“What Thanksgiving Is All About”, by Charlie Brown
So I got to thinking today, “What IS Thanksgiving all about, anyway?” While it’s a decidedly American holiday and celebration, it’s really about giving thanks, which I’m pretty sure is a cross-cultural all-human being kind of thing. I was thinking about that first round of European settlers and the stories of how they celebrated their first harvest. It had been a ROUGH year. They had lost about two thirds of the people who had come over from the European continent with them. There had been disease, and lots of it, and death had become common place. Remember when you’re a Freshman in college and at that first orientation in the Fall the Guy (who’s job is that anyway?) is standing up there at the front of the auditorium telling you to look to your left and right, because chances are those people won’t be there by the time you’re a senior? Ya, I think the new settlement was like that only a 1000% times worse. So there they were: the remnant, the hangers-on who had somehow cheated death long enough to grow some food, with the help of some generous locals.
Using the “if this, then that” type of logic, Thanksgiving is therefor a time to reflect on what ever circumstances you’ve come through (the season) and to be thankful for what you have right this minute. The season we’ve come through as a family has been wild, and as usual, very dramatic. A year ago today, my precious and unbelievably loving nephew, Jason, died. He left us. I still can’t say it without white-hot tears streaming down my face. He was the light of our family and we wouldn’t dream of having a family 4th of July party, or any kind of gathering without him, and whenever he wasn’t there (like after he moved away from home and he couldn’t get time off for the holidays), it just wasn’t the same without him. He and his brother, my other unbelievably wonderful and kind nephew, were like two peas in a pod. They did everything together growing up and shared many of the same stellar character qualities. I worry about the brother he left everyday. Well, that’s not quite true. I pray for him everyday. I pray for his healing. I pray that God continue to speak into his heart and I pray his heart remain soft and open to living the kind of life The Lord has for him. Because of Jason leaving us far too soon, there’s a major tear in the fabric of our lives that I don’t expect will ever be repaired. One of my cousin’s posted on her Facebook wall this morning that she was thankful for the fact that in the midst of the horrific loss last year at this time, our family had “grieved together”. I had to laugh at that because I think she must have missed the part at the funeral where Jason’s mom (my cousin) did everything in her power to have my father arrested for just BEING at the funeral, including calling the cops and then arguing with the cops as to why they wouldn’t arrest him. Got resentments? Got issues? Ya, that’s my family! But I’m very happy for my cousin that her perception is that the family grieved together.
This Thanksgiving we’re with my husband’s family. Like really, really with them, in THEIR house, where we’ve been for seven months. THAT’S been a season for sure, for EVERYone involved! We know we’ve been called to be here and that it’s no accident, but that doesn’t mean it’s been easy by any stretch, or that quite frankly, we’re even wanted here. But that’s forced us to focus more on God and HIS word over our lives even more. While we’re here to serve family we’re also grieving the loss of God’s best for a family at the same time. Like every other family in the universe, there’s some dysfunction here. So it’s like my husband is losing his father all over again (the first time being when he refused to go to a Division 1 school to play baseball and his dad got so angry at him he didn’t speak to him for weeks), only this time his father is all to happy to tell him up close and person that he doesn’t want him around and that he thinks he’s a failure. OUCH. So we’ve been in a season of raw grief, but trying to look only to God for peace, mercy and comfort. I know the story on this family is not yet completed, and because we’re all still alive, there’s still hope.
We had to move three states away to be with my husband’s family and that means we left what we had (in more ways than one) in the SouthBay of LaLaLand. Yes, I miss the beach (duh, who wouldn’t?). Yes I miss the wonderful hikes that my daughter and I would take to explore the tide pools. And yes, I miss the friends we made there and the church we attended that had ASL interpretation for our son (and where I learned so much too), but more than that, I am missing every single day that we are without her, our amazing “care provider” Miss Becky. “Care provider” doesn’t even begin to describe what she meant (means) to our family. She was with us for just a short time, three years, but it was an intense three years, as we were going through ALOT of “stuff” with our daughter, who’s on the autism spectrum, and she provided MUCH needed sanity day in and day out. We’re seven months removed from leaving her and I still pretty much cry every time I think of her. So it’s been a season of intense missing her and missing what she represents for our family: acceptance, pure LOVE for both of our very special children, LOADS of laughter, FUN for both the kids, and a deep, deep assurance that whenever our kids were with her, everything was FINE: they were loved on, played with, tickled, read to, fed, played-tag-with, and adored the whole time. Not having her in our lives is like having a pot of gold that when you touched it it warmed your soul, out of your life. Just poof! and it’s gone. I thank God for Miss Becky every day. She was the treasure we discovered in our adventures in LaLaLand.
Most recently we’ve come through a season of intense medical issues with our son and the ongoing saga of his chronic and catastrophic ear infections. As of yesterday when the doctor removed the stuffing and bandages from the latest ear surgery, his ear canal looks good and it doesn’t look like we’ll have to do brain surgery any time soon. WHEW. What this intense few weeks has revealed is that once again, God has provided comfort and mercy to me during some pretty nerve-wracking moments. I think I’m down to only two people in my family who will speak to me (all wrapped in that, “Arrest Uncle Bob RIGHT NOW!!” scenario I mentioned above), so “family” in the classical sense is kind of gone for me. But my friends in the disability community and even “regular folks” through social media have been GOLDEN. And I understand that’s hard to believe for a lot of people who hate Facebook, never tried Twitter and the like, but I believe that God can use any means He chooses to create authentic and supportive friendships and He can use any means necessary to strengthen already established, but perhaps, shallow relationships. Going through this time with Hayden has proven to me that I am deeply loved and that there are people out there who adore Hayden as much as we do. Wow. That’s humbling. What a gift.
The other season we’ve come through, yet, I don’t expect we’ll ever leave, is the power of being connected in personal relationships. As a family with two kids with special needs, we’ve never been anonymous when we’ve attended various churches (with some outcomes more successful than others), and the church we began attending here in Our Town is no different. Yep, you can see us comin’ a mile away!! What’s been very different this time around however, is how we’ve been received. These people seem to like us, I mean, really, really like us. I of course, am VERY suspicious of such overtly friendly and seemingly nice people. “What do they want from us?”, I immediately wonder. “Do they know we have LESS than no money?”, I ponder. And yet, from the moment we started attending this place (by ourselves, with one of us staying home with the kids while the other one acted as “scout”), we were welcomed with open arms. And through this intense time with Hayden having two surgeries within 25 days, they rallied around us like we were the most important thing happening. They delivered meals, prayed over us, sat with us in the hospital and they treat the kids like rock stars. We have NEVER, EVER been treated li?ke that in a church. After one of the first times we took both the kids to a prayer-singing service one time, the pastor pulled us aside and asked us what he do for us. “Uh, are you serious?”, I wanted to say. “Um, pretty much don’t kick us out because we have kids with special needs, and we’ll be okay”, I think is what my husband managed to stammer out. We’ve NEVER had a pastor ask us what WE needed. And truly, we don’t need much, just a little understanding that we will have to leave services when Hayden gets just a little too happy and boisterous (but we promise we will take him out), and that sometimes our daughter will have to leave, or lie down across the rows of chairs to sleep, etc….., but we really do try to be low-maintenance church members. Having people care for you in person is a VERY new feeling for us. We’re not used to it and we don’t trust it. Yet. But we know God is good and He wants good things for us. Our hope is that we get to grow with that community of believers for awhile.
So apparently being thankful isn’t about all sunshine and roses. There’s the circle of life. There’s loss. There are painful goodbyes. And there are new things that begin to grow. There are people that actually WON’T call the cops when you show up, who are actually GLAD to see you and who want to see you again. There are more questions than answers (as usual), and a really, really loving God who gives you strength and purpose to harvest what’s been planted.