Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Pardoning the Thanksgiving Turkey

"The LORD is near to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit."—Psalms 34:18 NAS

Will I Be Thankful This Thanksgiving Day?

Every fall after my divorce a silent shadow tiptoed up, cloaking me in darkness. For a number of years, I failed to recognize its stealthy intrusion.

Holiday depression.

As Thanksgiving and Christmas raced towards me, I felt anxious. Happy memories of "the way we were" haunted me. I grieved dreams that collided with reality. Even looking at my china made me sad, as I recalled happier family times gathered to enjoy the holiday feast I lovingly prepared. The empty chair at our table was excruciating.

When hard-pressed, I dutifully and grudgingly expressed "what I'm thankful for." But my mind raced, spitting out a litany of things I wasn't thankful for that year. It seemed as if everyone's lives went merrily along, leaving the remnants of my family behind. I was too angry to embrace gratitude. I wished things were different. I wanted more than anything for the pain and sadness dominating my emotions to go away.

I felt like the condemned Thanksgiving turkey celebrating this holiday against its will. As a victim of foul play, I was less than delighted that I was not spared the agony divorce served up on my family's holiday platter.

How Did I Turn the Corner, Throwing Off Darkness to Embrace Healing?

I leaned into the grief and embraced each recovery stage: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and finally—acceptance.

As I cycled and sometimes recycled through a phase towards personal wholeness, I accepted invitations from co-workers who allowed me to just sit and eat—grief stricken—among more joyous revelers. I found myself laughing at their jokes, even as my heart wept.

What Is The True Measure of Our Thanksgiving?

How we live our lives and treat others every day of the year.

I realized that being thankful was not what I said about my blessings, but how I used them. I acknowledged those who were less fortunate by volunteering to serve them a Thanksgiving meal. I offered compassion to other single parents newer on grief's path as we put our arms around each other in search of freedom from pain.

When my sons visited their dad, I appreciated small mercies like a welcome day off. Sleeping in. A long soak in a hot bath—uninterrupted. Staying home alone. Not celebrating with turkey and all the trimmings or enduring football.

At some point, I realized I felt relieved that I no longer had to awake early every Thanksgiving morning to stuff the bird, spend nearly six hours in the kitchen cooking, devouring the feast in thirty minutes or less, and then cleaning and putting leftovers away for at least another hour.

The Annual "Stuff the Freezer with Cheap Turkey" Day

I appreciate the annual "stuff the freezer with cheap turkey" chase. Once I gave the boys $6. All three of us stood in the checkout lane to buy our one-per-customer $5 turkey. I laughed as my six and nine-year-old paid for their personal seventeen-pound birds. Kyle's turkey was bigger than his chest. Whether I spent Thanksgiving alone or with my sons, I managed to stuff at least one $5 turkey into my small freezer for Christmas day.

I knew I had healed when I invited friends to my home for Thanksgiving. I repainted my table and chairs, reupholstered the seats, and drove to three grocery stories to gather fresh herbs to brine my $5 turkey.

Today, I feel like the pardoned Thanksgiving turkey, set free from pain. Unlike the turkeys who receive the official Presidential pardon, I will not be strutting my stuff at Disneyworld.

However, I'm relieved that anguish no longer consumes all feelings of joy and thankfulness. Even so, sometimes parenting alone drags my emotions back into the oven, making me think, I can't take the heat.

Apart from some anxious gobbling, these days I choose to be an ungobbled gobbler. I observe Thanksgiving Day every day—by anticipating God's new mercies, strength for today and hope for tomorrow.

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