Of Grief and Gratitude

It was around midnight almost six years ago when Karla Yaconelli called to tell us that Mike had been in a horrible car accident.  A few hours later she called again with the numbing news that Mike was dead. We were in shock to say the least. This could not be true!  I had worked with Yac for over 26 years and he was one of my closest friends. Terrie and I lay in bed holding each other, talking, crying (you know, the kind of chest heaving, snot running down your face, hot tears on your cheeks kind of crying)…..our grief  instantaneous and searing.

Then the strangest thing happened, we started to laugh. We would think of some goofy thing Yac had done in the past and we would start giggling right in the midst of our tears. This went on for a couple of hours, periods of deep sobbing interrupted by surprising outbreaks of healing laughter which after a while moved us to gratitude. We were face to face with the reality of how grateful we were for the years we did have with Yac. Gratitude for how much richer our lives were because we knew Mike. Gratitude for how the love of Jesus had a greater grasp on us because of this wild-man. Gratitude for just how much darn fun we had together.

There was grief to be sure; in fact it was easily the most pain I had ever experienced in my life but gratitude just kept showing up and it changed us. It was powerful, it changed our perspective, it saved the day. It was like this unexpected and uninvited guest who would not allow grief to stand alone, not allow grief to be the only emotion in our life, not allow grief to drag us into despair. It did not replace or remove grief but would accompany it. It was a gift of the Spirit. And it stayed with us day after day after day. It seemed so strange to me that those two emotions could be so closely aligned. Even now when I think back on those days I am so aware of the presence of this odd couple, the unexpected companions who walked beside us through those dark days. The grief eventually went away but the gratitude never has and in fact it has grown stronger over time.  As I think about Yac today I am so very thankful for what we shared together.

Now as I am leaving YS I find them both back in my life again and I’m so glad they are. Yes I’m grieving leaving YS in a big way, it’s been my life’s work but just like in Yacs death, gratitude has shown up again unexpectedly (I know I’m a slow learner) and powerfully.  I am so grateful for what an amazing run it has been at YS. I am overwhelmed that God has allowed me to serve, train and encourage youth workers for 32 years, way more than I could have ever hope for and certainly more than I deserve. I have been so blessed!

So here is the deal. The grief means it has been great. The grief means it mattered. We don’t grieve things we don’t care about. Would I really want it any other way? I’m glad I am grieving. I’m grieving because it has been so freaking awesome!  It would so suck to leave YS after all this time and not have it hurt, to not care. But once again the gratitude has allowed me to not be overwhelmed by the pain and disappointment. In fact, in a mysterious way it allows me to embrace my pain and work through it instead of trying to deny it. In a way, it gives grief its proper place now so it will leave later. So once again I have these two uninvited guests taking up residence in my life, guests for which I am thankful.  In time, only one will remain and for that I’m grateful.



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19 responses to “Of Grief and Gratitude

  1. Francine Phillips

    We love you.


  2. Thanks for sharing that, Tic. Loved the last paragraph especially.

    So, “Amen” and “Amen!”


  3. Tic,
    Thank you for all your time and work with YS – I will surely miss you at the NYWC’s. Especially the disco lounge suit.

    You will be missed – blessings on your next adventure.

  4. mikey

    wow, it doesn’t take much to re-live that horrible morning, does it?

    i have to thank you for your leadership and guidance in my life, tic.

    as you know, i beat you to today’s hingepoint by about 5 years. And it was your example and spirit (see: We Get To Choose) through some very hard times at ys that lit my path during those dark days.

    i know you have been that for many people.

    thx for being so open and willing to process with your peeps. love ya bro.

    now let’s party damn it!

  5. Mike Work


    Thanks for starting this blog. You have touched, encouraged, coached, challenged, loved, included, and been a real friend to SO MANY. I am thankful that I am one of those.

    Now – in this season of deep change for you – I pray that God will pour or better yet FLOOD you with His amazing grace.

    Selfishly – I want to be a part of whatever God does in and through you in the next season.

    Love you brother. Thanks for investing in me.

  6. Tracy B

    Wow Tic, I’m so glad you started this blog. It has really lifted me up this morning and for many days to come. You are so full of grace and are such a blessing to all of us.
    Thank you so much for allowing us to share in your journey.
    Now, to figure out how to subscribe to this thing so I can get all the “new” stuff. 🙂 I don’t want to miss any of this!

  7. Thanx for sharing, Tic. Some great thoughts here. You are truly a youth ministry hero and your presence will be surely missed at YS, I’m sure.

  8. Mary Schulze Michener

    Thank you for sharing your heart for us all to learn. You eloquently put to words the hope that comes with grief. Seeing gratitude through the pain gives us hope. And, thank you for the reminder that grief means it mattered. It is not a personal assault to push aside or run away from. I believe you have to live the grief to experience the gratitude and hope.

  9. Tic,

    Once again you have blessed me with your words. I am proud to call you my friend and it has been a privilege to work with you these last 6 years and it was great to be there for your last YS event.

    I love you man.


  10. As with everything, graciousness abounds from you. Thanks for this post. I just feel fortunate to have worked with you for 1/32nd of your time at YS.

  11. les

    love you tic… your words are such an inspiration 🙂

  12. Shelly

    You said it all and so well. I am going to miss working with you on a day to day basis like crazy but am so grateful for the years that we have spent together. You have taught me everything I know. Now we just get to party together and be friends – you can’t get rid of me 🙂 Love you lots.

  13. Tic, I had to copy some of your post onto my blog. I have been in similar places and resonate with you. Thanks for articulating my journey as well.

  14. This post made me cry, dang it. What beautiful, heart-wrenching, though-provoking insight. You put words around everything I was feeling during your party this weekend. I’ve described it as celebrative and mournful at the same time–but your two uninvited guests grief and gratitude are a much better way to describe it. Thank you for sharing this journey with the rest of us; you have no idea how much we need your example!

  15. Chris

    “Blessed are you when you’re at the end of your rope…there I am.” Math 5 Message. The older we get, if we’re lucky, the lower to the ground our pride gets and we see what really matters. Like you say, a painful and joyous journey. Bless you and your family in this.

    P.S. (…I had Yac speak at my high school baccalaureate in ’70!)

  16. Brock Morgan

    You should have started writing a long time ago. Love you bro!


  17. Hey, Tic.

    A friend posted a link to your previous blog post. I have no knowledge of what went down at YS, but reading this and your previous post was inspiring. Your commenters list reads like an dream-team youth ministry training event.

    I would like, as an outsider to your situation, to thank you for your transparency. It’s all well and good to train and lead others from a comfortable place, but to model authenticity and humbleness in the face of an unwanted life change is truly inspiring.

    Thanks for continuing to use your many years of experience to guide those of us with few.


  18. As ever, you are a consumate gentleman. I’m proud of you.

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