It seems my heart is not quite ready for the day. Traditionally, this day is all about celebrating all the blessings that we have, and being thankful for all that the past year has brought us. And, that is where the problem comes in for me. I am finding it difficult to be thankful for the past year. When I look back at the past year, what I feel the most is not gratefulness at what we have harvested from this year, but rather a deep sadness at what we have lost. Today as we go about our celebrations, there will be two empty chairs at my table. Two chairs that should be filled with giggling boys and spilled drinks; filled with silly jokes, shared memories, and way too many sweets. Instead, what I will feel is their absence, and no matter how hard I try, I just cannot be thankful for that.
Oh, I know I am not the only one with empty chairs at my table. I guess that is what prompted me to write this blog. Many of us have suffered the loss of a loved one since last Thanksgiving. Maybe not in the same way as my family, but loss is loss. So as I wrestle with these emotions, I am not alone.
You probably know the history of this holiday but let's take a peek back and see if we can learn anything new. Thanksgiving was first celebrated back in 1621. The Pilgrims had just harvested their first successful crop of corn and their leader, William Bradford, was pumped! He sends out a group of hunters so that they can add some meat to their party, and he even extends an invite to the Wampanoag Indians. They had so much to be thankful for that their feast lasted 3 whole days.
Three days...I am struggling to keep it together for just one day. But that is different, they had A LOT to be thankful for so it was easier for them, right? Well- not exactly. You see, the Pilgrims had come to the New World with great hopes and dreams. Hopes for a new life free of religious persecution. Dreams of settling in and making a name for themselves with all the unknown possibilities just waiting to be claimed. What they got instead was a whole lot of hardship. The passage over was rougher than they had expected, lives were lost and hopes were fading. Once they reached the new land the flames of their dreams began to burn again, but the smoke of sadness still hung over them. By the time they harvested their first crops of corn and were making preparations for their Thanksgiving, less than half of the newcomers were still alive to celebrate. There were a few empty seats at their table.
For three days they feasted and took time to count their blessings. God had provided them with a cornucopia (I have always wanted to use this word!) of things to be thankful for. And they were thankful ~DESPITE~ the losses they had suffered. Yes, their hearts were heavy as they thought of all of those empty chairs. Life had not turned out the way they had hoped and dreamed it would. However, those that celebrated were alive, they had food to eat and a place to sleep. These might seem like small things but these are the things they were not taking for granted.
Perhaps this is what I am missing as I face this day, a peace in remembering all that I do have to be thankful for. I have a very full table this Thanksgiving, there will be giggling and spilled drinks, silly jokes, shared memories, and way too many sweets. Yes, there will be some sadness as well but I think the biggest thing I must remember is what the Pilgrims surely knew. Words of wisdom from my favorite author...
Everything? Yes, in everything the Pilgrims gave thanks. In the things that had been lost, in the things that had been found, in the new and for the old, they gave thanks. So, I will take notes from my Pilgrim friends and set my heart on counting my blessings rather than my burdens today. Will you join me?