Holidays are a funny thing. Part commercialization, part ideals, personalized by our own cultural backgrounds and expectations. Throw in multiple family members and the stress of cooking, it’s amazing there aren’t more stories out there of Thanksgiving gone wrong.
It’s never too late. I’ll offer up my Thanksgiving as an example of the unexpected.
My dad developed appendicitis a few days prior to Thanksgiving. He was discharged on the day we arrived. I didn’t realize he was supposed to be on a full liquid diet for at least a few more days. There were some communication issues upon discharge. I encouraged him to eat some fruit and a few bites of crackers as tolerated. I think I made him more gassy. Not much use having a pediatrician for your daughter.
Then MM spiked a fever the night before Thanksgiving. To make matters worse, he broke out in convulsive chills right in front of the grandparents who, ofcourse, proceed to panic and give me an earful about how I need to dress my child warmer. Because cold weather is what causes one to catch a cold, not a virus.
Neither Smartypants nor I slept well as our children rolled around all over us through the night, sharing the sleeping space we had set up on the floor. Which is better? Waking up to a snot-encrusted face coughing right into mine, or waking up to a cute but stinky rear end nestled happily by your cheek? I really can’t decide.
Well, I often woke up to the snot-encrusted face. As a result, I also got sick.
So come Thanksgiving day, we were all a bit grumpy and sleep-deprived. And definitely no plans in place for a turkey meal. Which didn’t matter since my dad couldn’t eat that kind of food yet anyways. Add to that a little family bickering, and I had almost given up on any hope of a pleasant Thanksgiving meal. There is always hope though. We found a place to eat, we ate well (except for my dad — poor guy), and the turkey wasn’t missed.
The Thanksgiving weekend wouldn’t be complete without a few more mishaps. Before leaving, the toilet gets horribly clogged. I’ll leave out the details. Smartypants and my dad perform some courageous toilet-saving feats.
On the long drive home, I insist on stopping for coffee. Then the Rocketship (our minivan) wouldn’t start up again. 5:30pm in the middle of a small town with everything closing. It was dark. We’re in a parking lot. We’re stuck. We’re miles and miles away from home and towing would cost hundreds of dollars. But at least I had my Starbucks, right?
We were on our way again in two hours. Amazing. Smartypants (who truly does live up to this name in remarkable ways) walked several blocks away and back to buy a starter and wrench from an auto part store down the road. He then proceeded to hunch over the engine, out in the cold, replacing the starter of our rocketship with this travel-sized wrench and a pathetic little flashlight. Meanwhile I sipped my Starbucks in the comforts of the rocketship, reading books to the kids and letting them watch some movie clips on my phone. Not much use having a pediatrician for your wife.
A 5 hour road trip had turned into 10 hours. We arrived home spent and more tired than when we left. Sleep schedules were completely off. There was a birthday party to plan in less than 12 hours.
Was this a happy Thanksgiving?
I think so. As much as it may have deviated from my ideals and hopes, I am surprised to find that I look back on this Thanksgiving with a genuine smile. Sans turkey, sans pumpkin pie. Sans festivities and decorations, sans traditions. Here was Thanksgiving, stripped of all the cuteness. It was just us. Just as we are. And you know, we’re just not that cute. A family, imperfect and quirky. Adults with personal agendas and wants. Children who squabble and spread germs. Life that’s jolted by the unexpected. Toilets that clog.
And you know what? It’s still beautiful. Just as it is. Still worth celebrating, still worth writing about. Still Thanksgiving, even minus all the trimmings.
I often ponder how to raise my children to have hearts that are overflowing with gratitude. Discussions and purposeful teaching helps. Traditions help. The experience of giving and serving others. Watching movies or reading books about it. Teaching manners and the importance of appreciating others. But ultimately, all those things are just the trimmings as well. They can be done with or without a genuinely thankful heart. Sometimes they are purely decorative.
This Thanksgiving, I am reminded that gratitude and a thankful heart is modeled most importantly in the unexpected and disappointing arenas of life. Gratitude is most evident and honest in the midst of brokenness, because that is when it is most free from a dependence on things or circumstances to provide the warm emotions. Whether it’s our health, our anxieties, our fears, or our weaknesses, the human heart truly soars with gratitude only when it fully grasps the darkness it faces but nevertheless sees a hope that is yet brighter. Ironically, it’s not the elaborate picture perfect family meal that truly epitomizes the heart of Thanksgiving day. Rather, I think it may be the honest struggles of any given day that just might transform an ordinary day into the most lavish of Thanksgiving feasts.
I hope my children can discover this for themselves. I hope they will discover the incredible blessing and freedom of celebrating Thanksgiving sans turkey.
A few days before Thanksgiving, my children and I were learning this verse together from the Bible: Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good, His love endures forever.
I am still learning this right along with them. I think I will be learning it all my life.
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