The remains of the turkey had long since been put in the fridge. The last of the mashed potatoes had been scooped up. One or two pieces of pumpkin pie remained in a pie plate on the counter. Thanksgiving Day 2001 was almost over.
I had decided to go to bed early. I paused in the living room and took one last look at the Christmas tree our daughter Shari had decorated hours earlier. It was a tradition with us. My husband Johnny and I lived on Galveston Bay Texas, so our family always decorated with a nautical theme. Every year, right after Thanksgiving dinner, Shari and I would bring down fishnet, swags, buoys and sailboats from the attic and begin to plan for the festivities surrounding Christ’s birth.
That Thanksgiving day, after the tree was finished, Shari, her husband Jeff, and their three girls – Cara, 19, Christin, 15, and Amanda, 13 left our home to celebrate Thanksgiving with Jeff’s parents. It was quiet now except for Johnny and two of his brothers sitting outside on the patio, talking. I went to bed and fell into an easy sleep.
About 9:15 p.m. The phone rang. Instinctively, I reached for it in the darkness and said hello.
Have you ever had one of those moments when life seems to stand still? When something irreversibly changes and you don’t quite yet fathom all that has happened, but you just know that an event has occurred after which nothing will be the same again?
It was our granddaughter, Cara, on the phone. She was screaming and crying uncontrollably. I could just make out “Mom” and “accident”, but the rest was just a blur of words and emotion. Our son-in-law’s brother, Ronnie, took the phone from Cara and pieced together the story.
After dinner with Jeff’s family, Shari, Jeff and the girls climbed inside their Ford Expedition, preparing to drive back to their house for the night. Almost on second thought, Shari remembered something she wanted to leave with Jeff’s Mom. As she stood behind their SUV, a car careened down the street, swerved, hit a light pole and ricocheted into Shari, throwing her into the yard. The rest of the family, except for Christen, were still in the SUV and protected from the impact of the drunk driver.
Shari had been picked up by an ambulance and was now on her way to the intensive care unit at the hospital. Shari was our middle child.
We have an older daughter, Lisa and our youngest son is John. When Shari was a child, I used to read to her for hours on end. She loved books and she also loved playing mommy. She used to pray that the Lord wouldn’t return before she could grow up and be a mommy herself. When she grew up and had her girls, she exhibited an incredible love for and closeness with her children.
Our family was gathered in a hospital waiting room when the chaplain came in to tell us Shari was gone.
She was 39—wife to Jeff, mother to three girls. And she would always be our daughter. I knew she was in the Lord’s presence, but I still felt an unspeakable pain.
The room was deathly quiet and I remember looking up at the ceiling in that waiting room and saying,
“God, if you don’t help us, we aren’t going to make it.”
The sound of my voice seemed to give everyone permission to start crying. I will never forget Jeff standing in the hall of that hospital telling his girls, “Girls, in the morning we are going to believe the same thing about God that we believed this morning.” Jeff set the tone for the rest of our family and God came around us in a powerful way in the days and months ahead.
At the time of Shari’s death, I never dreamed that thankfulness might be one of the things God would use to heal the huge void left in my heart.
I know that people grieve in different ways and that everyone is different, but I have come to believe that being thankful in the midst of a tragic circumstance is the key to moving toward healing.
1 Thessalonians 5:18 tells us to…
Give thanks in all circumstances for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.
There is always something to be thankful for in the circumstance even when we are not thankful for the circumstance.
Being a writer, I knew I was in shock so I was careful to jot down times when I could see God’s hand and in the first couple of weeks I had written down over twenty instances where God showed up in might and power.
Each of us has a choice to make when it comes to being thankful.
We can stay trapped in our pain and anger over our losses and disappointments, or we can choose to thank God for whatever we can.
CAROLE LEWIS served as the national director of First Place 4 Health from 1987-2013. Carole is a popular speaker and author of 15 books. She leads conferences, workshops and seminars with an emphasis on personal and spiritual balance, fitness, encouragement and temperament analysis. Carole became a widow in June 2014. She has two adult children and one deceased, eight grandchildren and six great grandchildren, including her two oldest great grandchildren, Luke and Kate, in this photo with Carole. Her book “A Thankful Heart” is available HERE
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