Around the time that first memories were becoming solid and not just fleeting images of grandmas and old houses and smells and scenes, I can remember a Thanksgiving in Houston, Texas at my Great Uncle Clyde and Aunt Juanita’s house. We’d traveled there from Colorado and when I crawled into my lovingly prepared cot at the foot of my parents’ bed on the first night, I jumped right back out and whispered to my mother that the sheets were wet.
Texas humidity. The sheets were not wet. I was a dried-out Colorado kid. And the next few days were filled with relatives all taller and older than I bumping elbows and cooking turkey and speaking Texan and ooh-ing and ahh-ing over the handfuls of those little spiky balls off of sweet gum trees that I would pick up off the ground and bring inside for everybody to see. One of the aunts even showed me how you can spray paint them glittery gold and use them as Christmas decorations. I’m sure my mother was very happy I had gained that new knowledge.
A couple years later the only remembrance I have of Thanksgiving is a very sad photo of those of us gathered around a large table of food at our house in Boulder with my grandma seated in a chair at the head looking very frail. She passed to heaven three weeks later.
Then there’s the one and only time in my life that I have eaten a big ol’ Thanksgiving turkey leg as I held it in my fist in the front yard at my great grandmother’s house in Stilwell, Oklahoma. The exact year it took place is lost in my brain, but the remembrance of that turkey leg being about as big as my head makes me think I was a pretty little kid. I also recall being sent outside with it. Can you blame them?
In 1971 we took a Thanksgiving car trip from Boulder to Ft. Scott, Kansas to my Uncle Charles and Aunt Maxine’s house when I was 10. The meal was fantastically wonderful as all meals at their house were and I enjoyed cousin time as I always did, but the memory indelibly imprinted about the holiday that year revolves around the return trip home. Big time snow. (If you’ve ever traveled I-70 across Kansas in the winter you’re nodding your head.) We got literally stuck in a blizzard outside the town of Russell and had to abandon our car and walk (trudging through drifts and blowing snow) down the exit ramp to the Gulf gas station along with dozens of other travelers. Dad had ahold of short me under the arms because the snow was sometimes up to my hips and mom followed along behind us as they shouted back and forth to each other over the raging storm. I’ve revisited that scene many times over my lifetime and understand very clearly that the adults had their calm faces on when it was really quite awful and that it probably could be said that my mother who was not 40 at the time had a heart episode. Thankfully, we got a tiny motel room even though there were only a few available. Recovered the snowed-in car the next day and continued the drive home. There were many cows frozen to death in the fields alongside the freeway. Happy Thanksgiving.
Stacks of holiday seasons passed over the years with great food and fond remembrances of relatives and turkeys and relatives who were turkeys, car trips and hymn singing around pianos after dinner. Eventually, finding myself married and living in an apartment with this treasured boy-man, I determined that apparently no one was planning on making a turkey for me so we had to go it alone and figure it out. 1983. Just the two of us with a turkey in a bag. It ended up being so great and we were so proud there in our married student housing with the orange shag carpet and concrete block walls at Northwest Nazarene College. We actually created a cooked turkey out of a raw one! And watched the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade on our tiny t.v. perched atop the ice cream maker we’d gotten for a wedding gift. The world was our oyster.
Over the decades flexibility became the name of the game as we each blended into each other’s families at holiday time. Bob adapted really well (of course…ugh). I eventually found my footing a while after the fateful year early on when a roomful of my new relatives watched me take a big bite of mincemeat pie (okay, that stuff is supposed to come out of a jar and be full of raisins and currants and sweet stuff like that) which had big ol’ chunks of venison in it. I survived. Everybody gained a fabulous story that had something to do with the look on my face. Onward.
There was the year we shared a Thanksgiving table with our four little ones and our friends who had three little ones. The 11 of us with all the high chairs, booster seats, bibs, and semi pandemonium had a wonderful day and have pictures to prove it. Nobody threw up. It was a win.
At our own table one Thanksgiving when our kids ranged in age from about 7 to 17 we had all of us plus my dad, Bob’s mom, and a family friend who loved our children like her own. During the last frenetic minutes as food and children were being arranged around the table and soft-spoken me was shouting orders to anyone who would listen, I noticed our dear friend sitting quietly at her place at the table and looking around. Finally everyone was seated, prayer was spoken, the Doxology sung, and the dishes began to be passed. I had made a couple of special items that year including “party potatoes” full of all the extras which didn’t require topping of any kind. . . they already contained sour cream, cream cheese, chives . . . the works. Dear Friend put some of this fantastic creation on her plate and just sat there. “What’s wrong?” said I? The table went silent as we waited for a response. And then she uttered what has become a family saying down through the ages when all has not gone as expected in our lives:
“Just waiting for the gravy.”
How we loved her then and now. We often find ourselves “just waiting for the gravy.” And we remember our Thanksgiving table.
Then, dear ones, just as He always had during the bright shiny times, Jesus drew close to us during the turbulent years and we continued keeping our Thanksgivings and Christmases and birthdays and regular days as best we could through some unexpected challenges. Tried to keep telling ourselves that there is no reason we should be entitled to immunity from troublesome storms. We know the One who controls the wind and the waves. We serve Him. We always have and always will. We sing of Him not only at home but from the church platform week in and week out. We’ve got this. We’ve got this. We’ve. Got. This.
But it didn’t seem that way. We suffered as parents. And our children suffered too.
Yet we remained intact and came together at holiday time. One of the last years as a family with all our children was at a Thanksgiving dinner around our table. We’d enjoyed traditional food and had spoken careful conversation that didn’t touch on topics which were pulling us apart. We managed to find common ground in our love for each other and our family bond. Then in some moment of relaxed hilarity I, yes I, the mother who had instructed, cajoled, raised her voice occasionally, and lamented continuously at spills from her children, accidentally threw (not just spilled, but seemingly threw) red punch all over the table and onto the white-ish carpet. The screaming laughter and fast moving cleaners with towels and videography by adult children taking place in the minutes following the “Red Punch Debacle” live on in everyone’s memory. It gave us something to hang onto.
You’ve got stuff in your life. We’ve got stuff in our lives. Remember that. Remember Him who calms the storm. If anyone tells you they’re immune to problems and storms because they love Jesus, it’s just not true.
Do you remember as a youngster learning to carry a glassful of water (or red holiday punch!?!) across the room? Maybe a cup of coffee to a waiting visitor? The goal was no sloshing of water (or red dye #2) onto the rug or coffee drips into the saucer. Sounds simple enough. Yet to me as a child it seemed like everyone else could glide effortlessly and balance themselves and their full liquids into a seamless symbiotic relationship without spillage, and I, as if tripping along a swinging rope bridge through the jungle, swayed and sloshed and dumped beverages all along the way. Seriously. Very very messy.
Clearly non-sloshing was a long-time unattainable goal for me. I dropped and dribbled my way through childhood and adolescence much to the chagrin of my parents who followed me around with a towel.
Until that magic day of days sometime in my teens that it Clicked. I got the Glide. I was in the Groove. I became one with the coffee cup and saucer. A full glass was at my mercy. I was in the club. Full membership.
Balance was achieved. Clearly not in all things, but at least I could carry coffee from one end of the room to the other.
Now recently, in my late 50s (okay okay 59) and almost suddenly, after years of hoping and praying and giving up hope and praying again (this theme being on repeat from sunup to sundown and in the darkest times of the night) I have found myself back on that swinging bridge again. Not with a full glass of red punch or with a sloshing cup of coffee in a saucer. No, I’m balancing things more tender, more fragile. A much more monumental responsibility than a crummy cup of coffee. I’ve been fearful of breakage. Ones I had lost, I have found. Pieces of my heart have pasted themselves back to me. I dare not tip the wrong way and spill again, watching their backs retreating. I need to keep my balance. It’s of paramount importance. I keep my eyes on the other side and keep walking with Jesus as He steadies my steps.
I’ve been unable to write. Starting. Stopping. Deleting. Rewriting. Wadding up what’s on my computer screen and hitting the little trash can button–I love that guy. I think I might actually make it this time and throw this out there to you and the world. Jesus is the Redeemer of my swaying bridge. And He, not I, has brought us together. He’s giving me words. Finally.
Yesterday in our home was a Thanksgiving for the record books. Not because of the number around our table or the perfection of the menu. (The turkey was a little dry.) No, it will be forever stamped on this mother’s heart as the year we cleaned up the Spill. It took courage from my children to reach out and I applaud that. There will come a day when we all, ALL, share a table.
We, Bob and I, are in good, almost daily, sweet communication with all four of our children. I can prove it on my phone screen! It’s been a couple of months now. It makes me feel less unglued. I hope it also points to the Redeemer. And just because we are arm-in-arm over our phones doesn’t mean that everyone sees life through the same eyes. We acknowledge that. They acknowledge that. We proceed together though through the balancing and gluing and are letting the newness settle in and re-solidify us. We’re walking across the room with cups of red punch. Gliding. Being careful. Keeping our heads level and our eyes on the goal. Realizing that a small slosh does not a disaster make and vowing to keep walking.
Here’s a quick bit from the end of a book I picked up in the livingroom of my grandchildren recently. Its timing to my heart was sweet as I’m in a season of both remembering and looking forward, thanking God for the future and what it holds, not denying the pain of the past and sometimes even the present, but always claiming the Redeemer. Here it is from Little House in the Big Wood by Laura Ingalls Wilder:
But Laura lay awake a little while, listening to Pa’s fiddle softly playing and to the lonely sound of the wind in the Big Woods. She looked at Pa sitting on the bench by the hearth, the firelight gleaming on his brown hair and beard and glistening on the honey-brown fiddle. She looked at Ma, gently rocking and knitting.
She thought to herself, “This is now.”
She was glad that the cosy house, and Pa and Ma and the firelight and the music, were now. They could not be forgotten, she thought, because now is now. It can never be a long time ago.
It’s an often clumsy walk this one. I’ve never been particularly coordinated both physically and how I handle my words. But we have a new start across the next portion of our lives. Now is now. It can never be a long time ago.
Even if you are not deeply familiar with the Bible you may have heard the verse from the Book of Esther chapter 5 that ends with the words, “for such a time as this.” Many an attempt has been made to cram these words into occasions for which they were not intended even though they are beautiful and do indeed fit many of life’s circumstances if we whittle them correctly. (For the record I’m not endorsing that. =) But let’s take a peek in context. The whole verse from the NIV goes like this:
For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this?
Esther was apprehensive and her cousin Mordecai, in his motivational speech to her, included this bit at the end after he drove home the severity of the Jews’ situation and the risk to Esther’s own personal safety. He is reminding her that in unspeakably difficult circumstances, God’s providence is supreme and He works all things together in His timing to fulfill His purposes. For. Such. A. Time. As. This.
This is life.
This is Now.
He is the Redeemer.
Thus says the Lord,
“In a favorable time I have answered You,
And in a day of salvation I have helped You;
And I will keep You and give You for a covenant of the people,
To restore the land, to make them inherit the desolate heritages;
Saying to those who are bound, ‘Go forth,’
To those who are in darkness, ‘Show yourselves.’
Along the roads they will feed,
And their pasture will be on all bare heights.
“They will not hunger or thirst,
Nor will the scorching heat or sun strike them down;
For He who has compassion on them will lead them
And will guide them to springs of water.
“I will make all My mountains a road,
And My highways will be raised up.
“Behold, these will come from afar;
And lo, these will come from the north and from the west,
And these from the land of Sinim.”
Shout for joy, O heavens! And rejoice, O earth!
Break forth into joyful shouting, O mountains!
For the Lord has comforted His people
And will have compassion on His afflicted.
Isaiah 49:8-13 NASB