by Elizabeth Manley
“I could burst with thankfulness.” Her smile was radiant. “I’ve just been so blessed.”
My ears burned, and I glanced away.
Blinking through tears, I found a distraction in the oversized turkey balloon hovering near the wide front door. I didn’t even want to come in the first place, I thought angrily.
Church was not a secure place to grieve, especially around the holidays. I left without a word and made a mental note to stay home next time.
Thanksgiving and Christmas are just around the corner, and my mind goes back to this painful memory from a decade ago when I was a newly bereaved mom.
My son had died earlier that year.
What did I have to be thankful for – what blessings did I have?
This holiday season is sure to be filled with people who can easily recount how God has blessed them. A good job, a loving spouse, health, and financial blessings abound.
“God blessed me,” they happily pronounce after receiving some good thing or another.
But ever since my son died, I’ve struggled with even the mention of the word blessings.
What about people like me?
People who received death and suffering from the same hand that dealt them life and joy – were we cursed?
Did God turn his eyes away the day Owen died?
Did God love other people more because He blessed them with babies that lived?
What is a blessing?
And how did I get left out?
Our whole world had crashed down around us when our son was stillborn. Just as his crib and dresser were carried out of our tiny apartment, so was my heart carried up the winding roads of North Georgia to be buried next to my grandfather in the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Church was complicated in the weeks and months after we lost our son. Well-intended comments meaning to bring comfort often brought more pain.
“We’re praying that God blesses you with a child.”
“I’m praying God blesses you with children.”
Their words stung. I wanted Owen!
I wanted the son I lost, the blessing of Owen’s life.
My body was raw with grief. Electric currents of pain frequently tore through me at the sight of newborn babies and pregnant women.
They were everywhere. I couldn’t escape them.
And I couldn’t escape the feeling that God had blessed them and cursed me.
What had I done wrong?
What could I do better?
It felt as if God’s goodness, as if His blessings, were reserved for other people.
One Sunday morning, I managed to make it to church and decided to sit near the front to see my husband in the worship band. The pastor began his sermon with the birth story of one of his children.
My body jotted upright, and I thought quickly of escape. Of running out the double doors and never coming back. My fear of making a scene kept me glued to my seat.
His story was sad and beautiful. He recounted scary labor and delivery – his newborn son being rushed down the hall to the NICU while his wife was tended to by the doctor.
“But God was gracious,” he said with a smile. “We were blessed that our son came home from the NICU just a short time later.”
His story was sad and beautiful – and so very different from mine.
My grief over my son left me unable to see the colors others painted over their lives.
Yes, yes, it was good his son was healthy and alive.
But no, no, no – why did mine die?
Why was God gracious to him and his son? And again, with blessings??
What can I do to get the blessings others get so easily?
A year after Owen died and was stillborn, just a week after his first birthday, I miscarried our littlest one.
I was seven weeks pregnant, and the spark of hope this new baby had given my heart could not be put out by death.
It seemed illogical. Perhaps it was.
The night I miscarried, I wept and screamed to my husband for reassurance that God had not abandoned me, that He had not forsaken me.
The physical pain of my miscarriage was nothing compared to the ripping of my broken heart.
The darkness of that night is still vivid. It is just as real to me now eleven years later.
But God held me that night. And the assurance of His Presence with me in the darkness is an Ebenezer stone I carry with me each day.
I woke up the next morning, seeing how blessed I was.
My eyes opened that next morning to the reality of His Presence with me. I began to see the blessings in things I hated. It was painful labor not to turn away.
It was hard and scary not to creep back into the darkness.
But as I felt His Presence with me, my heart began to experience the blessings of the things God had given me.
God gave me blessings in my son’s death that showed me how compassion and empathy could light up the world and bring back color.
Blessings that offer a handhold to someone else who is barely holding on.
Blessings that whisper God has not abandoned you. He’s with you.
I’ll hold on for the both of us right now.
My story is different from my pastor’s, but was God gracious to my pastor and not to me? No. My answer is firmly no.
The blessings God gave me through my babies in Heaven keep getting better and richer as each year passes.
I believe we can change the narrative around blessings. We can begin the conversation again this holiday season.
Blessings can be found in anything that brings us closer to Himself, to our loving and tender Heavenly Father.
Those things that show us our place as His children, and pull us into a deeper and more vibrant relationship with Him.
Blessings are all around us if only we have eyes to see.