A heavenly aroma wafted from the oven as my dear husband pulled the turkey out to the hushed and reverent ooh’s and aah’s of delight from our guests. The table was adorned with every manner of traditional Thanksgiving fare you could imagine, complete with a sweet potato casserole topped with pecans and brown sugar, not marshmallows, thank you very much.
It was the idyllic Thanksgiving meal. Except that it wasn’t.
I was a month out from a C-section gone terribly wrong, and hobbled around the kitchen like a little old lady. The weather was gray, wet, and dreary with gale-force winds battering the windows and rattling the doors. We were gathered around the table not on a crisp Thursday afternoon, but a blustery, dark Saturday night. Our table was surrounded not by family from far and wide, but by folks who, only a year before, were strangers or acquaintances.
It was our second Thanksgiving in Ireland and it was bittersweet.
Holidays for the expat are always a bit of an anomaly. You find yourself embracing the traditions and customs of whatever land you happen to call home at the time, while simultaneously pining for the comforts and rituals of your youth.
That chilly November night, surrounded by friends-become-family, tears brimmed and threatened to spill over; but not for the reason you might think. “How blessed” was the thought that rounded again and again in my mind. How blessed we are to share this moment with these dear people. Here. Now.
Of course, we missed our family, American friends, and traditions, but I couldn’t help but be overcome by the beauty of that multicultural affair.
What could be more symbolic of the family of God than this rag-tag group of exhausted and curious folk from all walks of life, economics, and spiritualities (most of whom had only seen Thanksgiving in the movies)?
We could’ve holed up, weathered the storm, and marked the holiday with sadness and loneliness. We could have.
But we didn’t.
We chose, instead, to reach out and share the day — and a bit of our pain — with those in the community around us. And it was so beautifully sweet. So beautifully bittersweet.
For many of you reading this, the holidays are anything but holy or holly jolly.
They carry the weight of broken families, broken dreams, empty cradles, and empty wallets. You may be tempted to hide and wait it out — and there is a time and place for solitude, to be sure.
But can I encourage you, dear sister? Reach out. Lean into the pain and joy of those around you. Gather with your rag-tag group of family, or friends-like-family, or people-who-need-a-family and celebrate.
Give thanks that this messy thing called life was never designed to be experienced alone.
Though this holiday season may look nothing like what you had planned or hoped, it may turn out to be one of the messiest, most beautiful seasons you never knew you needed.