The Greatest Thanksgiving
A few days ago, someone asked what I had planned for Thanksgiving. For the first time in my life, I didn’t know how to answer that question. I’ve known the life altering changes of grief, of distance, of situations, like last year, when the night before Thanksgiving, my sweet Mama was rushed to the emergency room with a life threatening blood clot in her leg. By midnight, the Dr. had determined she’d need a vascular surgeon to do a critical and immediate operation. Finding one on Thanksgiving eve was a challenge. An hour after making several calls to Dallas hospitals, the ER doctor finally got a call back from a vascular surgeon who agreed to take Mama’s case and do the surgery. Driving a toll road I’d never driven at 3:00 A.M., following the ambulance transporting Mama, was not in my Thanksgiving plans last year. But I was thankful my dear friend, Mona, agreed to ride with me for the forty five mile trip to Dallas in the middle of the night to keep me from being alone. We shared a Thanksgiving meal in the hospital cafeteria, and it was actually quite good. We were touched and thankful for the food and for the volunteers serving the Thanksgiving dinner for families who had loved ones there.
Nothing has been the same since last Thanksgiving. Mama was unable to return to the assisted living residence she so loved; and the rest of the year (and into this one) meant rehab at one facility, several more hospital stays, and another admission to a nursing facility, where she is today.
Someone once said, “Life happens while you’re making other plans.” I’ve found that out too many times in my life. The greatest one being when my eighteen year old son, Thomas, was killed in a car accident. My world changed forever. No Thanksgiving (or any other holiday) has ever been the same since. And I know far too many mothers who understand exactly what those three little words (never the same) mean.
Life happens. Grief rocks our world. Individually, and collectively. In various ways, at various times. And in truth, the ideal Normal Rockwall, Mayberry, or Walton’s kind of Thanksgiving doesn’t exist for most of us.
So, how can we be thankful when the world is a mess, evil prevails in every corner of our universe and threatens the very core of our existence? How do we sit at our tables with more food than we can consume without thinking that somewhere, perhaps in our own community, someone is hungry. Someone is lonely.
How do we say and keep saying thank you to God?
Perhaps, the real question is, how can we NOT be thankful?
I know, that sounds out of place and even odd, if you add up the circumstances of almost anyone’s not-so-perfect life.
I think of this past year: all of Mama’s adjustments, and mine, concerning her and taking care of so many decisions. I think of how last June my world was rocked again when my husband, Harvey, had to enter a medical facility due to complications with Parkinson’s disease. I’ve had my share of meltdowns this past year. I’ve invited myself to my own pity parties. And I’ve cried out to God more than a few times that none of it is fair. That my life has changed yet again. That it’s too much to carry.
And somedays, I feel I’m losing the optimism, faith, and grace challenge.
But sometimes, late at night, or very early in the morning, I feel God’s presence. Not in a big, scary, or awe inspiring kind of way. But in a gentle, compassionate, comforting kind of way.
And I thank Him.
I thank Him for just being with me. For helping me through my days. For guiding and directing me in the decisions I have to make alone. For keeping me and stretching me in ways I thought I could never be stretched. I thank Him for the people He puts in my path. I thank Him for friends who come alongside to help me, encourage me, listen, and give the gift of hope.
I thank Him.
And I know, somehow, He hears my heart. And He knows when it is breaking. And He comes close and He tenderly collects my tears. I recently read that our tears are different at different times depending on what emotion we are feeling. Ever since reading that fact, I’ve paid attention and realized, sometimes, my tears feel as big and as heavy as a quarter. And sometimes they feel small, light, fast-flowing…almost invisible. But I believe…He collects them all. And somehow I know…they are precious to Him. For that I am thankful.
I’m thankful that despite the hardships of this life, I have God, walking with me through them all. And I’m thankful that because of the trials, I’m able to help someone I may have never been able to help—just because I understand their sorrow in a depth that cannot be described in human words.
As the Paris terrorists attacks were being reported on television, one particular report caught my attention. A man who lived nearby one of the restaurants ran into the streets to be with those who were dying. He explained that even the paramedics couldn’t get to everyone, so he did what he could; which was simply be with those he knew were dying so they would not have to die alone. I know, somehow, if they were still conscious, they were thankful. And I know, in that moment, that man, with a heart of compassion, without a thought for his own safety, became a ministering angel in the midst of tragedy. And in his own words, He said, “I’m thankful I could be with them.”
So, what is Thanksgiving all about? It’s about being thankful for where we are, right here and right now. Tomorrow is not promised. But we can acknowledge the thankfulness in our hearts for so many blessings. I’m thankful for my son who graced our lives with precious love, even if his time on this earth was cut short. I’m thankful for my daughter and her family, for extended family, and for friends. I’m thankful for every opportunity to share God’s love, and to be the evidence that we are never alone. I am thankful for my Mother, for her 96 years on this earth, that I’m still blessed enough to have her with me. I’m thankful for God’s Word, for truly it is a lamp of light when life is so dark.
I’m thankful for seasons, and stars, and sunlight, and water, and for Hope. Always for hope. I’m thankful that no matter how long or short our time on this earth, we have a chance every day to make a difference, to smile through our tears, and to dance. I’m thankful for rainbows and chocolate and laughter! I’m thankful for a gathering of friends where you can love and feel love. I’m thankful for flowers and little creatures we call our pets; I’m thankful for words and for music. I’m thankful for feet that can carry me, and hands to work with, and eyes that marvel at God’s sunset paintings. I’m thankful for tears. I know they help me heal. And they let me know what I’m made of and how immeasurable love is in me. I’m thankful that God surprises me sometimes with His favor. I’m thankful He is a friend I can run to, sit with, talk to. I’m thankful for color and creativity and for the desire to make things beautiful. I’m thankful God has made me brave. And I’m thankful that to Him, I’m beautiful. I’m thankful He sings over me, even if I don’t hear it. And I’m thankful that after so much sorrow and so much heartache, I have discovered that thankfulness itself is sacred, holy, and perhaps the biggest key to healing.
So, what are my Thanksgiving plans this year? To be more thankful: for every little moment of love this life has to offer. Lord willing, I’ll be with Harvey; visit my sweet Mama; I may cook or I may not, and I will hope and pray that other family members and friends I can’t be with will somehow, for a few hours at least, capture and experience that Norman Rockwall version of Thanksgiving Day wherever they are. I pray, in that moment, they realize that of all of life’s blessings, LOVE and THANKFULNESS are the greatest gifts of all.
“…I have learned to be content in whatever circumstance. I know how to survive in tight situations, and I know how to enjoy having plenty In fact, I have learned how to face any circumstances, fed or hungry, with or without I can be content in any and every situation through the ANOINTED One who is my power and strength.” Philippians 4:11-13