We recently celebrated Thanksgiving here in Canada. My favourite holiday other than Christmas. It’s one of the few times out of the year that I get to show off my culinary skills. (I’ve been single for 11 1/2 years and my children live with their father now so cooking actual meals has become nearly obsolete/pointless for me.)
So when Thanksgiving comes around I get excited. I enjoy cooking a big turkey dinner for my family. This year I did the turkey, gravy, stuffing, egg nog and apple pie. My sister, mother and aunt contributed other goodies to the feast as well. We met at my aunt and uncles house again. My grandpa was even able to be there too. He’s been living in a retirement home for the last year and a bit because he has dementia. At this point in the disease he can’t remember who people are anymore so when I went over to say hi he had no recollection of me. I’ve grown accustomed to it now so I don’t really give it much thought anymore. The doctors say that it’s “only a matter of time” at this point. Every family function he is able to attend is borrowed time, as they say.
My four nieces and nephews were there as well. What made it even better was that it was a beautiful fall day so this Auntie was able to go for a hike with all four of them. One of my favourite things. Getting out in nature is therapeutic for me and getting to do that with my nieces and nephews makes me feel like I’m still needed, even in some small way.
It was a busy day with everyone who was there, so it left me little time to think about who wasn’t there. Which is a good thing. It kept my mind on the positive and it forced me to actually be thankful, on Thanksgiving. But although it was a busy and thankful time, I still wasn’t oblivious to the fact that my children weren’t with me that day. Or that weekend for that matter. I had invited them over for Thanksgiving a few times. Letting them know that they were more than welcome. That myself and the whole family would love to see them. They ended up spending all of Thanksgiving with their father and step mother. Just another holiday I didn’t get to see them. Something I’ve grown used to over the last couple of years. It still hurts but I’ve grown better at taking time to feel it and then moving forward. I’ve learned that regardless of how something feels, I can’t stay there. I can’t wallow in it. It would kill me. It almost did. So now, I feel it, I sit with it, and then I get up and keep walking.
My own mental and emotional health depends on it first and foremost. And so does my future.
And also because there were other people at the table.
When we experience pain or loss it’s so easy to focus on what isn’t there that we can completely miss out on who or what IS still there. We focus on who or what left that we tend to ignore what we still have.
Ruth Bell Graham (wife to Rev. Billy Graham) once said “Make the most of all that comes, and the least of all that goes.”
She raised their five children, nearly single handedly because of the calling that was on her husbands life. To preach the Gospel around the world. To tell people that God loves them. This calling kept him away from home for months at a time. The longest he was ever gone on a trip was six months. Imagine that! Raising your young children while your husband gets to travel the world, see new places, meeting new people. Getting to fulfil his calling while you get to cook, clean, discipline, help with homework, and raise your kids. Most women would complain and nag or “guilt trip” their husband into staying home. They would manipulate and make life difficult for their husband until he couldn’t take it anymore. But Ruth’s own children and Billy himself said in interviews that they never heard her complain. That she never told him not to go. She never asked him to stay home. Again, she made “the most of all that comes, and the least of all that goes.” Even though her husband was missing from their home for good portions at a time, there were others that were present that needed her to BE present.
While she dealt with loneliness, frustration, faith, and all that comes with it, she understood the calling that was on his life was more important. Her calling was to stay home and raise the children so that he could be free to fulfil his calling. And even in all of that, whether she knew it or not at the time, God was preparing her to fulfil another calling on her own life. As an author and poet. Fourteen books to be exact! Not to mention she was a regular contributor for newspapers and magazines. All inspired by her life as a wife, mother, follower of Jesus and all of the ups and downs, humerus stories and lessons learned that all of that can bring. She continues to inspire millions in her writings, even years after going home to be with Jesus.
I realized in reflecting on this past Thanksgiving that yes, it still hurt my heart that I wasn’t able to see my children around that dinner table. But I also realized that the people that were there needed me to be present. My nieces and nephews need me, whether it’s giving advice or just spending time with them. Especially as 3 of them are now teenagers. I’m thankful that they still think it’s cool to hang out with an old bag like me. My Grandfather, although he is unaware of who I am, needs me to be present. Every moment that he is able to be with us could be his last. My parents need me to be present. As they get older, (and my father is now almost 70 and newly retired), I know that it will fall on me as the oldest and be my responsibility, to make sure that they are taken care of and that their latter years are treated with dignity and respect and made to be as comfortable as possible.
My future needs me. Whatever that may entail. Whatever plans that God may have for me requires me to be focused on where He is taking me. To be ready for what is or what will be rather than wallowing in what was. Any future relationships will need me to be present. Whether it’s on a professional level or personal. If God gives me a second chance at the whole marriage fiasco, that poor fellow is going to need me to be fully present and focused on our future together and not on my past. (Or his.) Or even as a single person (going on 12 years next spring), living a full, purposeful life will also require being fully focused and present and not sitting and waiting for “Mr.Right” before making decisions about my future.
We so often sit and wallow in our past, regardless of how toxic it is to our future because it’s so familiar. So comfortable. We tend to focus on what we don’t have or who isn’t there rather than being thankful for what we DO have and who IS there. But what I’ve learned from personal and rather painful experiences over the years is that, we cannot sacrifice our future on the alter of our past. (That might be a quote from somewhere. I’m not entirely sure where. I am fairly certain however, that I’m not intelligent enough to come up with something like that on my own. So, I don’t know…google it. Until then, it’s mine.)
Whatever the future does hold for me, I hope that I get to share it with the people I love the most. Life is meant to be shared, not kept to ourselves in a self made, make shift solitary confinement. I would love to share this life with the ones that are most important to me. My children especially. I hope they know that. I hope that they know they are welcome to the table at any time. Day or night. No matter what. That there is a chair set aside for each of them when they are ready. And I believe that one day God will make it a reality again.
“I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead” ~Philippians 3:13