On this cold Thanksgiving morning, Karen gets out of her car with her husband and two children following behind her. She holds a sweet potato casserole, her husband carries the stuffing, her teenage daughter juggles her cell phone and a shopping bag containing dinner rolls and her 9 year old son just manages to keep his coat on by tucking his little hands in the pockets. Karen leads the line upstairs to her in-law’s front door cringing from the sharp cold wind as it finds a way through her coat opening.
“Happy Thanksgiving!” Her mother-in-law rejoices while opening the door.
“Happy Thanksgiving, Mary!” Karen replies. Then just like a madrigal choir those following answered the same, “Happy Thanksgiving, Mom, Happy Thanksgiving Grandma . . .” and so on.
Their home was warm and filled with comfortable furniture, pictures of dear ones who had already long passed, artwork, and needlepoint made by those in the family. The smell of the turkey in the oven floated through the air along with a nice smell of cinnamon pine cones displayed on the kitchen table. Finishing touches were done by Karen’s father-in-law the master of the mashed potatoes, as Karen’s husband gathered up coats to put away. The children were still teasing and hugging their grandma as they watched the Thanksgiving parade on the television that they had pre-recorded.
Only a short time after arriving, the family sat down to hold hands and say Grace. Karen had been unusually quiet this morning and seemingly a little off emotionally. Karen sighed with a forced grin and looked around the table for a long paused moment. She unknowingly squeezed her husband’s hand as her mind drifted back in a flash to many other Thanksgivings in her life.
She recalled a Thanksgiving when she had come home from college and witnessed her siblings separating themselves from the others due to past grievances that Karen had never understood in the first place. Her parents made sure to spend time with each of the four children, still acting proud of Karen’s college pursuits. That Thanksgiving the fall leaves still spread in a vast blanket of color across the landscape behind her parent’s home. And that afternoon she knew she would get to sit next to her Dad as they watched sports and he tickled her ear. She continually missed the little things such as what her dad’s western shirt smelled like when she was homesick and while she was home for Thanksgiving she made sure to get her quality time with her dad and her shopping time with her mom and sisters.
It seemed like a fraction of second before Karen’s mind flashed forward to the first Thanksgiving that her parents were no longer alive. Her siblings didn’t make it a point to come together anymore and visiting Karen’s hometown of Salina, Kansas no longer was a priority now with her parents being gone. That first Thanksgiving without them was one of the hardest.
Yet, there were many difficult Thanksgivings emotionally in Karen’s past. For instance, the Thanksgiving she spent all by herself in the large city of Los Angeles. She didn’t have enough money to fly back to Kansas. She had lost her full time job and was recently divorced from her first husband whom she always knew she should not have married. After a restraining order and an unpleasant divorce, Karen remained in Los Angeles temporarily until she could get back on her feet and unfortunately that was during the Thanksgiving holiday season. She wasn’t even able to have a turkey dinner. She had to settle for fried rice from a local Chinese takeout place and distracted herself with a Doris Day movie marathon. No friends and no family on that Thanksgiving.
And another Thanksgiving before that after dropping out of college and dealing with shame from losing a child after becoming pregnant while still single, Karen sobbed repeatedly that Thanksgiving she did not see her family. She didn’t want them to know that she had become pregnant and she had been very ill because of that. She had been staying with some college friends just so she would not have to be alone. She felt lost and hopeless and every commercial on television haunted her. Sometimes the commercials would show large traditional family settings for the Thanksgiving dinner all gathered merrily around a table saying a prayer before eating . . and other commercials advertising Black Friday sales on toys for children that only reminded Karen that she had no husband and no children and why would God allow her those blessings when she had committed so many sins and disappointed him and her family so many times.
And yet Karen blinked her eyes and the flashbacks stopped. Her eyes widened as she looked at each person at her table. Her teenage daughter that she was blessed with by marrying her husband who had her from a previous marriage. Then her son who sat next to her that Karen birthed herself after marrying her husband and being told that physically she may not ever be able to have a child. Next, her mother-in-law sat, who treated Karen as a complete equal, friend, and daughter. Her father-in-law was always there for Karen and her husband no matter what emergency arose and last but never the least her handsome, strong, sensitive, amazingly wonderful husband. The best husband a woman could have and the one person who gave her everything her heart had truly needed and desired. Karen’s left eye let loose a large tear and as it streamed down her face she smiled and thought just how much she did have to be thankful for . . .for all the good Thanksgivings and the bad – for the unending love and overwhelming mercy from God and for his son Jesus Christ.
“What is it honey?” Her husband interrupted Karen’s last thoughts. “Is anything wrong?”
Karen answered him with a loving, and honest smile, “No, Jack. There isn’t anything wrong. Everything is just as I always wanted. Happy Thanksgiving.”