How to Give Thanks for Your REAL {messy * beautiful * laughable * sorrowful * honest * hopeful} LIFE

how to give thanks for your real life

I have a six-year-old friend in the first grade class where I work each morning. She is a real-life caricature of a Disney princess, minus the ball gown and polished demeanor. Her voice is little bit like Shirley Temple’s and she says everything with a twinkle in her eye and a smile on her face.

Her head is in the clouds when she “should” be working and she’s delightfully uninhibited. She rattles off obscure facts about animals with endearing enthusiasm and explains what words mean in a way that’s remarkably perfect.

She embodies wonder. And I adore her for it.

A couple of weeks ago she remarked about the beauty of something completely mundane — I don’t remember what exactly — and I said to her, “I just love you. Your glass is always half-full.”

To which she replied {with said twinkle in her eyes and fluttering eye-lashes and ever-present smile}, “Oh Mrs. Vischer! My glass isn’t half-full. It’s ALL THE WAY FULL!” And she stretched out her arms to the sky as she said it, just to demonstrate the enormity of her everlasting joy.

I love her because I want to be like her. I want a heart that intrinsically gushes with gratitude and a mind that’s captivated by wonder and eyes that zero in on beauty. There are those who are simply hard-wired for joy and gratitude and glass-half-full-ness.

Some people get all the good personality genes and yes, I’m jealous. I desperately long for that sort of innate positivity.


nature table

The last week has been on the melancholoy side for me, which is putting it ever so politely. I realized that I’ve been stuffing grief for about five years now because real life has not allowed for such indulgences like acknowledging loss. There are sandwiches to make and children to parent and marital spats to smooth out. There are jobs to work and bills to pay and a house to set up.

In the hurry and flurry of real life, I didn’t realize just how much sorrow I had packed away like old high school trophies, telling myself I’d deal with it all later but lugging it around from place to place in the meantime.

And then something triggers the baggage. And while I’m used to triggers and they are terribly unpleasant, I know the drill.

Shove it back down. Stuff the emotions that are temporarily dislodged. Pack them away. Deal later.

This is a necessary form of denial because the demands of the everyday monopolize your physical and emotional energy.

Even for someone who’s “real” like me, I didn’t realize how stuffed full of sorrow I was until it all came unstuffed and the suitcase refused to latch. And when it did? Rage and anguish and despair came with it. All I could see was the mess of my life — the mess of the past, the mess of the present, the probable mess of the future. I couldn’t see how far we’d come. I could only see how much still feels like a disaster.

My glass was not only half-empty; it was bone dry. And it had been that way for longer than I even knew.

give thanks real life chair

I walked for hours on a broken foot that’s beginning to heal, taking breaks to sit in the sun and seek clarity and feel sorry for myself. But all I found was darkness and confusion. My thoughts found voice only in the words of King Solomon, who had everything under the sun yet declared it all meaningless.

I had forgotten to remember.

This week a dear friend and counselor reminded me: “Climb onto the life raft of rememberance.”

“The Life Raft of Rememberance.” It’s the title of a blog post I once wrote. Three and a half years ago I penned these words:

In laying bare our needs, we simultaneously remember the ones God’s already met. Practicing remembrance saves me. It’s impossible to drown in discouragement and hopelessness when we remember how He’s parted the sea time and again.

Remembrance is an exercise in trust, an invitation to hope, and a pathway to peace.

Sometimes it takes the perspective of others to untangle the truth from the lies. It takes my husband telling me over dinner and with all sincerity that we are not where we were, not by a long shot. It takes a loved one telling me that “nothing has changed” is a straight-up lie and reminding me to look around. We’re here, in this house, together and intact.

In the words of Elton John, “I’m still standing. Yeah, yeah, yeah.” And I’ve decided that “still standing” is indeed a victory.

Is it all still terribly messy? Ohmygosh, yes. But there is life and goodness in the middle of mess.

Has the sorrow vanished? Not at all. But it’s been brought into the light, promised to be acknowledged and carried by someone other than just me.

Am I free of consquence and baggage? Hardly. But they do not define me or my family.

Mess and sorrow — it’s part of my story and I’m guessing it’s part of yours too. I’d write the narrative differently but I can’t. I can only keep moving from this point forward. Instead of rewriting my own life, I can simply receive it.

And I can receive it with gratitude.

A curated life has the allure of perfection and the illusion of control. In an age where we can stage our lives and portray them as we wish in our online spaces, we allow ourselves to fool and be fooled. I’m not gonna lie, I still want to pick and choose with my real life. I want to be the snobbish gatekeeper of my own past, present, and future.

But a real life doesn’t have fancy filters and carefully crafted vignettes. A real life has the slate of redemption as its foundation and the banner of hope unfurled across its roofline, even if its rooms are still junky and a lot of stuff needs to be fixed.


Sometimes I still look at God as the Grand Editor and tell him that I have a better idea for how the story should unfold.

He graciously reminds me that my gaze doesn’t see the beginning from the end. My characters are predictable and safe. My plot-lines leave no room for rescue or transformation. I am my own hero. The end.

everything boy

As I look back, I can drown in resentment and how failure still impacts me today. Or I can climb aboard the life raft of rememberance. I can be grateful that adversity has transformed me and my people in fruitful ways, even as I still keep company with sorrow.

I can consider where we’d be, if not for grace, and that would be a terrible place indeed.

I can remember holidays gone by that were fractured and false and raise my hands to the heavens that we broke through the hell of that, hard road and all, and now we have a life that’s honest. We are anything but perfect. Truthfully, we are embarrassingly clueless and flying by the seat of our pants most of the time. And that makes us needy in a good sense, desperate for a savior in both epic and everyday ways.


This Thanksgiving, I offer thanks for an honest life.

An honest life isn’t free from sorrow or mess or baggage.

An honest life doesn’t pretend that the present doesn’t bear scars from the past, nor is it fearless about the future.

An honest life does not have tidy relationships or closure or complete healing.

But an honest life is wide open to receive and to give because it’s ripe to be made new and humble enough for transformation. An honest life knows its own crazy and is set free to walk through the doors of others’ crazy.

This Thanksgiving, I receive my own life with gladness and gratitude. All of it. I don’t say that lightly. This is THE continual struggle for me.

I invite you to do the same, even if your story is not as you might have written it.

I invite you to join all of us honest folk around this very real table where we feast and cry and laugh and spill the sweet tea and nibble around the burnt part of the rolls and eat pie until we test the threshold of our stretchy pants.

May we scoot over to finally make room for the sorrow that cannot be denied, knowing that sadness and gladness can sit around the same dinette. Sorrowful tears can mingle with joyful ones. As my friend Kimberly says, tears “water the seeds of compassion in your spirit. You must let the tears do their inner work because it is a holy one.” 

May we begin with compassion toward our own fragile souls.

May we hunt down beauty in the midst of brokenness.

May we even have glorious moments in which we are soul mates with my six-year-old friend, where our gladness for ALL THE DELIGHT and ALL THE WONDER makes our eyes twinkle and our smiles widen and our arms stretch with great might toward the heavens.

Why? Because we dare to remember all the goodness. We dare to receive our own lives with thanksgiving instead of bitterness. We dare to hope with a capital H.

And because of Hope, we can receive this life in all of its beautiful, ridiculous, messy glory.


For Your Thanksgiving

One Thousand Gifts: Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are by Ann Voskamp. A modern classic that I need to keep reading.

Choose to be Grateful. It’ll Make You Happier. By Arthur C. Brooks at The New York Times.

The Life Raft of Remembrance {by me}

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*nature photos courtesty of Pixabay; book link is an affiliate


  1. Kristin says

    Marian – Happy Thanksgiving to you all – I love this post as well as your honesty. You don’t know how much that all rings true for so many of us….me included! Love to you and to Lance….and the family. We have much to be thankful for!

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