What I Needed this Thanksgiving

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Yesterday my eldest was out woodworking in the shop with Daddy. When she came in, cheeks pink with cold, she wore a sneaky grin and had something stuffed underneath her teal jacket. She informed me it was a Thanksgiving present. I wondered where the idea of Thanksgiving presents suddenly came from (maybe accidentally decorating for Christmas last week has us all a little confused) but no matter.

Ellis has been particularly focused on the idea of giving this fall, and I love seeing her heart translate into thinking about others. She’s picked out thoughtful birthday presents, colored pictures and cards to share, and given away toys and clothes. In short – she’s turning out to be much better than me at the important art of giving.

Meanwhile, I stood behind the kitchen counter, chunks of hair wildly escaping my haphazard top knot. It was 5:13 pm, the house was in disarray, and supper still seemed miles away. So when Ellis asked me for wrapping paper, I felt like crumpling in ball. Dramatic, I know. Wrapping paper for a present is a reasonable request. But it also meant going down to the basement, clearing off the table, getting out the paper and wrapping supplies, and then fielding what was sure to be a four-child endeavor in wrapping heaven-knows-what they found in the basement while wielding scissors and tangling tape and arguing over what color bow was going on each gift.

Admittedly, this is where my mind goes with most requests I get from my children. How much will this cost me? How many minutes? How much sanity? How much clean up time?

It’s a mindset of management, but not always of grace.

Meanwhile, we all lumbered down the tricky basement stairs of our old farmhouse and managed to wrap a few presents without poking out anyone’s eyes or accidentally lopping off chunks of hair.

This morning, my present was waiting for me. My daughter handed it to me with excitement and I couldn’t help but be thankful I said yes to yesterday’s wrapping extravaganza.

I pulled open the corners and peeled back the paper to reveal a wooden board with a smaller floor-shim sized board nailed to the center. On one corner of the board was a turkey saying “Hi”; on the other, a sweet to-from inscription. But it was the middle that caught my attention. It was hard to see, but Ellis quickly jumped in to explain that it was one of the turkey’s tail feathers. The turkey had pulled it out himself and given it to me.

I smiled and gave her a hug, complimenting her artistry and sweet cartoon-like sentiments. But I couldn’t stop staring at that picture of the feather.

Whether she meant to or not, my daughter had given me an important reminder of what it meant to give of myself. It was less about buying a solution, more about digging deep to provide. Less about counting the cost, more about giving gratefully from the heart.

It was a reminder I deeply needed.

Happy Thanksgiving, friends. We have been given much, and we have much to be grateful for.

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In Plenty and In Want

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Thanksgiving came in a beautiful tide, activities and planning washing in and out of our weekend. There was family, there were friends, there were two gallon ziplock bags of the best leftover smoked turkey ever.

Somewhere in the middle of my celebrating, a family down the road from us faced a tide of their own, one that took their daughter away and wouldn’t give her back.

Gratitude is like a beach full of startled gulls, lifting and swooping in unison. They settle and the beach is thick with their presence. They leave and the emptiness is wide. Deafening.

Peru 124Some days, a house is brimming with life and activity. Others, the afternoon sky turns gray and everything falls to sadness.

The awful truth is that we must somehow live with them both.

The times of feasting and fasting.

The places where gratitude washes over our souls with all the goodness in the world, and the places left when the tide goes out, waterlogged sand crumbling beneath our feet.

The Lord gives and the Lord takes away.

Reality gives us no other choice but to accept it. The table is full. The bed lies empty.

But we have a harder time with the next sentence. The one where Job says, Blessed be the name of the Lord. Because whether it’s in plenty or in want, we get overwhelmed. Finishing the phrase is the last thing on our minds.

Goodness carries us into laughter and revelry, busyness and schedules, making it easy for the heart to forget its praise.

Sadness takes our breath away. We are rocked with confusion, questioning everything, our eyelids burning with salty tears.

In both circumstances, we often find it easier to say nothing.

And then Love steps in.

The party dies down, and friends begin helping with the dishes. Seeing their hands scraping plates draws gratitude back to the table.

A community gathers. Floods a sorrowing threshold with meals and cards. Offers anything. Everything. Slowly, heads are lifted.

Love goes to work, and somehow, our mouths remember the rhythm of the word Blessed.

Because rhythm leads to movement. Movement to awakening.

And Love stretches out its nail-scarred hands, teaching us how to be present to one another wherever we are.

Whole or broken.

Full or empty.

Blessed be the name of the Lord.