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I’m going to be completely honest here.

I don’t always respond well to change.

Almost never, in fact.

Even when the change is a good, God-ordained change.

My firstborn son left for college last week, and I had prepared myself for a difficult goodbye.

I knew it was going to be hard, but I didn’t know just HOW hard.

I tried not to cry as we shared one last, long hug, but I failed miserably. Tears of joy mixed with tears of sadness. Joy at seeing the godly young man he has grown into, and tears of sadness because this chapter of his life has come to an end.

I’m excited for him. So very excited.

I’m thrilled he has chosen a wonderful Bible college to attend. (Even though Florida is a long way from the Ozarks!) I’m excited about the dream God has placed in his heart, and his determination to develop his gifts for the glory of God. I’m proud of the way he has prepared for this next chapter of his life.

But at the same time, this mama’s heart is hurting.

Is it really over? What happened to the little boy toddling around the kitchen, talking a mile a minute? (Well, he still talks a lot, but he doesn’t toddle anymore.)

And the nights of homework, quizzing him for tests, and playing board games after supper? How could that have passed already?

Before my eyes, my chubby-cheeked little boy transformed into a confident young man, ready to spread his wings and fly.

The first few days were hard. The tears were just below the surface.

The dining room table where he dumped his stuff after work every day was clear. His chair at the kitchen table sat empty. None of his clothes were in the laundry.

Each reminder brought fresh pain to my aching heart. I just wished I could turn back time for a little while–just a little while.

The truth we face as parents is this:

The more we love our children, the harder it is to let them go when the times comes. But really, would we have it any other way? Not a chance. We know all the love is worth all the pain.

Throughout the next couple of days after my son’s departure to college, God gently spoke to my heart. I didn’t feel He was reprimanding me for my sorrow, only that He was showing me how to deal with it.

He showed me that I had a simple choice:

I could choose to dwell on all that I was missing and how I was hurting.

Or I could choose to look back on the past with gratitude and forward to the future with anticipation.  

And I so began to thank God for all the prayers He had answered concerning my son–his salvation at a young age, his desire to serve God with his life, his medical problems improving, a partial scholarship and a great summer job enabling him to earn money for college–and the list could go on.

I also began to express my gratitude to the Lord for all the precious memories we’ve shared together. This time I looked back with thankfulness, not just nostalgia.

The next step was easy–looking forward with anticipation. To his next visit at Christmas, of course, but not only that.

I look forward to seeing what God will do with my son’s life. What great things does God have planned for him? Who will he impact for Christ? Where will he carry God’s message of hope and salvation?

As I began to look at my son’s life with a spirit of gratitude, an amazing thing happened. No, the tears didn’t dry up instantly. I didn’t start jumping around the room with gleeful jubilation.

But I found an inner strength and a comfort from God that I desperately needed. He brought peace to this mama’s heart.

Perhaps you are facing a heartache today. Something that brings pain to your heart and tears to your eyes.

You too are faced with a choice:

You can dwell on the pain, or you can choose to have a spirit of gratitude in spite of it.

As one of my favorite authors says, “There is always, always, always something to be thankful for.” (Ann Voskamp)

Gratitude won’t change your situation.

But it will change your heart.

“Bless the Lord, O my soul: and all that is within me, bless his holy name. Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all this benefits.” (Psalm 103:1-2)