Freed for thankfulness

Photo; courtesy of the Food Network

This is a personal reflection and one that I hope is encouraging to those whose Thanksgiving, but moreover, life circumstances don’t look as we wish.

This was another year of wrestling with meat for Thanksgiving. I’m not a big fan of turkey, especially white meat and find other kinds of meats more palatable. In year’s past, I’ve done Cornish hens for Thanksgiving but there is something about have some leftover bird for days that suits the spirit of the season. Last year, I finally broke down and brought a turkey as I was motivated to attempt brining and bringing some cajun flavoring to lift the bird out of it’s flavorless doldrums. Fortunately, I was able to find one small enough for this experiment as it was for just the two of us: myself and my son.

I’ve spent Thanksgivings all kinds of ways, including one year in Jamaica with my grandparents, uncles and aunt. I’ve spent Thanksgivings with big family gatherings with my step-mother’s family for many years. I’ve spent Thanksgivings with my dad and his friends, I’ve spent Thanksgivings with my husband’s family when he was alive.

This brings me to the struggles I’ve had with Thanksgivings especially since I’ve been in Dallas these past nine years. When I moved here in 2008 to attend Dallas Theological Seminary, though I came with the intense desire to for theological training in order to help people and encourage faithful discipleship, another desire descended upon me something fierce. Having been a widow since 2004 and uttering a simple prayer a few months after my husband’s death that though I had not known “good” in the relationship/marriage department, that God would grant me this wish and prayer.

With that desire, came a picture of what I hoped my life would look like. I would dream that God would grant my desire for a godly, equally yoked marriage along with the ready made extended family that would make holiday gatherings feel full and redemptive. Meanwhile, with just my son and myself in a place where I have no family, I’d have to make do with invitations from friends, church members and since moving to my current church home in 2012, my pastor who opens up his home every year for those in the church who have no where else to go. My daughter lives in CA and was able to come out a couple of times.

Pressed with this need to make sure my gathering is sizable enough and doesn’t feel empty, I’ve accepted those invitations. I’ve gone to friends houses and one year at the pastor’s house. I wrestled with my cave dwelling son who would rather enjoy the comfort of his own home, a sentiment that would grow stronger over time. And I wrestled with my own feelings of how I wished my Thanksgivings could be.  This conflict was especially intense a couple of years ago as I traveled to my friend’s house alone. Though I enjoyed my time there, I still felt a tinge of unaligned wishes.

So that explains my turkey experiment last year. I couldn’t endure another upset, another reminder of what isn’t. I opted to just have Thanksgiving at home. Even though I felt somewhat resigned to do this Plan B, funny thing is, I noticed this time that I actually didn’t mind. In fact, I kind of liked not having to be out anywhere. I liked being home with my son, even if it was just the two of us. Now that my daughter is married, it would be great to have her and my son-in-law here but for now, it’s me and the 20 year old.

Because truth be told, I’ve come to appreciate him more as he gets older, his out-of-box thinking, his very interesting and insightful observations of the world, his random commentaries. At 20 years old now, I truly do enjoy him. I relish this time because I know that soon my nest will be empty as he spreads his wings. But for the meantime, I’ve grown to appreciate his desire to retreat. Though not to his extent, I am a bit of a homebody and love feeling the sense of having a bit of a refuge from the hustle and bustle of life with its myriad requirements. Many do not get to experience even that, particularly the homeless and those living in abusive environments. It is truly something I am thankful for. I like the idea of enjoying my refuge.

But something else I’ve noticed as well–whatever disappointments I’ve experienced in life, the Lord has a way of touching my heart with his goodness. Whatever change in heart I’ve experienced regarding my Thanksgivings, it’s not because I willed myself to do all those cliche-ish things people tell you, as if those kinds of pithy instructions can instantaneously  transform thinking, but because as the apostle tells us in Philippians, “it is God who is at work in us both to work and will for his good pleasure” (Phil. 2:13). It’s nothing I’m conjuring up to make me feel good about such small scaled feasts but because the Lord himself has infused his feast in my heart that works itself out over time.

So this year, I can truly say I  feel a bit freed from the expectation that my Thanksgivings must look a certain way. I am grateful that I can enjoy what is. But moreover, I am thankful that it demonstrates the Lord at work in my heart and life. I really cannot take the credit.

So dear brother or sister in Christ, perhaps your Thanksgivings, and on a broader scale, your life circumstances, don’t look as you wished. Maybe it’s because this time of year dredges up the sting of loss, the reality of conflict or just the simple desire for life to look differently. You’ve tried to turn your own heart into a more cheerful place only to have reality slap you in the face. We can’t make hurt stop hurting. But we can keep trusting in Christ, keep asking the Holy Spirit for help in our weaknesses and keep asking the Father for his will to be done. He’s a good God and cares for his children. Only he can bind wounds and demonstrate his faithfulness, turning our sorrow into joy.

In the meantime, we can find even the smallest things to be grateful for even when they seem to pale in comparison to the big monsters. We can rejoice knowing that the Lord is indeed on our side.

In everything give thanks for this is the will of God concerning you (1 Thess. 5:18)


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