So many memories of Thanksgiving bring peace to my heart. It is weird to look back, and hard to not wish to have a piece of those days come to life again. So many family members, in my memories, have passed away. It is strange sometimes to continue to celebrate without them. 

Thanksgiving is a tradition that has always meant a lot to me, but one memory in particular stands out in my mind—the moment I felt in my heart the true meaning of Thanksgiving. 

Shawn and I had not been married long when Thanksgiving rolled around. We had no traditions together—and frankly we were both a bit scared to share any traditions from our previous marriages—neither one of us wanted to feel like a replacement in the other person’s holiday celebrations. 

My brother Josh invited us over for dinner. My sisters, and dad were all getting together there, so we decided to go and take Shawn’s parents with us. 

Walking in I was a little bit nervous. It was our first real family event all together. I didn’t know how everyone was going to respond to each other. Everything was so new. I didn’t want any awkward conversations that made any of the parties feel uncomfortable—or not part of the family. I hoped no one would bring up Emmett, or things from the past we used to do with him. I worried Shawn would feel like a replacement if anyone was to say how they missed Emmett. 

Then on the other hand, I didn’t want anyone to feel like they had to pretend they didn’t miss Emmett. There was a hole in our family from his death. He had brought many of them together and had been the glue to so many of the relationships in our family. I wanted to be able to honor their grief . . . but I was so scared it would push Shawn or his family away. 

I became so worried about what others were saying and doing . . . I was hardly enjoying the day. 

Dinner was great. The food was amazing. Everyone was kind. Nobody brought up Emmett, or said anything to make things uncomfortable. After dinner we were all sitting around and each person began to say something they were thankful for. 

When my turn came I stood up. I did not know where to begin. I felt a lump in my throat as I pictured memories of Thanksgiving past. I stared around the room. Gratitude filled my heart as I looked at each face in front of me. Tears came to my eyes as I fumbled for the words to express the thankfulness that was in my heart. I said, “This has been a very hard year for us . . . As I look around this room I am overwhelmed with so much emotion. When Emmett died . . . we were broken—we were lost. That was really hard, trying to be everything for everyone—and wondering how we were going to make it through. Because of everyone in this room, we didn’t do it alone. I am thankful for each one of you. We have been blessed with so many blessings. One in particular—we were given a miracle. This amazing man who swept us up and gave us a reason to find good in this world. Shawn, you didn’t come to replace Emmett—you were sent as an angel to give us hope. You believed in us in a moment anyone else would have walked away.” I looked over at his parents, “Your son is what I am thankful for this holiday—and I am thankful for both of you for raising a noble man who was worthy to be such an angel. Life has not been what I thought it would be—but I have so much to be thankful for. Thank you to everyone in this room for being there for us—and giving us a reason to remember all that we still DO have. I am thankful for this amazing family and the many blessings Heavenly Father has sent us . . . each one of you.” 

I hadn’t planned a single word—but once they hit the air, my fear of anyone else making everyone uncomfortable by mentioning the past . . . was gone. I was so afraid that the past was going to ruin the moment—but it was in that moment that I realized  . . . it was the past that had brought us all there.

Every Thanksgiving I had ever celebrated made up my memories—but the things that were in front of me that day—were going to help make up the future. And I was thankful for them all.

Thanksgiving—a time to give thanks. There will be memories of the years gone by; there will always be hopes for the years ahead . . . but really all we have besides a snapshot and a hope—is today. 

Wherever you are this Thanksgiving—make it count. Find the beauty in the room with you. Don’t worry about the memories you are missing, or the ones gone by—focus on the memories you are making. Live in the moment. Put away your phones and your computers—and live for today. Make a memory you can tell to your great granddaughter someday as she sits on your couch . . . not knowing all the memories her life will bring. 

 Holidays are for relationships—strengthening the bonds of the people we love. Don’t let your fear of losing traditions stop you from creating new ones.Life is not going to be the same every year. People will come, and others will go. Traditions of the past are fun—but they do not make a holiday. Holidays are for relationships—strengthening the bonds of the people we love. Don’t let your fear of losing traditions stop you from creating new ones. Embrace the imperfect things you are thankful for just as they are. No year will ever be just like this one—so that makes today pretty dang special. 

Thank you for finding hope, for seeking faith, and for embracing your story. The ideals of our pasts and the hopes for our future are only a little part of our lives. 

Thanksgiving is giving thanks for what we have right now. I am thankful for grandparents who have given me so many memories. I am thankful for my parents who have taught me so much and given me life. I am thankful for Emmett and the love I shared with him that brought me five of my babies. I am thankful for my healthy body that made it possible for me to bear each one. I am thankful for my children and the different gifts they have brought into my life. I am thankful for Shawn and his willingness to see past the fractured parts of me—and find the good.  I am thankful for Jordyn who came to complete my motherhood. I am thankful for our very imperfect family that continually teaches me about patience, hope, and hard work . . . but most of all LOVE. 

I am thankful for the broken road . . . that has lead me to today—because without it . . . I am not. 

Here is to new traditions—living the stories that will one day just be a faded memory of the past. 

God has given us a lot to be thankful for . . . the hope that all of these memories can last forever. The grace of His Son—Eternal families—Life that does not end. And for that, this day—I am so thankful. 

Questions to Ponder:

  1. What are you thankful for?  Look especially for the new blessings that have come about because of your loss.
Ashlee Birk is the Author of the blog and book series entitled The Moments We Stand.  In them she tells of her personal journey of healing and seeking peace after the murder of her husband Emmett.  Through her trials she has learned the importance of a personal relationship with her Father in Heaven. She has found light in the darkest of moments—and she has found hope when she thought it was lost.  She has come to find that the grace of Christ is powerful—not only in sin—but also in forgiveness and carrying you through some of your darkest moments.

Ashlee is remarried and resides in Idaho with her husband Shawn and their blended family of six children. They work hard every day to continue their journey of peace and finding the joy in life. Ashlee believes that every day is a gift—and in each one, she has learned to stand.

The Moments We Stand

spouse murdered 11/2011

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