The gray skies matched my gray mood. I wrapped my sweater closer around my body attempting to keep the cold damp November wind at bay. The kids clothes were packed ready to go to their Dad’s after Thanksgiving lunch with my family. I felt grateful they would be with me for at least part of the day, but knowledge of the impending evening cast a shadow over what time we did have together.

This was the first holiday since their Dad and I had separated. No matter how difficult the circumstances left behind, the loss of being a complete family is magnified during the holidays. I know there are many who will read these words who have experienced this kind of grief. Although I was excited to be with extended family, the usual joy of the holiday was missing. A part of me wanted nothing more than to withdraw and hide my head under the covers. Wanting my children to have the holiday they deserved thankfully pushed me past my own misery.

We drove to my Mom and Dad’s home, the children moody and somewhat agitated. This was so hard for them also. It was difficult to force a smile and act as though nothing was wrong. I wanted so desperately to be happy for everyone in order not to ruin anyone’s holiday, but the pain and anxiety in our hearts was difficult to contain.

The welcoming hugs from family helped ease the tension.  Cousins played and brothers, sisters, aunts and uncles laughed catching up on recent events in one another’s lives.  I noticed the boys nervously began picking at one another. Someone asked if they were going to their Dad’s. The picking turned into an all out fight. I carried them back into a bedroom and sat them down as they cried. Amid “it was his fault” and “he started it” I knew this was almost too much. It was all but impossible to pretend to sit quietly without mentioning the elephant in the room. Only two short months before our lives had been a living hell, and we left home. When asked how we were doing and the answer was “good” or “we’re making it okay”, but in reality nothing was okay.

I loved my family so much, and they were wonderful to us all. They were as much at a loss for the right words as we were. The boys fought to take their bicycles to my aunt and uncle’s house. I said no. My son, determined to take the bike struggled with putting it into the trunk after I had said no. His uncle had to step in. My son used an expletive that I had never heard him use before. My daughter cried. My other son was just angry. I cried. Looking back on it all now it almost makes me chuckle. It was such a horrible moment, but it was what it was, and we survived.

The day with family came to an end much too soon, and I began the dreaded drive to take my children to their Dad. They argued most of the way. The anticipation of seeing him combined with the uncertainty of what his frame of mind would be created tension. We pulled up to the designated restaurant. I so wanted to put the vehicle in reverse and race back home with them. Knowing I could not do so was almost more than I could bear.

I took a deep breath upon seeing him getting out of his car slowly moving toward the door of the restaurant. I told my children how much I loved them and how I would miss them. I instructed them to call me at any hour of the day or night if they needed me for anything. We moved to get out of the van. As we walked into the restaurant I noticed one of my sons was missing. I asked my daughter where he was. She pointed to the van. I opened the sliding side door but could not find him. Something caught my attention and it was then I saw him. He was curled up in a ball with his coat covering his head trying to hide behind the seat. I felt as though someone had kicked the breath out of me.

What was I supposed to say? What was I supposed to do? I remembered the words of my attorney telling me I had no choice but to let them go. My son was not of age to decide on his own. All I could do was choke back the tears and promise I would be there waiting on him Sunday. I tried to tell him he would have fun, that he could go to see his toys and read his books. I silently prayed these words were true. Every protective bone in my body wanted to scream out for help. His Dad finally came out to the van and said, “son, you’re going with me, and we are going to have Thanksgiving.” It was more of a statement of fact than an encouraging statement of love and assurance. I gave hugs and reluctantly drove away alone. I spent the ride home crying, screaming out to God for His mercy, His protection, His help, His healing.

Thinking back on this day my heart remembers the pain, the sadness, the fear, the guilt, the confusion, the feeling that life would never be the same. I am grateful these feelings are so easily brought to the surface when sharing them, because you see they serve as a measure against which I can be thankful. God has restored so much to me and to my children. This Thanksgiving, eighteen years down the road, I am truly blessed.

In many ways I guess we are still in the process of healing. If we were to be honest, I think we are all attempting to heal from one thing or another life here on this earth brings into our path. But praise God, He is truly faithful, and He is good. I could not have imagined the life I would be enjoying with the sense of freedom, joy, and confidence that is mine today. It would have been unfathomable on that night. Whenever we are incapable of believing good for ourselves, God believes for us and plants the seeds of hope in our hearts.

If you are holding on by a thread, or if you are going through the valley of the shadow of death, God is there to see you through. Simply reach out to Him and He will run to you with open arms. He loves us more than we could ever imagine. He told us that in this world we would have trouble, but He also told us not to fret because He has overcome the world. Hallelujah! Nothing in this world can defeat Him. With Him, all things are possible. Wait in hope for His deliverance. Trust His promises. He IS faithful! He IS merciful! He IS all powerful! He Is the King of Kings! He WILL create beauty from ashes and bring joy from sadness.

Life is sometimes times painful…excruciatingly painful. But hold on my child…joy comes in the morning! When the joy appears, the rejoicing is sweet. The victory is without comparison. And when you look back over these experiences, the richness, the color, the depth they bring to the canvas of your life leaves a masterpiece of beauty that will take your breath away. As you look back over the journey through His eyes, it will become ever apparent how He watched over you and led you through the valleys walked in times of waiting.

John 16:33  I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.

Isaiah 61:3  He will give a crown of beauty for ashes, a joyous blessing instead of mourning, festive praise instead of despair. In their righteousness, they will be like great oaks that the LORD has planted for his own glory.

Psalms 121  I lift up my eyes to the mountains—where does my help come from?  My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.  He will not let your foot slip—he who watches over you will not slumber; indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep. The Lord watches over you—the Lord is your shade at your right hand;  the sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon by night.  The Lord will keep you from all harm—he will watch over your life; the Lord will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore