Thanksgiving has become one of our family’s favorite holidays over the years. We celebrate with my brother and his family, as well as my parents. I do not exaggerate when I tell you that my sister-in-law rivals Martha Stewart and Joanna Gaines when it comes to hospitality. We are treated like royalty with a feast spread out for breakfast, lunch and dinner followed by activities in between for four straight days. We enjoy talking over each other, playing board games or cards, making out our Christmas lists, scrolling through the ads, watching lots of football and basketball and the weekend is capped off by an annual cooking contest that is taken quite seriously by all who enter. It even comes with cash prizes, but more importantly because we are all quite competitive, bragging rights for the entire year to follow. We always have an amazing time together and somehow each year tops the last.
Several years ago, we began the tradition of sharing what we are most thankful for prior to eating our Thanksgiving meal. Sometimes the answers are light and silly, but more often, by the time it’s my turn to share, I’m so emotional I can barely get the words out without tears flowing off my cheeks. There is just nothing like hearing from the hearts of the people I love the very most and realizing everything we have to be so thankful for. But I also sometimes hold my breath when my heart feels that full because I want that moment to last forever. I’ve lived long enough to know there is no certainty about what we might face in the next hour or days or months or year. Life is so full of ups and downs.
To illustrate, let me tell you about just one day I had last week. My day started with an early morning phone call from my daughter. Any mother of a child living away from home knows early morning or late at night calls rarely come because there is good news to share. Fortunately, it was a minor crisis and after an hour or so had resolved itself. As I was having my coffee and morning quiet time, I received a text from someone I adore with incredibly sad news for her and her family. Obviously, my heart was broken for her and I wished I had any power to be able to change her situation. I did all I could. I cried and prayed. An hour or so later, my husband and I headed to church. We always look forward to fellowship with our life group and I knew they would immediately join us in prayer for my friend. Between the life group and worship hours, my husband and I checked phone messages for updates about two separate friends who were both in the hospital. Neither of us got good news.
After church and a quick lunch, because the weather was beautiful, I enjoyed an afternoon stroll around our neighborhood. I enjoyed my own personal praise and worship session with Lauren Daigle through Apple music as I walked the two miles. I love the time to be outdoors and to spend alone time communing with God. I stayed outside until the wind shifted and it got colder. Then I came inside and decided to hop on Facebook for a few minutes to catch up with friends. I was thrilled to read the proud momma post from a friend whose son is beginning a job doing something he will love and will bless others with. I was so happy for her. But, only a few posts down, I read sad news of a friend who is going through chemotherapy and had gotten bad test results causing a setback in treatment. Had I continued to scroll I feel certain that the pattern of happy news, sad news, happy news, sad news could have continued for quite a while. I decided for the sake of my heart not to spend more time there.
I ended my day as I often do on Sunday by logging in to watch the live stream of the college service my daughter attends while away at school. It never fails to bless me beyond measure knowing that almost one thousand “kids” gather each week at 8 PM to worship and get a good Word. The message was powerful and was punctuated by sixteen students going through the waters of baptism while hundreds of their friends shouted with elation over their public professions of faith. So…very…special. I shed more tears, but these were tears of joy. The service wrapped up with a surprise marriage proposal for one of the interns serving at the church. It was such a sweet moment, full of happiness. Definitely a “high” moment in their lives and I felt honored to witness it. I put my head on the pillow exhausted from the roller coaster of emotions I had experienced….all in ONE day.
Even as I recount the day, I can’t help but think I could save myself lots of pain by only focusing on my life and never caring about anyone else. It hurts to love others and to share in their hurts. But I would also miss out on all of the joy and happiness that loving others brings. I’m reminded of the quote by Tennyson, “to have loved and lost is better than to have never loved at all” and a similar one I heard recently by Ian Cron, “Grief is the cost of love.” For me, when I think of giving thanks, it is always for the people and relationships I have. But if that’s the case, then thankfulness can’t just be about the rosy, happy things. I also have to be thankful for the experiences that make the good moments even better because the bad moments are so very hard. I don’t like pain. I don’t like sadness. I don’t like heartache. I don’t like disappointment. I don’t like failure. But I do love life and I love doing life with others, so I have no choice but to agree to the risk and be thankful for ALL of it. And I have SO many reasons to give thanks.
I pray that you enjoy a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday surrounded by those who love you and whom you love. If you are lucky enough to have that moment when your heart is so full of blessing it could burst….savor it. It will be then that you will know without a doubt you’ve experienced Thanksgiving.
“Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus." - 1 Thessalonians 5:18 (NLT)