To my friend who isn’t doing very well this Thanksgiving:
You’re not alone. I wasn’t doing very well this day last year. In fact, I skipped Thanksgiving last year.
It wasn’t on purpose. In fact, I would have given almost anything to participate, eat food and enjoy the people I loved. But I couldn’t. The weight of what I’d been carrying for months, the heavy expectations I’d placed on myself all came to a head that day. So, instead of celebrating with my family, I spent the day sobbing in my bed. I couldn’t even put into words what felt so awful or why I couldn’t join in. All I could do was cry.
Holidays can be dark days. They represent what “should” be and if the contrast with reality is too great, it can be completely overwhelming. It is okay to be grieving and hurting, even when the world seems to be celebrating. It doesn’t matter if it is a break up or a death or exhaustion. The lonely, hurting places of our lives can’t seem to be ignored when the holidays roll around.
I remember a few years ago, sobbing my heart out one summer. I was trusting Jesus to do something good while I took some steps of faith that literally felt like I was going the opposite way of where I wanted to go. (Ironically, Jesus tends to do things in a way that feels backwards, but is actually frontwards. He gave me one of my best gifts that summer, after only a few months of waiting.) In the midst of my pain and hurt, not knowing what was going to happen, I remember thinking, “This is the part of the story that I love when it is someone else. This is when I am cheering Sam and Frodo on, to keep going to Mordor. They’re exhausted and can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel. But I know it doesn’t end here. This is the part when I’m begging them to keep going even when they don’t feel like it, to keep trusting even when they are discouraged and feel alone. They’re not alone. This isn’t the end.”
But it is so much harder to believe when it is YOU. It isn’t someone else and you don’t get to watch. It is you and you have to live it.
As we sat around tables in the church gym last night for our Thanksgiving Eve service, we were asked to share about what we were thankful for. Our pastor reminded us that we weren’t sharing to make ourselves look good, but to give God the credit he deserves for the many graces he gives us. As I spoke of what last year looked like at this time, I felt my heart flooded with the reminder that I can grateful not because of how fabulous this last year has been. I can be grateful because Jesus doesn’t waste pain. Jesus walked with me in the darkness. Jesus tells good stories for my life, for his glory. Jesus answered my prayer for a change, even if it didn’t look the way I wanted.
Friend, this isn’t the end of your story. I’m so sorry that Thanksgiving, and maybe even Christmas might be pretty painful this year. I don’t think it will always be this way. I literally couldn’t imagine a way out of the darkness of last year. Maybe you can’t either. Please give yourself some grace. Be kind to yourself. Let the people who love you and the people you trust know how you’re doing. Sometimes courage looks like being present and letting people in.
This isn’t the end of your story. Last year wasn’t the end of mine.
This year I find myself across the country, sipping hot coffee and eating baked oatmeal dotted with cherries. Pumpkin pie is baking in the oven. The sun is streaming through the window. My heart still hurts but it also can’t help but see the grace Jesus has given me.
He is giving us a place to live in a beautiful part of the country.
He has given me my best friend in my husband.
He has given me the gift of being L’s mom.
He has given my husband work when we moved without knowing if a job would be waiting for us.
He gave us so much help in the moving process: parents who shipped boxes to us, friends who drove our car across the country, friends who helped us pack and clean, people to cry with.
He gave me new sisters. I loved being part of my brothers’ weddings this past year.
He helped me to finish my last season well.
He gave me dear people to share life with there. He is giving me dear people to share life with here.
He gave me a new dream when I thought my dreams were ending. I get to write and read and dream.
Friends, I’m so grateful. Jesus is beyond kind to me.
If you do anything this Thanksgiving, fight to believe what is true. Fight to believe that Jesus is kind and that you are loved, even in the midst of the pain.
He doesn’t waste pain. His love is so great that it permits pain.
He is a good father. He loves to give good gifts to his kids.
Jesus tells the best stories.
Even if there doesn’t feel like much to be thankful for this year, this is something to rest in. Your story isn’t over. If you’ll trust him with it, Jesus will tell the best story with your life. It doesn’t have to feel true to be true. He is in the business of redemption. Your story isn’t over.