Facing Grief and Looking Toward Thankfulness

Thanksgiving was always my favorite holiday growing up. I have endless memories of times with family; cooking and watching football all day, to then gather around the table and say Grace: thanking God for another holiday together, another year of good health and good times.

No matter what that year held, nothing compared to this moment of Thanksgiving Day.

I spent Thanksgiving of 2017 in California, as usual. I remember being thankful that year, for Tacoma truly felt like home. I was thankful for my sorority sisters, my Young Life family, my classmates, my professors, and of course, my church. Discovery rooted me in Tacoma in more ways than I ever fathomed to be possible.

I left my home in Ventura after that holiday weekend and I didn’t know that when I walked out of that front door that Sunday morning to travel to Tacoma that it would be the last time I would step out of my home. We lost our home in the Thomas Fire just a few weeks later. My entire neighborhood, my entire town, even the whole county was demolished by flame. We lost everything that day and any sense of normalcy. This season of my life was a true test of my faith. I felt so vulnerable, so alone, and so unstable that I truly did not see how it was possible to wake up each day and continue on. But I did. Truly, by the Grace of God.

It took a while, but I eventually found my way back to Ventura this summer even when I thought it was the last place I wanted to be. Truth be told, it was exactly where I needed to be. It was hard coming back to an empty lot that once held my home and to the burnt hillsides that once held so much Ventura pride, but it was so good to come home to my family, friends, and my community. It was so good to go back to my home church, to my work place, and to  Borderline: my line dancing hall.

Borderline is a special place in Ventura county. It is not just a place to dance, it is a second home. It is where my best friend met her fiancé. It is where I went to dance and escape my reality of grief and sorrow for a few hours a night, a few nights a week. My Borderline family and I were there three nights a week, every single week, without a doubt.

Borderline was home while home was being rebuilt.

Borderline

Each time I come back to Tacoma, I have a Borderline countdown in my planner.

“Two months from right now, I will be at Borderline.”
“One month from right now, I will be at Borderline.”
“Four weeks, three weeks…”

…and so on.

Two weeks ago, I went to bed early on Wednesday, November 7 and told myself as I drifted asleep, “Two weeks from right now, I will be at Borderline. Thank God.”

I woke up the next morning with the most devastating news I think I will ever receive. The headlines that ran across my screen with text messages from close friends, distant friends, family members, anyone –

“At least 13 dead in shooting at Thousand Oaks bar.”

My home had been invaded and destroyed… again.

Revisiting Grief

I knew too many of the names listed as victims of this horrific day. I recognized too many of the faces flying across the news screen as the reports rolled in the morning after. And I knew that had it been two weeks later (tonight) I would have been there.

That same night, my parents evacuated from the horrific fires that are tearing through Southern California right now. I re-lived the night of the Thomas Fire that evening; my mom on the phone desperately packing the few valuable things we had left, my dad trying to help our neighbors pack, and myself panicking and stuck in Tacoma. It felt all too familiar all too soon. I barely slept that night. Truth be told, I have barely slept any nights since those horrific tragedies. My parents are home and are no longer needing to be evacuated, but I was dealing with a whole new wave of grief: How could this have happened at Borderline? How could this have happened at my home?

I am fearful as the holidays approach so rapidly. Christmas music brings in an overwhelming scent of smoke now. Any music we danced to at Borderline brings a sense of sadness, for I am reminded that I actually will not be there in “x amount of days.”

This year was the absolute hardest and most challenging year of my life. Every time I would get up, I would get knocked down again. I was exhausted by the time the conversations of “thankfulness” started to emerge in my various communities. In a low moment of grief and anxiety, I sat and thought: my home is gone, my animals are gone, we are failing to rebuild our home, my safe haven is gone, and now we are evacuating AGAIN; what do I even have to be thankful for?

Turning Toward Thankfulness

And something one of my fellow Young Life leaders said to me struck a chord deep in my heart: you do not need to be thankful for the situation itself, but you can find moments and instances in each of those situations that you can give God thanks for.

So reality check y’all.

Philippians 4:6 “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.”

Lord, I am thankful. This year has been a year of so many trials. But Lord, You never left my side through any of them. Even in the moments when I felt so alone and felt so unworthy, You stayed by my side and held me as I grieved and exalted my anger of these trials.

Lord, I am thankful. I have heard so many stories of people being killed from these horrific fires, Lord, but we survived. We are alive and we are healthy and we are stronger and more resilient than ever.

Lord, I am thankful. I am thankful for every single person in my life who offered to help us dig through what remained of our home, who offered us a home cooked meal, or a bed for the night. I am thankful for every single person who sent me text message just to tell me they loved me or that they were praying for me.

Lord, I am thankful. I am thankful I was not at Borderline that night. I am thankful my friends were not at Borderline that night. I am thankful for the brave men and women who saved lives that night. I am thankful that we are Borderline Strong together and that we will come back from this stronger.

Lord, I am thankful. I am thankful for these moments in these overwhelming trials. I am thankful that no matter what happens, I know that You are with me Lord, guiding me through the trials and cheering me on in the victories.

We do not need to be thankful for the events themselves, my friends. But take a moment this week to think about the moments within the events and find the thanks that is all deserving to Him.

Happy Thanksgiving.