshirt, glasses, a baseball hat. He slumped at the far end of our table, a crooked grin plastered across his already-tired face.
I can’t remember what we talked about. I only remember dropping heavy-handed hints about how “I sure would love a sweatshirt like that” and him lecturing me on the appropriate way for a girl to wear a sweatshirt so she didn’t look homeless or pregnant.
The only reason I remember that conversation is that we pulled a brand-new, size small sweatshirt (just like the one I’d asked for) from his totaled car a few weeks later. It’s in my drawer now. I hardly ever wear it. It is, and has always been, uncomfortable. We ladies like our sweatshirts big and cozy—even if we do look homeless and pregnant.
Today is Thanksgiving—twelve years since that Thanksgiving—and I’d wear that stupid sweatshirt, today and every day forever, if it meant I could see my brother again for just five minutes.
The day my brother died was the worst day of my life. I awoke to the call and walked through a nightmare for the next, I don’t know, year? It took me twenty four hours to get to my parents, every second of those hours an empty eternity. We planned a funeral for a twenty year old, and while there were beautiful moments, it was still a funeral for my little brother and it was exactly as terrible as you’d imagine. We went to New York as a family to recover after everything had died down and accidentally ended up in Les Miserables bawling our eyes out.
Even now, I see all of December 2003 through the filter of tears.
You can understand...
I hope you’ll understand this, too: I thanked God the day my brother died and have every dark day since.
Here are eight things I thank God for about December 13, 2002:
- That my brother was close to home when he died
- That he’d said goodbye to all his friends and moved his stuff out of his dorm room because he was moving to Florida
- That no other cars were involved in the accident
- That he died upon impact with the tree, likely without even waking up, and no one had to make any hard decisions about life support
- That even though my dad cosigned my brother’s student loans nobody had to pay them
- That I was married to my best friend and my brother’s best friend, too, and we could hold hands on the plane while we cried
- That I knew where my brother was
- That I knew I’d see him again
The Apostle Paul wrote to the Thessalonians, “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”
I’m writing this post on Thanksgiving because I’m certain, every day merits--demands--giving thanks.
Even the worst day.
Since my brother died I’ve had a lot to thank God for:
- The way—way back then—He used my grief to bond me to a new church family, people so different from me, people to whom I will always feel deeply connected
- The way he redeemed my pain, relentlessly using me to comfort others with similar hurts
- The way He brought light out of darkness, leading my friend Matt to Christ through our stories of shared loss
- The way He filled my gaping hole with friends like family; so my girls don’t have one uncle, they have twenty.
I don’t think God killed my brother. But I do think God showed up when he died, working in every wound to heal and propel, mend, correct, grow and shape.
I’m thankful for the perspective He’s worked in me, the wisdom He’s grown in me, so that I can miss (is there a better, stronger, more aching word?) my brother on Thanksgiving and give thanks all the same.
I am thankful for what God did and what God’s doing.
Tomorrow I’m launching Field Notes: a workshop in writing to see. It’s something I created from experience, writing my way through grief, bouts of depression, identity confusion, the ups and downs of marriage, motherhood, sickness, joy…
I have processed all of life through writing, and in the writing I’ve learned (among other life-changing things) to be thankful.
If you don’t feel like you have much to be thankful for…
If you’re struggling with something…
If you feel far from God (or just not as close as you’d like to be)…
If you’re tired…
If you have a secret…
If you want more joy and peace…
If you’re a human…
Field Notes is for you.
This self-paced online experience (including video teaching, reflection questions, and writing prompts) will introduce you to the act of writing as mirror and microscope, therapy and exercise.
If you’ll commit to it, it’ll make you better. More precisely, God will use it to make you better.
Click through to learn more about Field Notes or to pre-order. You’ll be glad you did.