Thankful For The Unexpected
By: Kayla Leibner
The holidays are a time that I find myself especially compelled to reflect on the things for which I am most thankful. Before our life-changing losses, these reflections usually included things like family, friends, and faith. While I am still grateful for these things (and so much more) each day, it is during this season that I find myself considering the most unexpected places I’ve found thankfulness.
The deaths of my babies were the worst moments of my life. Those traumatic events changed me forever, and in ways I may never be able to explain or even fully understand for myself.
One of the ways I was changed was so unexpected – I never saw it coming. When Melody and Jamie died I was so broken that I couldn’t see beyond my pain and suffering for so long. I was at my lowest point, wrecked and defeated.
My first holiday season after Melody died (2017) was dark and heavy with grief. Everything was tainted with the agony of our loss and what our holidays should have looked like. The following holiday season still had a hollow place where our babies should be, as we’d lost Jamie that year (2018). However, I had taken a turn in my grieving process and I was able to see things a little differently despite that void we felt. Now, as I am still missing my babies I am able to consciously focus my thoughts on what I am thankful for.
Losing Melody and Jamie broke me in more ways than I could ever count, but I am still so grateful that I am their mom. I am thankful that God chose me, even if I am only able to carry them in my heart now. I didn’t arrive at this place quickly or easily, but rather through continual prayer, self-care, and time.
I still think about what I am missing and wonder often about what could have been, but I use those thoughts and feelings to help myself dig deeper into how my babies have changed me in the most surprising ways. I believe these changes are gifts from my babies, and I would like to tell you about them.
One way I feel I have been blessed is that my eyes were opened to a whole new realm of emotions and struggles that I hadn’t felt before. I was given the gift of compassion. While I have indeed been shown a tremendous amount of compassion on my journey, I’m not focusing on that. What I mean is that I have found myself to be more deeply compassionate toward others. Because of the labyrinth of feelings I have navigated since my losses, I am more able to look beyond the reactions and behaviors of others. I did not always act like, speak like, or even look like myself in my darkest moments, and because of this I have learned that people behave in certain ways because of tragic or otherwise difficult situations that are out of their control. I have found an inclination to have compassion on others not because I can see the source of their pain, but rather because I cannot. It isn’t my place to judge anyone for their reactions to life – just to be compassionate and loving in return. Because of this eye-opening gift I’ve received, I often remember a favorite scripture of mine:
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,
the Father of mercies and God of all comfort,
who comforts us in all our affliction,
so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction,
with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.”
(2 Corinthians 1:3-4)
This verse is the perfect reminder I always need to continue the chain of compassion by paying it forward to others who are suffering. I am so thankful for the gift of being able to give more compassion to others because I myself experienced receiving this kind of compassion from others firsthand.
I have heard so many times, “You’re so strong. I don’t know how you do it.” I usually respond with, “I just do the best I can” or something similarly worded. The truth is that I don’t have a choice, and if I’m being honest I usually don’t feel strong at all. At times I still find myself walking around feeling like I’m on the verge or just a few steps away from my breaking point – but because of the strength I’ve found I am able to work through those moments and bring myself back to a more secure place. The gift of this strength is one I don’t take lightly, and I know that I have not come by it on my own. As a Christian, I know that I am nothing without God – He is my strength. When I lost my babies, I remember going through a time when I couldn’t admit that God was the strength I needed to survive. I had shut Him out and tried to carry on by myself. That was the loneliest and most difficult season of my life. Again, I think of several scriptures when it comes to the gift of strength, but this one is my favorite:
“Be strong and of good courage; do not be afraid,
nor be dismayed, for the Lord your God
is with you wherever you go.”
I know that wherever I go, that no matter what I go through God is always there to carry me because I can’t do it on my own. There’s another verse that comes to mind that is a great reminder to me about where I find my strength when I feel weak:
“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”
Strength is a gift I have received by way of my faith. I am not strong on my own, and I know that, but God overcomes my weakness when I rely on Him fully. My babies have taught me that in the most powerful way. Losing Melody and Jamie is the most devastating thing to happen to me, and the only way I have survived the pain of those losses is by leaning on God and allowing Him to bring me through the darkness. Learning this has brought me so much peace in overwhelming moments and confidence when I feel unsure.
I did not immediately become deeply compassionate, and I wasn’t instantly strong when I began my journey of grief. It took a lot of time to feel ready to accept these gifts. I believe now that these blessings have allowed me to live my life to the fullest despite having my world twice shattered. I do have setbacks and I wrestle with my grief at times, but by gaining insight about the compassion and strength I now have, I pray that my experience allows me to use these gifts from my babies to help others who are grieving through the holidays, too.
May God bless you and bring you peace.
About Kayla Leibner
Kayla is a Christian, a wife, a mother, and a preschool teacher. She and her husband, Ben, have been married for five years and live north of St. Louis with two of their children, Jace (12) and Kiley (4). They also carry two of their children in their hearts – Melody, and Jamie. Kayla and her family have deep and strong roots in their faith and have relied heavily on God and His comfort in their journey of loss and grief. Kayla hopes that her writing would be of help, comfort, and encouragement to families who are suffering this same tragic loss.
This was such a beautiful rendering, so profound and heartfelt. I’m so sorry for your losses. Thank you for sharing your story and your heart.
Thank you for this – beautifully written!