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Mourning and Gratitude

Remember your word to your servant, for you have given me hope. My comfort in my suffering is this: Your promise preserves my life. Psalm 119:49-50

Though I had been sleeping longer than usual, I was still waking up feeling like I hadn’t had enough. Grief will do that to you. My soul is weary with sorrow; strengthen me according to your word. Psalm 119:28.

I have been grieving my mother’s mental and physical decline due to stroke for more than five years, praying for either a miracle or mercy. So, truly, it was a welcomed gift—an answer to prayer—when my mother passed away on January 17th. Her suffering has ended, and I know she is in a much better place. But I am still missing her deeply.

Perhaps it was the fear of forgetting that drove me to do the things that reminded me of Mom. First, I baked three Hungarian pastries using the recipes she handed down to me from her mother: kalacs, a sweet Hungarian nut roll; zserbo szelet, a layered walnut and apricot cookie topped with chocolate; and kiflis, cresent-shaped walnut cookies with a hint of lemon. (Did you catch the nut theme?) At the same time I was baking, I painstakingly completed one of her unfinished quilts by adding a border and binding, then I slip stitched the edge by hand, just as she taught me. Next, I pulled out old photos of Mom laughing and enjoying life to replace the more recent images I had of her failing body wasting away in a nursing home. Finally, I shared stories about her with anyone who would listen. I told good ones and bad ones. After all, it took both kinds to shape me into the woman I am today, and I don't want to forget where I came from. I am my mother’s daughter after all, and proud to be so.

Then one morning last week, I woke up feeling refreshed. It was weird actually. My mind was not churning like it normally does with all the things I had yet to do and all the things I had left undone while doing all the things I wanted to do in my mother’s memory. Instead, I woke up with a grateful heart and a list of blessings clicking through my brain in no particular order, like ticker tape: my home, my husband, electricity, morning coffee with my best friend, a clean bill of health following my own stroke in 2014, food in my refrigerator, daily sightings of a fox in my backyard, incredible siblings and in-laws, a church family, rainbows, good wine, my dishwasher and washing machine, a college education, running water, good neighbors, clean air, freedom, …

The list went on and on. I found myself smiling and feeling full of joy, as if I had been given a new lease on life. Therefore, we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. 2 Corinthians 4:16

Grief, according to the experts, can have negative affects on our bodies: heart problems, digestive issues, an increase in blood pressure, loss of appetite, and fatigue, to name a few. But gratitude has the opposite affect. Gratitude increases dopamine production, which increases energy, decreases illness, improves focus, and relieves stress.

I didn’t cognitively decide to list my blessings upon waking. I woke up to a list already in motion. Call it what you will, but I think it was a gift from God. Blessed are those that mourn, for they will be comforted. Matthew 5:4

John Ortberg, in his book Soul Keeping, writes that our souls not only NEED gratitude, they THRIVE on gratitude. Gratitude makes us more aware of God’s presence and goodness. I want to be a woman that recognizes God in everyone and everything. I want to be a woman that looks at life as a glass half full rather than half empty. I want to be a woman who rejoices rather than complains. I want to be a woman that puts her trust in God rather than humans. I want to be a woman that focuses on hope rather than loss.

Mom died a week after her 85th birthday. She lived a full life, and I am grateful for all the gifts she passed on to me: a love of music and theater, the skills necessary to cook with ease, the ability to be at peace in silence, a respect for education, a heart for the downtrodden, and the gift of hospitality.

My mother used to collect hearts and sew them into her quilts. With Valentine’s Day approaching, I imagine her surrounded by loving hearts, dancing with Jesus and the angels in heaven next to her son and grandson and all her siblings and friends who went before her. What a celebration!

As the author of Ecclesiastes writes, there is “a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance” (vs. 4). I don’t necessarily think my time of mourning has ended, but right now I’m enjoying a time of gratitude—and some Hungarian palacsintas.

THE SONG THAT COMES TO MIND IS "Counting Every Blessing" by Rend Collective. Lyrics: “You were there in the depths of my sorrows. You’re my strength, my hope for tomorrow.”

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