When Gratitude Opens Our Eyes

It’s been 18 years ago today.

That day that we were able to meet our daughter, Victoria Rose, even though her soul had already flown to heaven.

The truth is I don’t think about her everyday. Not even every week. On the other hand there are times when the grief feels almost fresh and I surprise myself by breaking down crying at unexpected moments. Like when my son got married and my daughter-in-law’s mom helped her into their wedding dress and I realized I’d never get to do that with my daughter. Or that November when I recognized that she would have been going to get her driver’s license that month. Or years ago when I would wander through the little girl dress section at Target around Easter and pick out the dress I would have put her in.

The thing about stillbirth is you don’t have a lot of memories. The ones you have are precious- feeling the baby move inside you, seeing the baby on the ultrasound, picking out all the things, the anticipation. Instead of being left with lots of memories and missing those things attached to the memories, you are left with “what if.”

What if she had lived? What would our life have been like with three boys and then a girl? What would she have been like?

This is what I think: She would have had long blonde hair. I think she would have been a princess but not in the pink and frilly dress type. No, she had three older brothers who weren’t really into babying anyone. So I think she would have been the princess superhero. She would have fought evil along side of those superheroes growing up. She would have tried to keep those three in line and I’d like to think that she might have succeeded a bit. She would have been strong- you have to with three older brothers. I’d like to think that she would have been compassionate and loving and adventurous. It would have been fun watching her blossom into whatever God made her to be.

This year it seems harder. That date. Nov. 16. Perhaps it is because we would have been about done with the growing up years. She would have been thinking about prom and graduation and college and dreaming of her life out in the world. We would have been getting ready to launch her praying with everything we had that she was ready. And so a bit more sadness as I realize that the little girl I mourn would not be so little anymore but would have been a young woman.

In Sojourn, a community women’s Bible study I lead, we’ve been talking about gratitude. And today the topic is “Gratitude Opens Our Eyes.” I believe that with all my heart. It opens our eyes to see God. I’ve experienced that over and over again.

Today let me count the gifts. Let me name the gifts with a heart full of gratitude for all Victoria’s life brought me:

  1. I learned how to have compassion at a deeper level especially for those experiencing loss.
  2. I was able to hold my daughter.
  3. God’s peace was so evident in the room that day.
  4. God’s peace followed us in the days after- literally feeling Him hold me at night as I wept.
  5. I have a daughter.
  6. Her life inspired others to turn to God. There are many stories surrounding that.
  7. Unfolding her little ear that was folded over.
  8. Her tiny perfect fingernails. Her tiny perfect fingers.
  9. I am filled with love when I think of her. . . not bitterness.
  10. Kind nurses and doctors that day.
  11. Two ornaments that hang on my Christmas tree made by women who understood loss.
  12. Her tiny perfect mouth.
  13. Those who cried with us, held us, brought us food, sent us cards. Who were present with us.
  14. The picture of my boys at church praying for us with their heads on each other’s shoulders while we were at the hospital. So glad someone took it and gave it to me. Precious.
  15. The reminder that I’m a sojourner here on earth. This isn’t forever.

As it happens over and over- that as I’ve listed these grateful things, a miracle occurs.

I see God.

I feel joy and love.

Life is a gift. Even if it only lasts a moment.

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Gratitude. Baseball. Generosity.

This week in Sojourn we’ve been talking about gratitude and generosity. As I was sitting out on my porch soaking in the vitamin D and the sunshine (yes, soaking it in to last through the long, cold Minnesota winter) my mind wandered through my memories. And it seemed to sit right on a not so pleasant memory. One I’d just as soon forget. But one that still teaches me to be generous with my gratitude.

My husband was coaching baseball. The year before his team had won the championship. This year, well, it wasn’t looking so good. At the beginning of the year the parents were so generous with their gratitude. But as the season progressed and the record tipped, something happened. The generosity turned to muttering. The gratitude turned to bitterness. As I sat in the middle of the parents I heard comments that made my skin crawl. I kept thinking “Surely they don’t realize the coach’s wife is in their midst.”  I sat and thought about how my husband would drive 35 miles home from work to coach their sons and then turn around and drive back to work at times. I thought about the hours he spent on the phone calling parents, on the computer emailing and making line-ups, on the practice fields and the game fields. I thought about how he encouraged each player and tried to pull out the best in each one and made each player feel valuable.  But that didn’t seem to matter. All that mattered was one thing, winning.

I couldn’t believe what some of these parents were teaching their kids. Their actions, their comments, their attitudes.  My heart was breaking for these parents and these kids who were so lost in this silly season that no one would really ever remember and yet the seeds they were sowing into their kid’s lives would be there FOREVER. Seeds of ingratitude. Seeds of selfishness. Seeds of discontent. Seeds of disrespect. Seeds of dishonor.

It was a sad season. Not because we lost (actually we started winning at the end and it turned out not so bad). But because the opportunity to build character in these young men was lost as parents were unable to be grateful for the things that really mattered.

It made me think about life in general. When I complain, I am ungrateful. When I complain, someone suffers because of my ingratitude. Is that what I want my life to look like? Is that what I want my kids to see?

Generosity. Gratitude. It’s really a cycle. The more generous I am, the more grateful I am. The more grateful I am, the more generous I am.

A life of gratitude on my faith journey.  That is what I want.