A heavenly aroma wafted from the oven as my dear husband pulled the turkey out to the hushed and reverent ooh’s and aah’s of delight from our guests. The table was adorned with every manner of traditional Thanksgiving fare you could imagine, complete with a sweet potato casserole topped with pecans and brown sugar, not marshmallows, thank you very much.
It was the idyllic Thanksgiving meal. Except that it wasn’t.
I was a month out from a C-section gone terribly wrong, and hobbled around the kitchen like a little old lady. The weather was gray, wet, and dreary with gale-force winds battering the windows and rattling the doors. We were gathered around the table not on a crisp Thursday afternoon, but a blustery, dark Saturday night. Our table was surrounded not by family from far and wide, but by folks who, only a year before, were strangers or acquaintances.
It was our second Thanksgiving in Ireland and it was bittersweet.
Holidays for the expat are always a bit of an anomaly. You find yourself embracing the traditions and customs of whatever land you happen to call home at the time, while simultaneously pining for the comforts and rituals of your youth.
That chilly November night, surrounded by friends-become-family, tears brimmed and threatened to spill over; but not for the reason you might think. “How blessed” was the thought that rounded again and again in my mind. How blessed we are to share this moment with these dear people. Here. Now.
Of course, we missed our family, American friends, and traditions, but I couldn’t help but be overcome by the beauty of that multicultural affair.
What could be more symbolic of the family of God than this rag-tag group of exhausted and curious folk from all walks of life, economics, and spiritualities (most of whom had only seen Thanksgiving in the movies)?
We could’ve holed up, weathered the storm, and marked the holiday with sadness and loneliness. We could have.
But we didn’t.
We chose, instead, to reach out and share the day — and a bit of our pain — with those in the community around us. And it was so beautifully sweet. So beautifully bittersweet.
For many of you reading this, the holidays are anything but holy or holly jolly.
They carry the weight of broken families, broken dreams, empty cradles, and empty wallets. You may be tempted to hide and wait it out — and there is a time and place for solitude, to be sure.
But can I encourage you, dear sister? Reach out. Lean into the pain and joy of those around you. Gather with your rag-tag group of family, or friends-like-family, or people-who-need-a-family and celebrate.
Give thanks that this messy thing called life was never designed to be experienced alone.
Though this holiday season may look nothing like what you had planned or hoped, it may turn out to be one of the messiest, most beautiful seasons you never knew you needed.Leave a Comment
Adeola Odutola says
Marian (Stillman) Frizzell says
I was reading this and thinking of your family because of the Ireland reference–and then it turned out you had actually written this article! God is so good to provide us with his hands and feet that come along and support us. It may not be pretty, but it is always beautiful.
You’re so sweet to think of me! (HUGS) And you are exactly right, I love that: it may not be pretty, but it is always beautiful.
Bev @ Walking Well With God says
Yes, for many of us, the holidays are not the typical Norman Rockwell painting. When families have been broken by divorce and all the other life happening that break people…they are anything but perfect. But, as you so beautifully pointed out, there are always blessings there if we look for them…if we invite the uninvitable to join us at our table, there can be bittersweet beauty. I believe when our circumstances are not picture perfect here on earth, it reminds us that this is not our home – that a banquet table with no sorrow, no pain, no tears awaits us at our Heavenly Father’s house in heaven.
Blessings to you this Thanksgiving season,
I needed that reminder today. We don’t have to look far to find a way of giving thanks. Each day is a gift. I pray that all of us will celebrate the “thanksgiving” in every day.
Well said, sweet friend. Hugs and blessings to you.
Lora Leftwich says
Bless you Jennifer,
Today you have reminded me to remember what it’s like to be on both sides of Thanksgiving—
I know this story well having lived away from the family of my youth for most of my adult life. Thank you for sharing such encouragement to “Reach out. Lean into the pain and joy of those around you. Gather with your rag-tag group of family, or friends-like-family, or people-who-need-a-family and celebrate.”
For all those years away from family we were that rag-tag group and sometimes the suffering meant loneliness or feeling out of place. Once or twice somebody graciously called and asked, hey, would you and your family come for… dinner, fourth of July fireworks and yes, even Thanksgiving… Oh what joy!
Yes, it is always so sweet when those invitations come. We had one such invite from neighbors right after we moved in and it was such a breath of fresh air!
Thank you! I LOVE this perspective & will keep this printed near my mediation space to pull out & remind myself.
Debbie Milam says
Beautiful may Lord bless you
Yes families and holidays are never perfect like how we would plan them, but that doesn’t mean we can’t find joy and give thanks for it all. I like that you are encouraging us to go ahead and gather together and not stay home alone.
Beth Williams says
Great article! We need to be giving thanks in all things. This Thanksgiving many people will not have many, if any family to share a meal with. Most of my family lives out of state. I will be going to the assisted living & eating a meal with my 91 yr. old father. I will try to spread some cheer & happiness to the other residents. Then it will be off to my in-laws. Thank you for sharing your day with others. It means so much to them! This is what Jesus would have done!
Sometimes those non-traditional holidays speak into our lives in ways the traditional years never even know to listen for. Lovely testimony, Jennifer. Thank you for sharing. ((hug))