Thanksgiving is a time where it comes more natural to be liberal with our showering and proclaiming of everything that we are thankful for. Its certainly not a bad thing to sprinkle efforts of having an attitude of gratitude all over social media or throughout our homes in the forms of wall art or throw pillows. It’s an immensely beautiful thing, really – to be grateful.
Sometimes it comes easily, full of “my cup runneth over” moments where you just cannot get the smile of deep content and joy off of your face. And other times, it is an intentional mindset or an effort of directing thoughts towards the abundance and the good, rather than the shortcomings or difficulties. And for some, at other times, it may be downright difficult to see through the veil of hardships to identify blessings and believe that things can ever turn around for the better.
Our family of 5 has so much to be grateful for. We try to be intentional about voicing our gratefulness and identifying our blessings. A thankfulness pumpkin has occupied our kitchen table for the last two months. Every night at dinner we take a few moments to write on its sides the people, places, and things that we are thankful for (Yes, you might see penguins written down) Its become a dinnertime tradition that we have enjoyed and may have to do in different forms so that we can continue to practice it throughout the year.
This Thanksgiving was a little hard though.
We actually spent our Thanksgiving Day without any family or friend gatherings to attend. I cracked the whip and made Adam work on getting the basement project started while I tended to the tedious job of painting trim and baseboards on the main level of the house most of the afternoon and into the evening. Much of the day was dreary, cloudy, and sprinkling rain. And for dinner, we ate at Burger King because it was the only thing we could find that was open.
But none of that was what made it hard.
You see, we had a family gathering the weekend before. And we have another family gathering today. We’ve experienced a full house of loved ones with plenty of food to eat, good conversation, great moments of connection, and people that love us. We have other family that we couldn’t see, due to distance, that we know love us also. We have been embraced by our new church. The boys are doing well in school. We have a house provided to us that is next door to church, Adam’s workplace, Heath’s preschool, the boys’ school, the local high school and middle school, and has a large parking lot for riding bikes in. We have closets full of clothes, cupboards and a fridge lined with food, bins stocked with various toys, bank accounts with more than enough for what we need. We can easily think of people throughout the course of our lives that have influenced, affected, and blessed us. We have 3 boys that are growing, learning, and are healthy. And I still have a smile on my face from getting to see friends all day yesterday as we made a quick whirlwind tour of visiting Grand Rapids. We have so many bountiful and good things in our lives. And we have the joy, peace, love, and hope of Jesus.
It was hard because we had volunteered to deliver meals to shut-ins. Something I thought would have left a more satisfied feeling in my heart. Helping out is supposed to feel good, right?....
But it didn’t. It left me conflicted, confused, and heavy feeling, unsure of what could really be done on a grand scale – a feeling of the need being so much greater than what the offering was. Our route was what I assume to be a government subsidized apartment complex with mostly older people residing in it. For the rest of the day, I couldn’t shake the image of the woman who needed help getting out of bed so she could use the restroom – not even remotely interested in the meal we brought for her, and me smelling the urine in her bedsheets and asking if anyone stops in to check on her. Me trying to smile and tell her we hope she has a nice Thanksgiving only to help her back to bed and have her quietly insist that she just didn’t know how it could be. Or the woman who expectantly and excitedly greeted us, even prepared to give us money for being so nice to bring her a thanksgiving meal….only for us to leave and be on with our route and day. Or the older man in overalls who peeked out his door and who wasn’t on our list that then proceeded to follow us from a distance down the hallway, clearly interested in the food that we were handing out.
But we showed up with our eager smiles and our homemade cards that we had drawn hand turkeys on. The boys excitedly rode the elevator, knocked on doors, handed out our cards, and exclaimed over and over again how our van smelled like Thanksgiving. I pointed out how providential it was that we had made the exact number of cards needed, even though we had no idea how many meals we were going to be delivering. And how perfect it was that we ended up having someone on our list who had somehow just received another meal, giving us an extra meal to hand out to the man in overalls who was still following us down the hallway. We exuded a spirit of joy as we walked in and back out of other’s realities.
But my heart is still heavy and conflicted thinking about it all. A dose of reality that I know exists and readily admit to – that people are lonely and living in long moments of isolation, have broken bodies and spirits, and have tangible physical needs , but one that I don’t often enough willingly encounter in doses like I did on Thanksgiving this year. I’ve gone on missions trips to third world countries, served in the inner city, held babies in orphanages, fitted children with needed shoes, used a “toilet” and visited homes in rural Africa…..I’ve been exposed to “needs” before. But it is easy to forget. …..or ignore in the midst of my normally comfortable and full life.
How do we live in the balance of being aware and involved in the deep and real needs and hardships of others…..and still enjoy life’s pleasures and embrace our full and bountiful existences of having more than enough? All of a sudden, many of those things that our family listed on our thankfulness pumpkin seem silly and trite. And the little we gave of ourselves on Thanksgiving feels like a drop in the ocean. How are we supposed to do this Jesus?
But I am grateful to have these moments of wrestling. Moments that make me catch my breath and ask Jesus to help me understand. Moments that soften and tenderize my heart, open my eyes, challenge my views and thinking, get me uncomfortable, and spur me onto reaching out and doing what I can with the moments that I have been given.