Jessie Smallwood

I give thanks for all you have done,
I won’t forget all the battles you have won.

The words to this song were counterintuitive in the wake of devastating loss. Yet there I was, singing out over my church family, leading a song of gratitude. And that simple act of obedience became the key to my victory.

words + photographs JESSIE SMALLWOOD

My husband passed away in 2017, after nine years of marriage. I found myself in a completely new stage of life. A single girl, trying to finish a degree and working two part-time jobs. Life was disorienting; I often say grief can make you lose your mind. Whether feeling lost in the city where you live, or forgetting which foods you like to eat, the effects on your ability to process daily life are everywhere.

Praise pulls back the curtain between Heaven and earth so you can feel the light of God’s presence all the way to your soul. There is no other healing like that.

The battles in our lives seem so different from the ones we read about in the Bible, stories of God saving the day in a moment. Those are snapshots; the reality is more like slow motion footage. The battle to daily live out trust and obedience. Sometimes winning is just standing. Sometimes winning is kneeling, again. Getting on your knees and giving everything back to God, as many times as it takes. It feels like progress is happening in slow motion; nothing like the stories of angel armies coming to the rescue. But in the midst of the unimpressive is the real. The real you. The real God. Your real need for Him. That is where the battle is won.

I give thanks for all you have done,
I won’t forget all the battles you have won.

Singing over my church that day, as I looked into the eyes of the spiritual family who had loved and supported me, something shifted. Permeated by loss, with empty hands and a blank future, I finally found something to give.

I gave thanks

Gratitude became a war cry in my battle for hope, peace, and joy. The enemy has no weapon against gratitude because it strips him of all power. Giving thanks to God is a declaration His goodness is the greater reality, pain is temporary, and He is still on the throne. This is an act of faith. It is not based on what is in front of you, but on Who is within you. Praise is Heaven’s perspective.

Praise pulls back the curtain between Heaven and earth so you can feel the light of God’s presence all the way to your soul. There is no other healing like that. The enemy wants to keep us small and timid, numb and isolated. But when our faith feels crippled, that is the best time to lift our hands. When our voice feels suffocated by doubt, that is the best time to sing. And when we are struggling to feel anything at all, that is the best time to praise.

Jessie Smallwood serving at The Courageous Church.
Jessie Smallwood speaking to a group of students on behalf of Convoy of Hope.

This isn’t an emotional response to happy circumstances — that gratitude is easy. This gratitude is not cheap. In laying down our questions, fear, and disillusionment, there is a rare freedom. The pain is still there, but the heaviness is lifted. And as others watch this unbelievable sacrifice, this opening of the self with abandon, this confidence in the unseen, they are drawn in. They can see the transformation taking place as we give our gift of gratitude.

So let our lives declare the love our God has spoken over us

Our gratitude does not simply shoot straight over our heads and into Heaven. It becomes a radiant light, shining out in every direction, reflecting on the faces of the people who have seen our deep pain. Those who know we have every reason to stay silent in suffering. But as we give ourselves in gratitude, we beam the light of Heaven with a brilliance the earth does not understand. It speaks a better word, a more beautiful reality than anything we have seen or experienced here. It declares the love of God in our lives, the final and ultimate word. Just a simple act of obedience, giving thanks, shifted everything for me. Of course, that one moment was just the start of a long journey. Choosing gratefulness when I didn’t feel it, choosing praise as my weapon, and choosing Heaven’s perspective. Seeing every day as a little more progress happening in slow motion, believing the battle would be won. Because right in the middle of our pain, the choice to give thanks is a glimpse of Heaven. JS

Jessie Smallwood serves in care ministry at The Courageous Church and works at Convoy of Hope. She also enjoys singing, sewing and sipping coffee with friends.

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