Today could have been a horrible day for me.
It could have been a horrible day for my family.
My husband has been deployed in Afghanistan since March. This opportunity has been a huge blessing in many ways, however the lack of his presence is felt and grieved by us all. It is especially interesting for me to realize today that Thanksgiving has never been the most wonderful day for me.
At best, it has been a day to prepare and eat some food, try not to get stressed out, and start again tomorrow trying to accomplish all of the normal things I put off in order to “celebrate”.
Today was different. It was different because I decided that it would be different. I decided to remember not only what I am thankful for, but Who I am thankful to.
There are two other Thanksgivings I recall with impeccable detail. Days that I was alone. Days that I felt abandoned, betrayed, and hopeless.
About 12 years ago, my Thanksgiving was spent riding the metro into DC for my shift at Archibald’s. It never occurred to me that the strip club I worked at would not be open yet. I just figured since I had no family that wanted to be with me I would head in early. The club wasn’t open yet. Being quite hungry at this point, I walked for 10 blocks up 14th St. to find a 24-hour CVS. There I purchased a protein bar and a bottle of water for my Thanksgiving dinner.
As I walked past homeless men and women sitting on the sides of the street eating their meals on paper plates, I longed for what they had.
The longing wasn’t so much that my stomach was hungry, but that my soul was hungry… for someone to care enough to want to feed me. But no one could have me around. I don’t blame them. I was that toxic person who would inevitably ruin the event to which I was invited. So I stopped getting invited.
I had never learned how to be proper. How to be sober. How to be “normal.”
My lack of stability was linked to the other Thanksgiving I recall so well. And so many like it. So many years that echoed the solitude of the holidays.
As a teenager, holidays were never enjoyable in my home. I don’t mean “never” as though I had experienced no happiness ever, but rather to say that actual joy was lacking. There is a cosmic difference between a moment of happiness and experiencing real joy. My mother was fabulous at curating happy moments.
Joy however, being a thing that one cannot create or arrange, was difficult to come by in our home.
Thus, I began looking for it elsewhere. I’m not really sure what took place the Thanksgiving after I turned 15. I only recall that I could not be in my home for a moment longer. There may have been nothing actually wrong on the surface. It could have been a regular day. But there was a void. A void in my home. A void inside of me… so I just left.
I went for quite a long walk that day. It was about 2 miles to the grocery store nearest our home. I walked all the way. When I got there nothing was open. I turned around and started walking back. I was not far from my neighborhood when I approached the entrance to another community where a friend of mine lived.
Lacking in social etiquette, I decided it would be a good time to go and visit.
When I arrived, Nicole’s parents welcomed me in. I sat down to dinner with them. This wasn’t the first time I had intruded. They always welcomed me. Still, I can only imagine what they were thinking when I showed up on a holiday that people are usually with their families, being only a child myself.
I loved that house. That family.
The environment smelled like fresh food. Fresh food that had not been burnt or cooked ahead of time and then donated. I learned how to wash and dry lettuce. I heard people laugh and saw them hug. I witnessed parents discipline their children in a way that didn’t break them. When we sat down to eat we sat at the table instead of in front of the TV. We held hands and prayed. No one argued at dinner.
I had always hated when everyone finished their food. I didn’t want it to end. I didn’t want to go “home.”
Reminiscing on all of this today has brought me to a place of peace and gratitude.
The addictions and the sin that once bound me (and left me more destitute than someone who was homeless) have been broken and forgiven by Jesus. My God has changed not only my life but my heart.
That home I found comfort in as a child has now become my home.
I am married to a man who works hard to provide so that my children do not have to rely on strangers coming to bring them food on holidays. We get to be the people who bless others today!
My daughter and I made homemade mayonnaise together this Thanksgiving.
When my children cried today or became frustrated, I had the privilege of praying with them and correcting them in love when necessary.
We sat at the table together instead of in front of the TV.
We held hands and said grace.
No one argued at dinner.
When it was all said and done, we visited with a neighbor who had invited us to eat with her family. My children sat at a different table than the adults. When I walked over to be sure they were settled, I saw that they had all been patiently waiting for me to come and pray with them.
My neighbor is not really the prayerful type. She’s not really into the Lord like I am.
She didn’t see any of this… but we prayed for her home and her family. We thanked the Lord for her hospitality and asked that He bless her and bring joy into her home. There is no lack of happy moments there. But because I have found the joy I have sought after, I could not help but pray that for her as well.
The greatest joy I have found, the deepest gratitude, is in the fact that our family gets to do this. We are privileged to be part of an eternal Kingdom that brings purpose to lives and joy into homes.
My prayer is that you also have experienced joy today. As much as you have longed for fulfillment, may it be granted to you today by our Lord Jesus.
When you find it in Him, because you will when you seek Him, pour it out on everyone around you and bask in the new level of joy that comes with being a vessel.
I love you all and wish you a very happy Thanksgiving.