Thanksgiving Thoughts

Happy Thanksgiving to You & Your Families!

I am thankful for you new friends. I know some of you but many of you are new to me this Thanksgiving. Your geography is vast- all over the world, which means turkey and cranberries and family may not be part of your day. But, whoever you are and wherever you are, I am grateful for you. Thank you for stopping by here the past few months. It is encouraging to know there are people reading. You are the new additions to my list of things to be thankful for this year. Consider yourself hugged.

We are a family of two Thanksgiving meals: lunch with my family and dinner with John’s. It is a full day, and we end up with very full tummies and many hugs. It is the love around both tables that makes the day.

Last year I posted this Thanksgiving note on my facebook page. It was our second Thanksgiving since John’s death.

“Two little things to share with you FB friends this Thanksgiving:

1. Last Thanksgiving I was holding my breath because it was the first year. This year I know how to breathe through the holidays. Holidays in year Two are easier simply because I know what this feels like now. I’ve sat alone at the Thanksgiving table before.

But, to let you in on a little secret: as alone as I appear, paradoxically, I am not alone. The life & hope Christ has brought inside of me is bigger than John’s death, and the comfort Christ gives me is bigger than oh-how-I-miss-him emotions.

And, as I made pies this morning I realized that now I celebrate Thanksgiving like one of the original pilgrims. Their first Thanksgiving was sobered by the reality that there were many losses at their celebration. They came to the table with broken hearts. Husbands, wives and children who should have been there celebrating God’s provision were not there. Death had taken them when there was still so much loving, living, learning, establishing, rejoicing, and working to do together.

Yet, like me, their losses didn’t overshadow their trust in God and the story He was choosing to write in their lives.

His love– abundant, personal, intimate & tender, yet also strengthening you like iron;

tucked into your heart and soul and mind wherever you are and wherever you go;

bolstering and buffering when life hits hard- is a love that exceeds any emptiness around my table or yours or theirs.

May your tables be filled with thanksgiving for His love that walks with us over oceans, through dark valleys, and long nights.”

-Maria 2013

And, those words ring true to me today. Again.  Year Three feels older but familiar. The loss is still so fresh. The job of being mom even more daunting.

God is my only hope in this broken place, and I fix my heart and mind on this:

“‘The Lord said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak then I am strong.” 2 Corinthians 12:9-10

And, so, I am praying for all of you today who are feeling weak, who have loss and brokenness around your table. Maybe it is a person you are missing; maybe it is a relationship that is broken; maybe it is disappointment; maybe it is hard news that you just can’t swallow; maybe it is the weight of all the things in the world that are so wrong. I don’t know. I just know that life can be raw.

May His love be your anchor and may His hope make you strong and brave.

And, may we rejoice too. Because life still has beauty. Life still has blessings. God generously tucks goodness and encouragement into every crevice of our lives and hearts.  May we not lost sight of all the good He gives. We are loved and He shows us everyday. That is why it is good for us to have a day of Thanksgiving together.

May love be the main course wherever you are,




A Loss so Big in a Heart so Young

… She Misses Her Momma

I just realized.

When Dad died, I lost not only a father but also a mother.

Mom is an incredible woman and I respect and admire her more and more every day.

But she is not the same woman I used to know.

She has to pay the bills, fix the leaky pipes, monitor the hearts of her children, invest in relationships of other family members, do laundry…. The list continues. I have no idea how she does it all.

Without dad, mom is stretched thin. I feel bad talking to her about what’s going on in my life. I’m a big girl now. She needs to emotionally invest in my other siblings. Not me.

But I still miss our relationship.

I don’t like feeling distant from her.

Erg. Life.




That was written by my oldest daughter on her blog about a year after John died.  I read it for the first time this week. It makes me sad that she felt that way, and it makes me doubly sad I didn’t know it until now.

When a child loses a parent, the losses and pain are complex and far-reaching. The fact is that the living parent must absorb all the roles that used to comfortably belong to two:  bills and finances; lawn work;  car repairs; appliances that break; stopped up shower drains; parenting and nurturing children; endless purchases from shoes for kids to Christmas gifts to replacing weed eaters…all of life now belongs to one.

I am still stunned (& frequently exhausted) by it all.

I really miss just being their mom. They miss it too.

Today is Children’s Grief Awareness Day.  Don’t those four words make you cringe?  Children and grief don’t go together. Shouldn’t go together.

Yet, thousands of children live with the loss of a parent or sibling.  They are dealing with the hardest reality of life too soon, too young.

After walking alongside my children and grief for almost three years, I have learned a few things that I think every grieving child needs to hear from people who love them:

Yes, your loved one did die, and it is terrible and painful and unfair but…

  • you didn’t die and their death does not define who you are or your future. You are not a member of the “my- life-will-always-be-awful” club.  You have life to live and the person you’ve lost wants you to embrace life.
  • beauty is still in this world and you will see it. Sooner than you can imagine.
  • joy will surprise you and return one day, and your heart will feel light and hopeful and optimistic and colorful.
  • laughter will bubble out of you again, and it will be real, not forced. You don’t have to feel guilty when you do feel happy. It doesn’t dishonor your mom or dad or sibling. They always loved the music of your laughter and would want you to feel it and the world to hear it.
  • healing will happen without you even trying. Like when you get stitches or break your arm, your body heals over time. Your heart will heal too, slowly but surely.
  • memories of time with them are precious treasures. Don’t be afraid to remember. You will never forget your loved one. Sometimes those memories are shy at first, but you can let them come out. They are gifts to you now because they take you back to being with your loved one. Go there often in your mind and ask people to keep remembering with you. These stories are a precious possession.
  • Peace will come. Grief won’t be scary forever. You will be able to be still and quiet with your grief and not be afraid of it.
  • God loves you, but you might not love Him right now. You might be mad at Him. You might not even know what you think about Him. It’s okay to tell Him how you really, truly feel. He loves you, whether you love Him or not. He also understands what a terrible robber death is, and it makes Him mad. So mad He sent Someone to end it. That someone is Jesus.
  • God comforts the brokenhearted and He is a Father to the Fatherless. He loves orphans- whether they have lost one parent or both- and He cares for them in special ways. You will see and experience it in your life.

Another essential way to help grieving children is to encourage their hurting parents. Whether they have lost a spouse or a child, the temptation to stop caring about life is real. As a grieving adult it is very easy to be swallowed up by your own loss. To let it pull you under.

But, at my lowest moments, I couldn’t shake the truth that our four children needed me to care. They didn’t need for me to make things worse. They needed me to make nutritious meals. Do laundry. Cuddle up on the sofa. Tuck them in. Keep loving them the way they had always been loved.

They had already lost their dad. The last thing they needed was for grief to rob them of their mom too. On March 8, only one person died, not two, not six.  John would want me to live and love them with every fiber of my being (and his), not burden them with more sorrows.

There is so much more to say. But, if you are close to a child or family that is reeling from loss, gently encourage and support them to love one another well and embrace life. Give them reasons to smile and laugh and hope and see beauty again. It is the greatest gift you can give to a grieving child.

May the Lord tuck all of them in tonight and wipe away their tears,



Teen Love Can Last

Yes, it is true.  John & I are proof that you can meet the love of your life at 15 or 16.  That is how old we were 31 years ago today when John & I met on a yellow school bus.

We had been at a Fellowship of Christian Athletes event at UVA with hundreds of other teenagers and ended up sitting together on the way back to Richmond.  Good thing we didn’t have cell phones to disappear into!

Instead, John’s inventive mind was plotting how to hold my hand. Endless rounds of thumb wars commenced and ended with the victor taking the spoils: my hand to hold!

When John cleaned up the bus after everyone got off, my interest was sealed. I came home and announced to my mom, “I met the kind of guy you’d want me to marry (& he is really cute too!).”

Thus began a love that hasn’t let me go. Death changed John’s location but the love that took up residence in my heart 31 years ago is still perfectly at home.

Recently, I was driving along with one of our girls and I announced, “I am still so in love with your daddy.”

A few minutes later she wistfully, quietly replied, “Mama, I am so glad you still love my daddy.”

It took my breath away. I didn’t realize that it would warm her heart to hear me say it.

It is simply the truth: love is stronger than death.

Last year, to celebrate our 30th anniversary of meeting one another, I wrote about the night we met. I wanted our kids and (very future grandkids) to remember and smile.

So, I am sharing it with you today. I know it is a little long, but it is the right post for this day.

Loving the One who gave him to me for 10,345 days,



Day One

November 12, 1983 and fall’s stained-glass sunlight made the afternoon glow.

Time to head home after a day of UVA football and faith.

A last minute seat change to another bus was the beginning of my future.

Now I was two seats away from “him.”

Blonde and blue, t-shirt and jeans;

All worn with confidence and  silliness in one compelling John Carroll package.

Girls had talked about him for weeks.

Now I knew why.


Buses stopped for fast food, sending teens in every direction.

Then herded back on: dimmed faces on a darkening bus; excitement in the air.

Me: Settling into empty seat.

Him: Out of the blue (with bluest eyes): “You’re in my seat.”

Me: “Your’s? Sorry. I didn’t know. I’ll move…”

Standing, fumbling, gathering stuff, preparing to slide by…

Him: “No, it’s okay. Would you like to sit in my seat with me?” (said with a smile).

“Umm….sure…” (inwardly: YES!)


Me?  John Carroll wants to sit by me?!  He doesn’t know me at all!

There are lots of girls on this bus who want this spot;

They’re all prettier, funnier, cooler than me.

How am I the lucky one?

But he. sat. down. Heart leaped. Tummy tangled.

It’s a long way back to Richmond & I’ve never sat with a boy like this.

A cute boy like this. In the dark.


And, he’s funny. (I love that! Laughter breaks all that’s awkward).

And, he likes to talk. (I like that too! So much more interesting when a guy talks.)

And, he likes to play games. (Thumb Wars? Kinda silly, but, okay, I’ll play.)

Rocky I, II, III, IV, V, VI, VII…

He has a strong thumb. I am losing. Like a lot.

But, he doesn’t seem to mind, nor does he ever seem to get bored with this game.

Hmmm…uh oh…

He’s holding my hand, not my thumb. The wars are over and we’ve graduated to holding hands?!

I didn’t see this coming.

(Years later, naive me was surprised to learn it was his endgame design all along.)


Shoulder to shoulder. Arm to arm.

Little did we know we’d be spending life like this.

That over time we’d become one person…the dot on the j, the twin curves on an m.

Our adventure was starting.

Something bigger than either of us had begun.

Our four contributions to eternity were in a distant May, June, March and August.

All from this seemingly haphazard, but Sovereign, early beginning in November.


Slowing, swaying. Bus turns into the parking lot benediction.

A long day of filtering fall through young lungs;

football game cheers & bus ride of yelling-to-be-heard;

A frenetic day only endlessly energetic teens would call fun comes to an end.

Lights on! Tired teens file off the bus.


No surprise…we’re the last to leave (being the last to leave started early)

and I am stopped. in. my. tracks. by the stuff this guy is made of.

Because he’s cleaning up!

Teenage litter fills the aisles, and he begins to gather it all.

Honestly, cleaning hadn’t crossed my mind.

Now I’m rebuffed but O. So. Impressed.

Did he know that picking up trash was going to seal the deal? It did.

I. Was. Very. Interested to know him more.

Like maybe forever.


Emphatic words to my Mom in the kitchen that night.

“I met the kind of guy you’d want me to marry.”

“Really?” A mom’s patient smile.

Almost six years later, the dream came true.


Only 15 and 16 but a gracious, extravagant gift had been given.

Young?  Yes.

However, He doesn’t discriminate for age, as His own story tells.

It’s not too young if He does the giving.

He knew it was time…our time.

The clock began to tick. 10, 345 of the marrow of our life’s days.

This was Day One of our love’s forever.


John and maria scan without shadows


As you’ve probably noticed by now, I talk a lot about God. John did too. 

I am not a theologian.  I am simply a woman who is increasingly captivated by God as He comforts and carries me through profound loss.  His presence in my life amazes me.  

Some of you have a vibrant relationship with God. Some of you wish that you did. Some of you aren’t even sure what that means. If you’re curious about God, this is for you…

I see two things when I see this world: it is amazing and it is broken.

Life on this planet fills me with wonder; creation declares purposeful, creative, astounding genius.  But, life on this planet also reveals heartbreaking brokenness.  And it is everywhere: in our bodies, in our selfishness, in our relationships, in our wars, and in our death.

So there is great news: We live in an amazing, beautiful, spinning world, which is clearly made by Someone infinitely greater and wiser than us.

But there is bad news: this world is broken, and we can’t fix it. We are broken and we can’t fix us. We can’t even keep ourselves alive. None of us.

Obviously, we need help.

To me, it makes sense to turn to the Someone who made this world. He is our only Hope. But that Someone seems very far away and infinitely greater.  How do we find Him?  How can He help us?

There are many religions who give answers to these questions, but Jesus Christ made the boldest claim. He declared: “Anyone who has seen me, has seen the Father” (John 14:9). What do we do with this statement?

C.S. Lewis, a Christian author, stated that everyone has to make up his mind about Jesus’ identity: is Jesus a lunatic, a liar, or the Son of God?  He has to be one of those three. For me, the lunatic and liar labels simply don’t add up. From my perspective, the evidence is compelling- Jesus Christ truly is the Son of God. And, if the Son of God has actually come to this planet, I want to know all about Him.

The Bible tells us that Jesus came into this world humbly human at the perfect time in history. He faced the temptations and struggles we all face, but He always responded with love and obedience to His Father.

And, He powerfully loved the people around Him like no one else has ever done- healing, helping, teaching, day in and day out. The world still hasn’t gotten over it. 

He lived the perfect life that none of us can attain. He is the only one who has done life right.

Not us.  The Bible makes it clear, “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” Romans 3:23. We all know it is true. Our broken, self-obsessed lives break our relationship with God and end in our death. No matter how much we might want to ignore it or work hard to overcome it, we can’t. Our sin is a barrier. There is nothing we can do to make it go away. And, we certainly can’t come into God’s holy, astounding presence with it. 

Jesus was sent by God to rescue us from our mess. But it was costly. God’s perfect justice means that punishment is given when it is deserved. And, we deserve punishment for not always living to please and love Him.

Jesus was willing to be punished for us so that we could be forgiven and healed. He died a death He didn’t deserve, so that we could fully live- now and forever. When He did, we were given the greatest gift: we can be at peace with God forever.

“For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son that whoever believes in Him will not die but have eternal life.” John 3:16

We know Jesus accomplished His mission because death could not keep Him. He was raised from the dead, which proves we can trust His authority and promises. Jesus told his followers to spread the word that if we believe that His death and resurrection are really for us, our self-obsession and brokenness are forgiven and death is overcome.

“I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies.” John 11:25  No strings attached. No hard work involved. We get what we don’t deserve and could never earn. Love has fought and died for us and won. It is the best. news. ever. 

“To all who did receive him (Jesus), to those who believed in his name, He gave the right to become children of God.” John 1:12 

When we believe that Christ’s death was for us, we are adopted into God’s family.  We are given His Spirit to show us how to live as God’s children in this world. We are dearly loved children learning how to listen and obey our Father.

There’s a letter in the New Testament written by the Apostle Paul where he says,

In Christ and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence. Ephesians 3:12 

And, so I do. You can too. It is amazing but true! We can have a relationship with God that is real and authentic and vibrant. We can communicate with Him. We can live without the burden of past mistakes, and we can live without fear. We can love freely, abundantly, and graciously because that is how He loves us.

Because of Jesus Christ we are forgiven and loved. We can live with hope because death is only the beginning of a richer, deeper life with Him.

May you discover that He is the One you’ve been looking for all along.

You are loved by Him every moment of every day,    


**If you don’t have a relationship with God, my encouragement is to be real about it.  God can handle your questions and accusations and doubts. He welcomes seekers. So, I challenge you to ask Him to show you that He is real. What do you have to lose? You have everything to gain. 

Here’s a great book that might address some of your honest questions.  Start Here: Beginning a Relationship with Jesus (Dwight & Unice).

**If you have a relationship with God, but it seems disconnected, don’t try to do faith alone.  God made us to be in His family! It is a real family. You have brothers and sisters in faith, and they are amazing people. 

  • Find a church where the emphasis is on worshiping God and thanking Him for this new life we have because of Christ. Get to know people there. Look for opportunities to meet with a small group of people.  (Email me if you are looking for a church but are having a hard time finding one. Maybe I can help.
  • Read the Bible (the books of Psalms and John are two great places to start). If you don’t have one, here’s a favorite that we have recommended over the years: The Quest NIV Bible. You might also be encouraged by the book I mentioned above.

© Maria Carroll, 2014