The feast of Thanksgiving took on new meaning for me when our son, Daniel, was born.
I feasted twice that year, once in the hospital and once at home. They were the most glorious meals of my life.
I know everything surrounding a birth is tinted by the rosy glow of exaggerated memory, but it was a holiday unlike any other. And like any mother, I love to relish the details.
Daniel was born via C-section on Tuesday morning, so technically, I was allowed to stay at the hospital until Friday. But having been admitted for an induction on Monday, I was itching to get out of there.
So late Thursday morning, as the last of the floats were parading down 34th Street, I was served a very festive tray of surprisingly tasty offerings created in the hospital kitchen. After a few quick signatures and last minute instructions, my husband wheeled me and our precious bundle straight home to four anxiously waiting grandparents busy preparing for our arrival.
Whenever I have the privilege of hosting Thanksgiving, it is always prepared with the intention of recreating the meal they made for us that first day home from the hospital. At the time, my husband and I were so preoccupied by the imminent birth of our first child, thoughts of turkey and stuffing hadn’t even crossed our minds. Those details were left to the real grown-ups.
The meal itself was whipped up out of thin air, descending like manna from heaven onto our dinner plates.
My parents and in-laws had gone to the store, bought what they needed, and went to work without giving it a second thought. There have been years when I’ve spent hours poring over recipes and menus online without ever achieving anything remotely close to this cornucopia of perfection.
(I later asked my dad for his secret to such amazingly flavorful and moist turkey. Did he brine? Did he baste? “Nah. Just picked it up at Kroger and followed the instructions on the package.” Go figure.)
I can remember eating this incredible feast around the little table in our cramped grad-student apartment, all gazing with wonder at the beautiful creation God had given us. We were spellbound. It was the blessing we had all been praying for since our wedding day, fulfilled by God in His perfect timing.
I’m not sure I had ever been so truly grateful in all my life.
One year later, Daniel’s first birthday fell on Thanksgiving Day. A child’s first birthday is a momentous occasion in the life of any parent, even more so than that of their child. If you survive the trials and tribulations of that first year, it’s something to be celebrated with as much fanfare as possible!
We mustered up our courage and put on a happy face, but only three and a half months had passed since my brain surgery and we were still on shaky ground. I was out of the woods for the time being, but life was still tentative, the future uncertain. There was something fragile and forced about our celebration, a silent tension in the air that we tried to mask with cupcakes and balloons.
It was just one of those years. Every family has them. There doesn’t need to be a Chevy Chase style disaster to make a holiday fall flat, lackluster in comparison to the choreographed cheer we’re sold on T.V. Even our best efforts aren’t always enough to paste together families fractured by the dramas of real life.
There are some things not even the perfect pumpkin pie can fix.
Last week a friend told me his neighbors’ ten year old son was just diagnosed with brain cancer, and my heart immediately leapt to my throat. Having experienced that diagnosis myself, I cannot fathom how much more excruciating it would be as a parent.
As I head into this holiday season, I find myself thinking about that family and others like it. How do you celebrate with a heavy heart? Is it really possible to give thanks in all circumstances? I think the answer to that question is a resounding yes. It might not be easy or effortless, but it is certainly possible.
The reality is that this holiday, this day even, could be our families’ last to celebrate together, even if no one is sick and there seems to be nothing but blue skies on the horizon. I don’t think we should dwell on that with undue morbidity, but I do think we should allow it to guide our decisions in the days ahead.
The minute you feel holiday stress creep into your veins, remind yourself that no one will remember the triumph of your hand-crafted place-cards or the tragedy of your over-cooked turkey. In the grand scheme of things, these are small potatoes.
Ultimately, our celebration is driven by something far greater: Thanksgiving, humbly offered in all circumstances.
I will bless the LORD at all times; His praise will always be on my lips.