Opinions in this piece are solely those of the author.
If 2023 has been anything, it’s been an Olympic-scale slalom course, a mad dash down a hill called Life. We’ve zigged. We’ve zagged. We’ve tangled our erstwhile skis any number of times as the scenery rushed past in a blur. And now, all at once, it’s the holidays.
“Didn’t we just have Christmas?” I opined to Mr. Schrock as we passed a Christmas tree. He nodded, looking tired with a dash of windburn.
Here, the locals are feeling the vibe. Just this morning as I walked down our country road, I passed a house where a crew of Amish men was working. Hauling ladders, setting up tools, they bustled about. One of them was whistling. Was it—it sounded like—why, yes, it was. The notes of a Christmas carol, “We Three Kings,” trilled through the morning air.
“Nice,” I told him, walking by, “but early.” I mean, first, let’s have Thanksgiving.
Thanksgiving at our house means very good eating. The star of the show will be an herb-rubbed turkey. I give it the works with a blend of herbs and spices. Next comes a quartered apple, an onion, and three bay leaves inserted into its exhaust pipe, and then it roasts long and slow. Mashed potatoes and gravy sidle up alongside it, and we bring it in for a landing with Aunt Iola’s pies, specifically spiced maple pumpkin and chocolate, buried under clouds of whipped cream.
I cook large on this day; no one wants the goodness to end. Having leftovers is the goal, and we will.
In the intervening days before the holiday hits, I’ve been thinking on Thanksgiving, or the giving of thanks. According to an article from Mayo Clinic, expressing gratitude is good for us. It can improve sleep, mood, and the immune system. Depression, anxiety, difficulties associated with chronic pain, and the risk of disease can all be decreased by an attitude of gratitude.
Behavior, says the clinic, changes biology. When we act positively towards others, our bodies release oxytocin, the hormone of human connection. How we think and how we act affects our bodies, and it impacts our relationships, too.
In the quietness of my country home today, my list of blessings is long. Oddly enough, an inescapable truth whispers an insistent refrain as I think on those gifts, and that is this: that the things for which I’m most grateful came through the greatest pain. In other words, they didn’t look like blessings when they first showed up, and I wanted to shout, “Return to sender!” Thankfully, through the twin lenses of time and faith, I can now see the gifts that came in rough packages.
For instance, when a church ejected us, we learned that God was not only in one group. That he was bigger and much kinder than we knew. We were forced to examine old ideas and false beliefs, and the God we now know, we love and trust. He’s a great consolation and guide.
When my husband suffered unjustly at the hands of two different bosses, we learned that the Almighty could sustain us. We decided that revenge was not ours to deliver, and we placed the settling of the matter in his hands. When justice finally came in God’s way and his time, it was thorough and right. We learned through this that he does, indeed, bring justice.
When my third pregnancy suddenly turned perilous, I was ordered to bed for 2-1/2 months. With two other little boys to care for, it placed a heavy load on my stalwart husband. Friends rallied; coworkers did, too, and the loveliest home health care nurses came in every week. At long last, our third son was born, right on time, whole and healthy. Through this, we learned that God has his people everywhere, and when we needed them, they appeared. We were reminded again how unspeakably precious life itself is, and our blue-eyed, adult son, he bears the witness.
By enduring years of financial paucity, we learned the grace of contentment. Doing without many “wants” helped us to be grateful when all of our needs were met, and gratitude kept our hearts from turning cold. Now that those years are behind us, there’s not one day I’m not thankful, not one day that I take it for granted. That’s a gift.
Some time ago, my husband and I were listening to a man describe a difficult situation he was facing. For years, this man was an addict, lost in a fog of drugs and pain. For three years, now, he’s been sober, learning how to face life’s challenges with a clear mind and sturdy heart. As he spoke, we could feel the weight and intensity of his burden. But then from his lips came these words. “I already know that I’m going to be thankful for this one day.”
That man? He’s my oldest son. His life and journey taught us new depths and dimensions of the Almighty that we’d never known. In our longing for our son, we saw God’s longing for us. In our unconditional love for him, we saw that God’s love for us was more. In our boundless joy at his return, we glimpsed the joy of this God when we choose him.
If this once-lost son of mine can learn to find the gift in the pain, so can I. So can you. If we practice the grace of thanksgiving, we will reap the rewards. Yes, we will.
From my family to yours, Happy Thanksgiving! May God bless America with his grace.
You can hear America’s small, caffeinated mom every Saturday morning on 77 WABC. Together, she and James Golden, aka Bo Snerdley, discuss the week’s essay. They are grateful for all who listen in.