Gracia Gilbertson worked as an interior designer for a number of years and has written for several publications and a blog. She and her husband were involved in hosting Young Life in Lake Stevens and served on a Young Life committee. She now lives just outside of Leavenworth, WA with her husband, and their two grown sons live on the west side of Washington state. Gracia enjoys being active outdoors, kayaking, paddle boarding, and downhill and cross country skiing.


Some years it is hard to feel thankful as Thanksgiving approaches. Perhaps something rather catastrophic has occurred in the past year like the death of a dear one, a cancer diagnosis, some other health crisis, a financial burden, a job loss, a struggle with infertility, a marriage issue or divorce, a parenting concern, a struggle like single-hood, or simply just a number of smaller issues which have piled up on you and left you feeling weary.

The first time I remember feeling this way was a number of years ago. My mom and dad had died due to a car accident in August of that year. They lived just across the driveway from my family and me for the last four years of their lives. My grade school aged sons were accustomed to running over to their home for yummy pancakes before school, for homemade cinnamon rolls or delicious gingerbread cookies after school, to listen to my dad read them a story in his expressive voice; or just simply to tell them something that had happened that day in a sports game or at school. I often enjoyed many things: a quick chat with one of them in the driveway, hearing my dad whistling away as he chiseled on a wood carving in my husband’s shop, popping in to share some bit of daily news, and attending a neighborhood Bible study with my mom. Their home was a place of respite filled with calm reassurance of their love and faith expressed in words and deeds. You can imagine the deep sense of loss when all of this was suddenly gone. No warning, no waning illness.

My mom and dad

The church we attended at that time held an annual service on the eve of Thanksgiving Day. After a short reflection, our pastor would open the mic for people to go forward and share what they were thankful for. I really didn’t want to go but my husband thought we should. Feeling thankful was just simply not in me. As I sat in the pew with tears on my cheeks, it slowly dawned on me that there were several things I was deeply thankful for, in spite of the grief.

I was thankful…

  • that my parents had gone together, and escaped the loneliness of one of them being left behind in widowhood.
  • that they had been spared many of the hard things that come with aging, since they were both in good health and of sound mind.
  • that their legacy of faith — the way they loved Jesus and lived for him — was still alive in me and my family and they had modeled faith and love well.
  • that through all the sorrow and grief, I had been given a deep and abiding sense that I was not alone. My Bible Study Fellowship leader had shared a verse with me upon hearing of their accident, “I [God] will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you,” and He had.

I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.

John 14:18

Fast forward a number of years, and another time came when I found it very hard to be thankful. Our family had been enduring a painful season, due to a dear one’s struggle with addiction. I knew there would not only be an empty place at the table that year, but also a crushing ache in my heart, wondering if life would ever be “normal” again. The questions ran through my mind like a broken record. What had we done wrong? Why didn’t we see this coming? How could we best help our loved one?

Again, a sense of thankfulness eluded me. I felt confused, lonely, and yes, even a little angry, wondering what God was doing. The thought of Thanksgiving Day and upcoming Advent/Christmas season did not bring the joy that it normally did. I had always deeply loved these holidays at the close of each year, loving the foods, the decorations, the time with family and friends.

Years before this battle with addiction had started to affect our family, I had started a journal noting at least three things each day that I was thankful for. Sometimes it was a breathtaking sunrise or sunset, or a special Bible verse that jumped out at me as I had devotions, or a kind word or gesture from a friend, or simply something unexpected and delightful that occurred during the day.

God must have known I would need this “thankfulness” practice down the road as I forced myself to continue, even on the dark days.

And you know what? There was always something to be thankful for, each and every day. Sometimes it was something seemingly small, like the crunch of a good apple, or finding a heart shaped leaf on a walk. I was thankful for the legacy of my wonderful mother, who began almost every day, saying Psalm 118:24 aloud, “This is the day the Lord has made. I will rejoice and be glad in it.”

Our view in Plain, WA

As I intentionally looked for things to be thankful for, the Lord reminded me over and over that His love for me and my family had not failed. He was with me and was with my dear one. As I read my Bible, verses about hope just seemed to leap off the page. “Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope. Because of the Lord’s great love, we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning, great is your faithfulness,” (Lam 3:21-23). “We have this hope as an anchor for our souls, firm and secure,” (Heb 6:19). “Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.” (Hebrews 10:23).

Once again, I came to realize that I still had much to be thankful for! I could rest in the knowledge that God is loving and kind, and hope that one day He would bring something good out of the pain. With the holidays approaching I could sing, “a thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices” and be thankful.

Written by Gracia Gilbertson for The Anchor Journal