HAPPY THANKS-GRIEVING: Reflections on Joy in the Midst of Sadness

I lost my mother early Thanksgiving morning four years ago.

I had awakened early that morning to get a turkey in the oven for dinner at our house later that day. It was heavy and awkward, and involved lots of clean up afterwards, but I was grateful for the normalcy of the act and was looking forward, in a distracted way, to having my husband’s family over for such a traditional, time-honored meal.

But to be honest, at my deepest core, I was struggling to be thankful. The previous December my mother had been diagnosed with ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease – a heart-breaking disease that slowly kills the nerves in your body, paralyzing you till you can no longer walk, move, eat, speak.

And over the previous eleven months, I had watched my mother decline. But her prayer all that year, and mine, and we prayed it often, whether together or apart, was that she would feel Gods’s presence and that He’d give her the courage she needed to live life each day.  We also prayed for mercy and grace.

And God answered our prayers, for even as her muscles steadily atrophied, as she lost the ability to walk and to draw (she was an artist) and to speak and eat, her soul rallied. She adjusted to life, first with a scooter, and then with a wheelchair. Every day she treated herself to long rides out in the sunshine and she always had a wave and a smile for passers-by.  Indeed, I was amazed at how she was able to find the good in each day. She encouraged me to do that too.

So, drawing on her example of strength and blessing even in the midst of great challenges, I resolved that morning to give thanks. In fact, I had just written that in my journal when the phone rang. It was my father calling to say my mom had died. She had gone to bed very tired that night, but apparently fine. However, at 6 am when he went to her bed, she had gone.

In a quick change of plans, I passed the Thanksgiving off to my husband, hastily packed a bag, and drove six hours straight to be with my dad.  As I did, my daughter’s teary voice repeated in my head. “Why Mommy, why did Mattie have to die?  It’s supposed to be HAPPY Thanksgiving.  But instead it’s so SAD.”  Yes, I thought, so terribly sad.

IMG_1776Over the next few days, my dad, sister and I did all the things one has to do when someone dies. We kept ourselves busy, but as we did waves of tears would overcome us. In the evenings we’d sit by the fire alternately talking and being quiet. At one point my dad said my mom had been having panic attacks the last several nights before her death because she felt trapped in her body. So I asked him if he thought she had been afraid.  He answered, “Yes, of course she was afraid, but that doesn’t mean she didn’t have courage. She had great courage. God gave that to her.” Having courage, he reminded me, isn’t living in the absence of fear. Courage is having strength as we face our fears.

That got me thinking. It’s kind of the same way with sadness. We are sad. One sure thing in life is that there will be sadness, but there will also be joy.  And just as my mother could at the same time be courageous and yet have fear, we too can rejoice, even in the midst of sadness.

Joy in the midst of sadness – light in the midst of darkness – that’s really what faith in Christ is all about.  My hope for you this Thanksgiving, for all of us really, is that wherever you find your soul this week – you will feel the presence of the One who has overcome it all.  And that just as my mother did, through God’s grace and mercy, even in the midst of her terrible circumstance, each of us will find joy and goodness even in the midst of life’s challenges.

With a heart full of thanks,




CHAOS TO CALM: My First TV Interview!


Last night I had my first tv interview on a Christian parenting show called Chaos to Calm with Noelle Kirchner. We chatted about books, life, and faith.

Here’s Noelle’s official description of the  episode: “Children’s book author Laura Sassi is this month’s guest on my parenting TV series, Chaos to Calm with Noelle Kirchner! The episode topic is “The Calm of Building Faith Foundations,” and Laura will weigh in on that as an author, mother, and educator. The magic that makes her stories come alive will open new avenues for sharing faith in your own home!”

If you’d like to watch the episode, here is the link.  Be sure also to enter the wonderful 10-book giveaway that Zonderkidz has authorized in conjunction with Noelle’s episode.  For details and to enter, please visit Noelle’s blog.

STONE STORIES: What We Write and Why

Do you have favorite stories? Ones that have profoundly changed the way you look at the world?  My childhood favorites include Madeleine L’Engle’s A WRINKLE IN TIME and Kate Seredy’s THE CHESTRY OAK. But the story that’s had the biggest influence on how I view the world as a writer comes from the Old Testament. It’s found in the book of Joshua, chapters three and four. Here’s the gist of the story.

After wandering for forty years in the desert where God repeatedly provided for His people in amazing ways, yet repeatedly, they forgot His blessings, it was finally time to cross the Jordan River into the Promised Land. As God had done before when He parted the Red Sea so the Israelites could safely flee Egypt, He again parted the raging waters of the Jordan River so all of Israel could safely cross into the Promised Land. This time, in hopes they’d never forget His great provision, God instructed Joshua to have twelve men hoist twelve boulders from the center of the still-parted river and place them in a pile on the shore of Promised Land.  “In the future,” Joshua explained, “when your children ask why these rocks are sitting here, tell them the amazing story of how God helped us cross the Jordan River.”

The stories and poems that we write are like those stones. When read, they have the potential to leave a deep imprint in a child’s memory, serving not only as a reminder of experiences past, but offering glimpses into ways that are good, offering hope for the future, and joy in the present moment. It is my deepest wish is that the words I write, whether religious or secular, point kids towards goodness, hope, joy, and God.

What about you?  Have you ever thought about why you write?  If stories are rocks, what kinds of rocks are you writing?

(Note: This post first appeared on my blog in November 2102, but I’ve been thinking a lot lately about our mission as writers and thought it worth revisiting.)

Stop by at HEART OF DEBORAH for a Special Christmas Post…


There’s more to a picture book than the thirty-two colorful pages it contains. There’s also the story behind the creation of that picture book. What inspired the author to write it? And what does the author hope readers will take away from the story? Today, as guest blogger at Heart of Deborah,  I’m sharing a special Christmas memory and how it inspired me to write GOODNIGHT, MANGER.  So, please grab a cup of coffee, or tea as I prefer, and head on over! I’ll make it easy. Press here.



 Teachers and Parents:  This is the first in a series I will be posting especially for you.  Over the course of the next few weeks, and in celebration of the release of the board book edition of GOODNIGHT, MANGER,  I will be posting several book-linked activities for you to enjoy with your children. 


An Extension Activity for GOODNIGHT, MANGER

When I read GOODNIGHT, MANGER at Christian preschools and churches, I wrap up our story time together by inviting the children to join me in singing a lullaby to Baby Jesus.  Step-by-step, here is what I do.  Feel free to adjust as you see fit.

REFLECT: First, I take a moment to marvel. I tell the children that this Baby we’ve just read about was like no other baby before or after because he was fully God and fully human. That means he felt everything we do.  And like all babies, he must have cried. We briefly chat about when and why babies cry and how we comfort them.

PRETEND: Second, I have the children pretend to cradle Baby Jesus in their arms. I ask them how they should hold him –  gently, lovingly, safely. Then we all pretend to coo over the Baby Jesus we are holding with phrases like “Oh, isn’t he precious!”, “Don’t cry, sweet Jesus!”, “We love you.”

REVIEW:  Next, I ask them how the characters in the story finally got Baby Jesus to sleep. (It was by joining voices and gently singing a lullaby.)  I ask if they’d like to help Baby Jesus fall asleep too. They are always eager to do this.

SING: I introduce the lullaby by singing the first verse of the famous carol “Away in a Manger”. Feel free to use any carol of your choice. “Silent Night” and “O Come All Ye Faithful” are also easy to teach/ learn. Before they sing, we review what kinds of voices we should use to sing a baby to sleep – loud or soft?  (Soft, of course.)  Then we practice singing the opening words of the carol both ways so they can feel and hear the difference.

REJOICE: Then, with joyful hearts we cradle Baby Jesus in our arms and sing our lullaby.  Our gentle voices are so sweet that Jesus, of course, falls asleep and so, very carefully, we place him in the imaginary mangers that are right in front of us.

GIVE THANKS: Before closing, I challenge the little ones to remember the sweet gift of Baby Jesus who came to  earth – God in the form a human baby – to be the savior of our world.  I note that this is why celebrate Christmas.  Then together we pray, thanking God for loving us so much that he sent his precious Son, Jesus, to earth in the form of a tiny, humble baby.





IMG_1837Today I’m guest blogging over at Time Out with Becky Kopitzke about books that build a child’s faith.  Please grab a cup of coffee, or tea as I prefer, and head on over!