I write this as I sit in my ex-husband’s apartment. I brought the boys over to spend some time with him before we head to my brother’s house for our Thanksgiving meal. I hear my four boys playing a game in his bedroom, where he spends the majority of his time these days, battling the debilitating monster called multiple sclerosis.
Yesterday, I sat in this same apartment to visit with his sister and her family who I hadn’t seen since shortly after our divorce. We sat in a circle chatting: my ex-husband, his girlfriend, her daughter, my boys, my ex-sister-in law, her husband, and their two young kids. As my friend Jenni said, “You can’t make this stuff up.”
It’s not how life was supposed to turn out. His disease. Our divorce. Raising four boys in separate households. And now awkward visits with former family members I barely know anymore, while sitting next to my ex-husband’s girlfriend on the couch.
But this is real life. And the truth is while my heart breaks for my ex-husband’s hardships, it also overflows with thanksgiving. Today I can sit at his kitchen table knowing we want what is best for one another rather than harboring anger and bitterness over things in our past. I am thankful for his girlfriend, who I have come to adore, as she helps him in any way she can despite her own heartache over his health. And I thank a gracious God that my boys know that both their dad and I love them deeply despite all of our shortcomings.
When we leave here we will go to my brother’s house for our first Thanksgiving without my dad. Last year at this time, he was able to make it to the table for a few minutes, but barely touched his food. He still had his sense of humor intact but his strength was depleted. We took photos as we knew it would be his last Thanksgiving with us on earth, images we cherish now.
Again, it feels like this is just not the way life was supposed to be. Logically, I know that no one escapes death or the grief that comes with saying goodbye to those we love. But that doesn’t change how I long to have my dad sit around the table again with us tonight. How I long to hear his jokes or his thoughts on the latest book he’s reading. How I long to smell his aftershave when I snuggle next to him on the couch after our meal.
Yet, I am confident that being with my family will be filled with love, laughter and thankfulness. It’s what we do. We love one another, however imperfectly. We laugh at ourselves and one another (in love, of course). And we always find time to share in thankfulness. We may shed some tears when we consider one less chair at the table but we will offer up our memories and gratitude for having had such a loving, generous man in our lives.
Gratitude allows us to find joy even in the achiness of loss. At its core, my gratitude is rooted in a God who has loved me with a love that is beyond compare. A God who has shown he is trustworthy, and a God who has equipped me with a hope that refuses to leave me crushed, defeated or in despair.
I have no other way to explain how both sorrow and joy can exist together. Life is messy and complicated and painful. But when I trust in the only One who is faithful, when I thank him for all he has done despite the way I thought life would be, when I acknowledge the mind-boggling gift of the Holy Spirit, I can do nothing BUT overflow with gratitude.
So for those of you who enter into Thanksgiving with a reality that is far from the picture you had imagined for your life, I offer a prayer for you today. It’s one I cling to as well:
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. Romans 15:13