A confession: Thanksgiving is not my favorite holiday of the year. In fact, to be honest, I dread the coming of Thanksgiving every year.
I have a lot of not-so-fond memories of Thanksgiving. On a day so many spend with their families, I can recall spending more than one Thanksgiving alone as a child. In my late teens and twenties, I worked very diligently to create a family for Thanksgiving. I made elaborate meals and traveled to friends' homes in other states, and still I felt some sense of loss on this holiday. A day people traditionally spend with their families seemed to highlight my alone-ness, my separateness from others.
Four years ago at Thanksgiving time was when I was first confronted rather head-on with my husband's infidelity. Last year I insisted my ex-husband move from our home at Thanksgiving time. The holiday has not been especially happy for me in either my distant or my recent memory.
It isn't that I'm not thankful or don't love the idea of a holiday that is centered on being grateful. In fact, I would characterize myself as someone who often sees the gifts in life, and is abundantly thankful for them. I find myself saying to God multiple times a day a simple, "thank you." And in the past few years I have started to recognize the value in telling the people in my life that I love them and am thankful for their lives. Gratitude is a huge part of my life nowadays. And I'm...well...I'm thankful for that, too.
Tonight I spent some time with an old friend. She and I have known each other since we were 5 or 6 years old. Our current lives are vastly different, and yet our histories are very much the same. As we talked about our families, both of which have been difficult to contend with since we were little girls, she expressed how hard it is to let go of the hurt when there is an expectation that you "be happy" at holiday celebrations with the family that has hurt you so intensely in the past. As I listened to her words, I realized what I am truly thankful for this year. It's really very simple. It's clarity. And it's the grace to let go of all of those old expectations so I can fully open my hands and accept all the blessings in and around and through my life now.
Yes, my family of origin has continually been a disappointment to me. And it's not getting any better. It's true, I have lived through a divorce in the past 18 months, and I still struggle with feeling bitter and sad about it. My job, on some days, is incredibly painful and difficult. I continue to struggle with my weight and my insecurity about my weight. I don't know where I'm headed in many ways. My friends are people who struggle with their own families, addictions, conflicts and issues. And yet...and still...
There are more and more days when I feel really good. Those days and times when I realize that I have created my own family - one centered around love and goodness and laughter and compassion. There are times when I look at the two little people sleeping in my bed and see very clearly that they are healthy, inquisitive, funny and loving. Over and over, I have laughed, loud and long, with the people I work with about whatever serious stuff we are confronting. There are those moments when I understand that all the pain I see and feel for these kids pales in comparison to the joy I see and feel when a child is adopted or loved or cared for. There are days when I know that my weight will again come under control, but that perhaps giving myself a little time and gentleness is what is called for in this moment. There is the hour I confront that I don't know where I'm going, but I know where I've been. I've been to some incredible places, and I've known and loved some wonderful people, and I've been known and loved by some even more wonderful people. But mostly today I am thankful for conversations like the one I had tonight. To be able to listen to someone's struggle and realize that this is what I know to do...to love my sister. I know how to hear what she cannot say and to bear witness to the fact that she is here: a strong, compassionate and beautiful woman.
Out of the ruins of a family who could not love her, she is here, and so am I - and she is thankful for her incredible life and the grace of the Divine, and so am I.
For whatever inexplicable reasons, God has loved me and cared for me in more ways than I can possibly know in my lifetime. Life, as it is ever unfolding, is good and full and amazing. And all I know to say is "thank you."