Surprised by Good


Three years ago, our family hosted Thanksgiving dinner for the first time. I’d waited a while to do it. We had lived in our 100-year-old farmhouse for more than a decade. We had a formal dining room. I knew how to cook a turkey.

But established traditions called for us to spend Thanksgiving Day with my husband’s side of the family one year and with my parents at their house the next.

That year, we were supposed to be at my parents’ house, but my mom graciously agreed that my little family could host at our house instead. She and my dad would be our guests, along with my brother and sister-in-law and their two children.

I dreamed of how the day would go . . .

It would be cold and gray and dreary . . . perfect for a fire in the fireplace and cozy indoor games. We would linger over dinner, taking time to savor each dish and share our thanksgivings around the table. I would set the stage in the dining room ahead of time and then close the double sliding pocket doors. When our company arrived, I would slide the doors open with a flourish to reveal a Norman Rockwell-esque scene.

“Happy Thanksgiving!” I would declare. Probably, there would be applause. Probably, it would be like a Hallmark movie.

Except, of course, it wasn’t. Our darling niece and nephew blazed through dinner in ten minutes, taking their older cousins and all the adults with them. We did not so much converse as we sneaked snippets of various discussions into protein- and produce-consumption negotiations. We should at least have been able to depend on a chilly Midwest November day, but the temperature hovered in the 70s. The sun shone. The fireplace was dark.

In a blink, all the kids and my brother were outside in the balmy air, jumping on the trampoline.

It was more Andy Warhol than Norman Rockwell. Still, uncharacteristically, I was grateful and happy.

God, with Whom we can be who we’re not, helped me relish rather than resent the unscripted nature of the day.

We were together. We were blessed. It was not what I had planned. But it was what God had planned. And it was good.

“Taste and see that the LORD is good. Oh, the joys of those who take refuge in Him!” {Psalm 34:8, NLT}

The next year, we committed to spend the day with my husband’s side of the family, a couple hours from home on the other side of our state. But three days before Thanksgiving, our hosts cancelled — with great regret — because of an illness that had some staying power.

I speed-dialed my mom and asked if she and my dad wanted to be guests at our feasting table again. She shouted for joy, and we started rapid-fire menu negotiations.

Thanksgiving Day dawned gray and cold and bleak. A fire blazed in our fireplace. I kept the dining room pocket doors closed until the big reveal. We read aloud from our favorite Thanksgiving book and took turns voicing specific blessings. We lingered over the meal. We played games on the floor.

And I was so grateful. In perfect wisdom matched by perfect love, God sometimes withholds from us what we want. Sometimes, He gives us what we want. And sometimes, He lavishes on us abundantly beyond what we want.

It was not what I had planned. But it was what God had planned. And it was good.

This year, I know what we have planned for Thanksgiving. I don’t know what God has planned. But I know that it will be good.

“You are good, and what you do is good . . . let me live that I may praise You.” {Psalm 119:68,175; NIV}

Related: This Thanksgiving serve your favorite dish in this beautiful Grace for Today serving bowl while cherishing the loved ones around your table.

  • Bev @ Walking Well With God

    This is a great reminder as I approach Thanksgiving. More times than not, the day does not go exactly as planned. I need to not let it derail me, but instead delight in what God has planned instead. His ways are higher than my ways after all. Thank you…I needed this!

    • Elizabeth Spencer

      Thank you so much, Bev! “…delight in what God has planned instead.” Yes, yes. I will try to remember this wisdom as we host my gracious and lovely in-laws this year. Have a blessed Thanksgiving!

  • Michele Morin

    So glad for this reminder that we can’t micromanage every celebration. Like you, some of my best memories are from times that really blindsided me. You’ve said all this so well, and exalted our sovereign God in the process.

    • Elizabeth Spencer

      Thank you, Michele! Maybe I should be preparing myself to be “blindsided” by good this year? :) Love it. Thank you for reading my ramblings…may your Thanksgiving Day be blessed by the Giver of every good gift.

  • Steph

    I love this, God knows what we need and His plans are greater than ours! Just curious, what is your favorite Thanksgiving book?

    • Elizabeth Spencer

      Steph, you are so right: God’s way is always the best way! We love a book called “Thanksgiving: A Time to Remember,” by Barbara Rainey. It has a lovely music CD of Thanksgiving songs with it, much history on the entire Pilgrim voyage to the New World and about the “first” Thanksgiving, Abraham Lincoln’s entire 1863 Thanksgiving Proclamation, and space to record gratitudes–plus much more. It is a treasure we love to revisit year after year. Thanks for asking…and blessings to you and your dear ones!

  • Keri Siegel

    That is simply beautiful! May God bless you richly.

    • Elizabeth Spencer

      Awww, thank you, Keri! May God bless you with Himself and with every good thing from His generous hand as well.

  • Katie

    Lovely reminder, Elizabeth; thank you! This Thanksgiving is shaping up to be something like that for my family as plans haven’t been finalized and I’m hanging in the balance counting down how many days I have left to buy – or not buy – a turkey. But God is in it all. I know He sees and I’m trusting His providence for a beautiful gathering however it shakes out. And praying for a grateful heart that can see see true beauty in all of it.

    • Elizabeth Spencer

      Thank you for sharing your story, Katie! In spite of lessons taught me by our great God in the past, this is a new and different year with brand new challenges along “a way we’ve never been before” (Joshua 3:4), so I hope you don’t mind if I follow your wise lead and pray for “a grateful heart that can see see true beauty in all of it” myself! Bless you!

  • Jamie

    Another great post, Elizabeth! I have really been struggling lately with my expectations vs. the reality of situations, and have been trying to let go of some of my (ahem) type A personality traits. ;) There really is beauty in the unscripted!

    • Elizabeth Spencer

      Jamie, my friend, thank you once again for the gift of your encouragement! I feel and share your struggle so closely. But I love how you put it: “beauty in the unscripted”! I will join you in looking for that in the days and season ahead! Happy Thanksgiving to you and your medium-sized family! :)

  • Megan Curran-Bucher

    I needed to be reminded that God’s plan is more important than all of my planning. The holidays can become an overwhelmed calendar of events that simply stress me out with checklists. I need to chill out and remember that God’s got this. Thank you for sharing.

    • Elizabeth Spencer

      Megan! “God’s plan is more important than all of my planning.” Love it! That’s a shareable graphic just waiting to happen! Thank you for reading and encouraging me with your thoughts. Let me know when I can share your image! ;)

      • Megan Curran-Bucher

        Ok, I made a shareable image at your request! (I just posted it to the comments on your Facebook page for your blog…which I love!!!) My first official one. Thank you for inspiring me to finally put together two things I love….my photos and my words. I cannot express enough gratitude. Happy Saturday, friend.

        • Elizabeth Spencer

          LOVE IT! Will be sharing it like a mad woman! So delighted to meet you, Megan! :) Seriously, this is so great.

          • Megan Curran-Bucher

            Thank you!!!!!
            Awesome to meet you, too!!!

  • Rebecca Jones

    Thanksgiving has never been my holiday until now, I can celebrate it every with Jesus! I wish I’d learned that sooner. When you are single, and look young, you get stuck off with the children, and the dirty dishes. when you only get together with people a couple of times a year, they hardly know you. Friends often become family instead of family. I’m determined not to let that happen, maybe not this year, but I can still hope for more family get togethers when people aren’t watching your weight for you or talking about what you did when you were little, I see a nice table, flowers, food and family, faith, hope and love. A girl can dream.

    • Elizabeth Spencer

      Dear Rebecca, thank you for so honestly sharing your heart and story! I think you are dreaming a beautiful dream, and I truly pray that God, in His wisdom, makes it–or something better–come true for you! Lord, Lord…we give you the desires of your hearts…

      • Rebecca Jones

        Thank you, Elizabeth, I was trying to be truthful and funny. I hope everyone has a blessed holiday.

    • Beth Williams

      Prayers for an adult Thanksgiving this year! May God bless you and your family!
      Blessings :)

  • Lisa Healy

    How fun! So often big, tradition-filled holidays like this can have all sorts of expectations…then the actual experience falls short. I’ll definitely have to remember these two Thanksgivings of yours while wondering why on earth I was looking forward to my aunt’s marshmallow salad…

    • Elizabeth Spencer

      Oooh…marshmallow salad. ;) Lisa, I want you to know something: “meeting” you has been one of the great blessings of my year and is surely something I am putting on my 2015 gratitude list. Thank you, my friend…for all sorts of things.

  • Michelle

    We have had many unexpected, not as we planned Thanksgiving dinners. Christmases too. A good attitude can change things around though. Sounds like you have that. Happy Thanksgiving!

    • Elizabeth Spencer

      Well, Michelle, I’m always fighting my “natural” attitude! ;) But with and in Christ, I can be who I’m not, feel what I don’t, and do what I can’t. Happy Thanksgiving right back to you!

  • Beth Williams

    I don’t usually plan a big fan fare for Thanksgiving. The last couple of years I have invited my in-laws and one of my hubby’s nephews to our house. If you want to cook something fine, but we will supply the food! I just want to get together and enjoy each other’s company and the blessings of God!!
    Blessings :)

    • Elizabeth Spencer

      Brilliant, Beth. This in particular: “I just want to get together and enjoy each other’s company and the blessings of God!!” Amen, sister! May this be yours and all of ours this Thanksgiving. Thank you so much for taking to leave your lovely thoughts!

  • Nancy Ruegg

    I love how you embraced the unexpected and even undesirable results of that first Thanksgiving in your home. What a wise reminder to us to be content (actually FIND the contentment?) in all circumstances. And then, I almost chuckled with delight to read about the next Thanksgiving that turned out so perfectly. Thank you for the reminder, Elizabeth, that everything God plans is good–not only appropriate now, as we plan for 2015 holiday celebrations, but applicable always, every day. What a glorious promise!

    • Elizabeth Spencer

      Bless you, Nancy, for sharing my delight in God’s goodness! Truly, God always gives us what we need, but often He also gives us what we want…in ways only His divine mind can conceive! Thank you for taking time to read my little tale of two Thanksgivings, and may yours this year be both what you need and what you want!

  • Hannah@Seeingthelovely

    I love this, Elizabeth! It’s so easy to be thrown off and grumpy because things don’t go as we expect them to. But you’re right, so often what God planned is good and even better than we wanted. Thanks for the good words.

    • Elizabeth Spencer

      Well, hello, Hannah…what a treat to see you here! :) Thank you for your kind words on mine. Now, I’m on the record and need (and want) to put them into practice this year…whatever kind of year God has planned. Have a lovely (!) Thanksgiving!

  • Cheryl Long

    Aw I love this. What a great reminder to leave out our expectations and seek the Lord’s will. This made me smile.

    • Elizabeth Spencer

      Aw, I love your sweet comment, Cheryl! Thank you so much…your encouragement in recent months is one of the things I’m so grateful for this year! Blessings on you and all the Long Ladies (and the Long Gents?)! :)

  • Karen Del Tatto

    Elizabeth, I enjoyed this post so very much!!

    I LOVE your sense of humor. You are my kind of person! :-)

    But I most especially loved how you pointed us to God’s plans and His blessings in His perfect timing.

    Thanks for sharing.

    • Elizabeth Spencer

      Thank you, my dear Karen! You are such a blessing to me. “Meeting” you is among my richest blessings this year. Can’t wait to read your guest post on gentleness. I know it will be wonderful…as you are. Happy Thanksgiving!

  • Anastasia Safee

    I love that you just went with the flow. You didn’t lose your joy or become angry because of things not going according to your expectations. That is an important lesson to take away for sure!

    • Elizabeth Spencer

      Thank you, Anastasia! I have to give all credit to God–Who makes us who and what we aren’t–because “going with the flow” could not BE further from my default setting! ;) And it’s a lesson I’m going to try to put into practice again this year. Thanks for taking time during this busy season to stop by…I wish you an abundance of good things at your feasting table this year!

  • Liz

    God’s plans are always so much more perfect than anything I could ever conjure up! I love it when I can see His handiwork in my day!

    • Elizabeth Spencer

      Yes, Liz…and you nailed the crux of it: His plans ARE always more perfect–and sometimes we actually get to SEE what He’s doing. He is good and what He does is good, but when our human eyes get to glimpse that goodness, we know true joy. Blessings on your Thanksgiving…may you be surprised by good!

  • Mary Carver

    I’m so grateful for the way God gives me what I need and not what I want – especially when it comes to high expectations and perfectionist tendencies involved in hosting dinners! :)

    • Elizabeth Spencer

      Thank you, Mary! I “gave up on perfect” (I think you know about that!) a long time ago. :) I am the hostess with the leastess, but there God shows His strength. Thank you for reading my little tale of two Thanksgivings, and may your celebration this year be blessed and bountiful!

  • Lori Tullis

    A great reminder that our plans are not always what God has planned. Thanks for sharing, Elizabeth.

    • Elizabeth Spencer

      Thank you, Lori! I always want to know what’s going to happen and how it’s all going to play out, but I am reminded that faith in what has happened is not really faith but gratitude. Thank you for stopping by…have a blessed Thanksgiving!