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A Grateful Heart

Sunday, May 13, 2012
I recently finished reading a book given to me by my good friend, Catherine Stradinger. She had read it after losing her father and it helped deliver her out of the pit of grief. She gave it to me in March of last year but I have cautiously read books on grief, one at a time, when I felt like the timing was right. I finally picked up this one several weeks ago, and now I know why God used it for such a time as this, in this particular part of my grieving process. It is entitled, “Tracks of a Fellow Struggler”, and is written by John R. Claypool. John is a pastor who lost his daughter to leukemia when she was ten years old. This small book is the compilation of his sermons that he preached to help him through his struggles during her illness and after her death. I finished it while on an airplane this past week and its final chapter quickly nudged me down the road that will lead me out of this darkness. He referred to it at the “Road of Gratitude”.

Using the example of God asking Abraham to sacrifice his son, Claypool says, “God was trying to teach Abraham…the basic understanding that life is a gift – pure, simple, sheer gift – and that we here on earth are to relate to it accordingly.” We have not done anything to earn it or deserve it, and yet God gives us the gift of life. I was a gift to Michael and he was a gift to me…neither of us deserving one another, but the gift was given for our enjoyment. He goes on to say, “And when I remember that the appropriate response to a gift, even when it is taken away, is gratitude, then I am better able to try and thank God that I was ever given her in the first place.”

In the first few weeks and months following Michael’s death, I told many people that I was so thankful for the life that I did have with Michael. I was thankful for the 24 years that I had. I was thankful for the rewarding marriage I had with him. I was thankful that my kids were old enough to remember what a great father he was. I was thankful that Michael Anthony was old enough to remember the example that his dad had set on how to treat a wife. I was thankful that God chose me to be the recipient of the gift of Michael Barranco. This was all in the initial shock stage of grief, and then the pain, the void, and the loss began to set in with all of its weight and darkness. It got so dark at times in this valley that I had a hard time stirring up even a glimmer of my grateful heart.

I am making a conscious decision to try to focus on having a grateful heart. I need to try to stop focusing on the past and what things used to be like with Michael in our lives. I need to stop thinking about what I don’t have anymore… I want to focus on what I do have. This is going to take a constant effort. It will not be easy at first, but I need to set an example for my kids.

We need to keep looking to the future, make plans, and keep dreaming.

Claypool’s final statements settled deep into my soul and lifted my chin up where it should be. “Everywhere I turn I am surrounded by reminders of her – things we did together, things she said, things she loved. And in the presence of these reminders, I have two alternatives. I can dwell on the fact that she’s been taken away, and dissolve in remorse that all of this is gone forever. Or, focusing on the wonder that she was ever given at all, I can resolve to be grateful that we shared life, even for an all too short ten years. There are only two choices here, but believe me, the best way out for me is the way of gratitude. The way of remorse does not alter the stark reality and only makes matters worse. The way of gratitude does not alleviate the pain, but it somehow puts some light around the darkness and creates strength to begin to move on.” I am grateful that we ever even had Michael for the time that we did. He was a gift from God. I am grateful that we shared a life, even if it was short in our terms. A grateful heart will bring light into the darkness and, I believe, it will give me more strength as I exercise it.

Claypool gives this advice to his church from the pulpit, “I need you to help me on down the way, and this is how: do not counsel me not to question, and do not attempt to give me any total answers. Neither one of those ways will work for me. The greatest thing that you can do is to remind me that life is a gift – every particle of it, and that the way to handle a gift is to be grateful.”

With this said, I have decided to stop writing on this particular blog. I believe that God’s purpose in having me do this is now finished. Not that the healing process is over, because that will continue on for years to come. I have come through my long journey in the valley of the shadow of death but there are still repercussions of having experienced the valley. I am planning on moving onward at a stronger pace, with a stronger heart. I will still need and seek solitude for strength, because I have needed it in that form my whole life. I will still lean towards the introverted side, because this is my nature. I will always have setbacks, because there is no magic formula. I will always miss him, as well as what he brought and added to our lives…. But, I will try to focus on the things for which I have to be grateful and try not to let the remorse bring me down to places so low that I may get stuck down there. As Claypool said, “I know that gratitude does not alleviate the pain, but it somehow puts some light around the darkness and creates strength to begin to move on.” I am ready for some light around this darkness. I want to feel the warmth of the light on my face again. I turn my grateful heart towards heaven and give it to God. I don’t know what the future holds but I believe God’s words in Jeremiah 29:11,” ‘For I know the plans I have for you’, declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’”

I am grateful for that promise.


Anonymous Says:
May 14, 2012 at 9:01 AM

I AM GRATEFUL that you have written here for these months. I appreciate your many morsels of wisdom on the grieving process. But what I take away from your words even more for this point in my life, is your shining example of a Godly marriage. I remember that when I pray for my children's marriage and for that of my unmarried child should she be blessed with a husband. I thank God for your model and I ask Him to bless the marriages I pray about, for those already wed and for those whose marriages are still coming. I pray that marriages like yours with Michael would be the norm, not the exception. This is a great gift you have shared with me. Thank you. You will always be in my prayers.

Anonymous Says:
May 14, 2012 at 8:40 PM

Thank you for sharing all of this time. Bittersweet to see your blog go, but I am fully aware that an end comes to all things. I will continue to lift you up as Michael comes to my mind, which still is quite often. All my past prayers, such as asking God to give you a glimpse of the other side, are still out there. Prayer never fades - the words, the requests go on forever. YOU, along with all of us, go on forever. What an eternal plan! Let the remainder of your earthly journey begin. Blessings, peace, clarity, direction, resolve............

Anonymous Says:
May 17, 2012 at 9:03 PM

God bless you and your family, Jene', as you remember the past with gratitude and look to the future with hope! What a wonderful mindset for all of us to have...

I pray that God gives you the confidence in Him to move forward with no fear whatsoever! There is no need to hesitate. He has already gone before you and will be with you all the way!

Anonymous Says:
May 22, 2012 at 11:05 AM

Dear Jene-Will miss checking in on your blog, but thankful that you feel that this particular chapter of your journey is now complete. You and the kids are in my thoughts every single day, and I pray for you often. Will continue to share in you journey from afar. love you always, hilmari

Erica Says:
June 4, 2012 at 6:05 AM

Thinking of you, Jene. I'll miss your blog posts! Hugs from Illinois! =)

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