Thankful for a Year of Growth

It’s that time of year, the holidays have arrived along with the cool, crisp air usually accompanied with it. First, we have Thanksgiving, celebrated in America as a feast of epic proportions served with a side of family and/or friends. Most eat in the middle of a day of laziness between watching hundreds of people marching and performing in a parade and a large number of grown men playing football. At least, that’s what it has been for me most of the years of my life. This year was something different, however. For one, my wife and I are enjoying our first holiday season in our new home. But we also got involved with other traditions this year which included helping people who were in need and then spending Thanksgiving day with a couple families we’ve grown close to this year for a “Friendsgiving.” It was a fantastic day with them that just felt right, which has made me thinking about it since. I realized something- it wasn’t just this one day with these friends that made this year different- it has been the whole year with them. And it has been the whole year with my wife and I. As we drove home from Thanksgiving dinner that night, I said to my wife “This has been a really tough year…but, it’s been a really good year,” to which she agreed. How can you have a really tough year but have it be a really good one? Let me explain.

First off, there’s this thought that all things that hurt you or make you struggle are bad for you. That is not true in all cases. Sure, feeling hurt is no fun, nor is it to struggle. But often times when we struggle is where the most growth happens.

We grow in our faith. We learn to believe that there is something bigger at work here and we need to make it through the struggle to get to what is planned for us. When you step back and look at the situation objectively, you can sometimes see God’s hand at work in all the pieces around you. You might not see this right away, sometimes it takes months or even years later. But when you can look at it that way, your faith grows exponentially.

We grow in our relationships. Those pieces that God moves around you just might be the people He brings in your life for particular reasons. They are the people that support you and encourage you through the tough times. They are the people that lend an ear to listen or a shoulder to cry on. They are the people that might be going through the same experience that you are themselves or they will go through it with you. But when you go through a life experience with someone at your side, that relationship is going to have some growth, usually closer together.

We grow in confidence of ourselves. Life isn’t just a beautiful view at the mountain tops or highs of our life. We must also go through the valleys, or down, sometimes dark times. But when we continue to move forward it won’t be long until we come across the trail to the top of the mountain again. The more we get through the valleys and to the top of the mountain, the more we grow in confidence and belief that we can make it through what comes our way because we’ve done it before.

As I mentioned earlier, it was my wife and my first year in our new home as we closed on our house in early January. A mountain top moment for sure for a newlywed couple. Our view made it to an even higher peak when my wife took a new job doing something we knew she would love and was perfect for her. But, once you get to the peak you have to come down. And we received news that felt like an avalanche was rushing us to the bottom…and burying our dreams there. We were told that biological children wasn’t likely to happen for us. Even if we used IVF (in vitro fertilization) our chances didn’t improve much better. Instead, it would increase the chances of my wife developing some form of cancer or another. With her family health history the way it is, that was a non-negotiable for me. It took 33 years of my life to find her, I didn’t dare want to attempt anything that could possibly take her from me sooner.

It’s been a long 11 months since we received that news. To compare it to a roller coaster ride would not be accurate in the least. The drops on coasters are the fun and exciting part. Our drops were full of confusion, grieving, sadness and tears. On one of our first dates when we met we laid out how kids were part of the plan for both of us in our hopes and dreams for our futures. We put it on the table early on so we could let the other know if they were just wasting their time. Now here we were, married almost 2 years after that discussion, with what was supposed to be part of “the plan” now off the table for both of us. My wife tried to “give me an out” one time, saying she couldn’t blame me and would hold nothing against me if I wanted to leave because we couldn’t have the family we wanted. I told her there is no way she was getting rid of me that easy. I told her that I said “I do” to a marriage and life with her, that she is the family I wanted. I made it super clear to her that I would always be by her side and I have been- for the break downs, the tears, the counseling appointments and most importantly, the prayers. She has been there for me for my moments of feeling weak as well. We have experienced them all together because it was our news that we got. And it has been our actions since. Lifting each other. Encouraging each other. Consoling each other. Making each other laugh, even when we didn’t want to laugh. Praying for one another and praying together. And through it all there has been healing and there has been growth. In our friendship. In our relationship. In our marriage. In our faith. We’re making our way back up that mountain. Not to say that we don’t still stumble and fall a bit every now and then. But we’re still looking up and climbing that mountain together.

Some may ask, “How do you grow in faith and continue to pray when you were given news that destroyed your dreams? When you keep falling down that mountain side? When God did this to you?” I can confidently say that they are wrong and right at the same time. They’re wrong in thinking that “God did this to us,” but they are right in that God is there in this situation. You see, it is in these moments, when you’re at a low that God extends His grace to you. At least I know he did for us. We may not know for a long time or maybe even ever at all why we won’t get to have biological children. But we do know God extended His grace to us in several ways. One of which is allowing my wife to love many kids as the job she took that I mentioned earlier is as a Director of Children’s Ministries at our church. It’s certainly not the same as being a mom but being someone that can love and influence many children is a special gift.

But one of the main ways God has extended us His grace in this situation is the friends he blessed us with. We have had so many friends and family members willing to offer up prayers on our behalf, give us hugs and talk to us, as well as listen when we were feeling down. We were so thankful for all the kindness we received from all those people. There were a particular few, however, that helped make this tough year a good year. And it was those that we had Friendsgiving with.

During the course of the year we formed accountability groups together, the wives in one and the husbands in another. An accountability group is where you can get together in a safe space and open up about what has been going on in your life. Your moments of weakness, of anger, of sadness, of despair and your moments of sin, or falling short of what God wants for you. You can open up about these things without fear of gossip or private matters being spread and you can share without fear of being judged. Your accountability partners are there to listen, to console, to advise and, when necessary, give you a loving smack on the side of the head or kick in the pants, metaphorically of course. Your partners also usually pray with you and for you and there is power in that with God. Matthew 18:20 says “For where 2 or 3 are gathered in my name, I am there with them.”

My wife and I relied heavily on our accountability groups, but they relied heavily on us too. Each family at one point or another during this year had a valley they were going through. But just as mountain climbers do, we linked ourselves together. We set our safeties on the Lord and we helped each other out of the darkness and back up to the mountain tops. The amount of growth our families had together in our relationships was simply undeniable. And it was clearly evident at the table on Thanksgiving when we shared the things we were thankful for. Not one of our answers was given without a tear and not without a mention of our thankfulness for each other.

My wife and I don’t know what exactly the next step is for us as we have contemplated several options over and again, including it just being us in our Gruss household. But we know that whatever we do decide and whatever comes our way, we are not alone. We have each other, we have our amazing friends, and we have our Lord that blessed us with both. And no matter what comes up in their lives, they know they’ve got us too.