Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving Day is synonymous with so much, 
Family, football, food and such, 
And we often pause during the course of the holiday 
To give thanks for the blessings that have come our way. 

It’s only right and it is only fair 
That we should stop and think about God’s good care 
Of us and of others, abundance filling our lives 
With love and treasures that make us thrive.

But the truth is that while we might be blessed beyond reason 
There are some (maybe even you?) who are in a sad, dry season. 
Perhaps a death or illness or loss of work, 
Loneliness or depression – you’ve lost your perk. 

What do we do on Thanksgiving Day
If our spirits are dismal, bewildered, or gray?
If time has been rough and luck has been slim 
Aren’t we allowed to keep feeling grim 

And let this particular holiday pass us by 
And observe it another year when our spirits are high?
Because truthfully when we look at this world all around 
So much sadness and hardship abound. 

Life might be grand here in our city or block 
But what about in Afghanistan or Rwanda or Iraq?
I planned that this little rhyme would simply be lighthearted 
But that happy illusion quickly departed 
When I thought about Thanksgiving and what it’s really about 
It’s time to be clear and leave no trace of doubt!

Let me begin by saying it is this time of year
memories of a woman I once knew draw near
Her name was Maria and she had one twenty-year old son 
He came home for Thanksgiving, his usual vitality gone. 

He was tired and pale and she took him to the physician 
They found cancer – a rare kind – an untreatable condition. 
Maria sat stunned with her face in her hand 
This couldn’t be right, she couldn’t understand 

How her beautiful son – her boy, her firstborn! 
Could possibly from her life be torn!
Maria went home and she howled in her grief. 
She screamed and she cried and there was no relief. 

Her husband, concerned what the neighbors would think 
He shut the doors and the big window over the sink. 
As she continued to yell and to cry so loud 
She felt like the whole world hid in a evil, dark cloud.

The next fourteen months passed in a haze - 
From specialist to herbalist they flew in a craze 
Her son took vitamins and changed all the things that he ate 
He took treatments and pills and tried to keep up his weight

But the cancer raged– like fire it spread 
The son moved back in with his folks – back to his old bed 
And his parents kept watch over him day and night 
Praying and hoping and telling him to fight.

They kept believing so much that he would be healed. 
But within time, a different outcome was finally revealed…

For most it was a Saturday like any other 
The morning he died in the arms of his mother. 

Her baby boy, her only son 
Just like that…he was gone. 
She kissed his cheek and brushed the hair off his brow 
His suffering, his pain was over now.

But she knew that hers had only started 
Now that she remained after he departed. 
Empty and pointless the world had just become… 
She was certain she would die too – she was completely numb…

Years went by, she stumbled through the seasons 
Searching for answers, searching for reasons 
And none ever came, just an ache that grew stronger 
But one day she couldn’t stay away any longer.

On a quiet weekday she wandered in to a church down the street 
The sound of the cold floor echoed under her feet 
Unable to pray, she wandered through the Sanctuary 
Finding herself stopping at a statue of the Virgin, Mary.

And all the pain that had frozen her heart like a stone 
The hurt that had kept her life chilled to the bone 
It found words as she stood there in that quiet place 
Looking at Mary, her serene marble face

“How could you do it?” her voice trembled then… 
“How could you let go of your son and ever breathe again?” 
“How could you love him and hold him and then see him die… 
Oh Mary – you were a mother, too…can’t you please tell me “why”?

The “why’s” continued to tumble out of her now 
Why when he was so young and so special would God allow 
This to happen to him? He never did learn to wash his clothes right, 
He sometimes still forgot to eat, and never turned off the lights…

“He still needed a mother, Mary – he needs one there, too – 
I don’t understand – but as a fellow Mom, I entrust him to you.”

And something in that moment was filled with grace 
Though she knew time could never erase 
Her memories of her son…she began to breathe again
And she found herself humming old hymns now and then.

Hymns of comfort she learned years ago 
Hymns that helped her begin to let go… 
Not of her son, but of the pain… 
And hold onto the good –the words washed over her like rain…

Abide with me fast falls the eventide
The darkness deepens, Lord with me abide
 When other helpers fail and comforts flee
 Help of the helpless, oh, abide with me…

When Maria told me this story, I had no response at all
I only sat and looked at her as my own tears began to fall.
She ended by saying, “Do you know what the mystery is, Ruth?” 
“The mystery is that it is possible to be comforted. That is the truth.” 

“Though I’ll always miss my son, his laugh and his way
I just give thanks – such thanks - that I knew him – 
and I’ll see him again someday.”
She wrote to me last just a few years ago… 
She said, “Life goes on regardless of pain – I want you to know! 
This spring my daughter, Rose, the middle one 
Gave birth to my first grandchild, a son.”

Maybe it is simple, maybe it is plain… 
Maybe it is too easy or goes without saying… 
But life is so full of ups and downs 
Life is replete with smiles and frowns 
But in the midst of it all, what better gift can we bring
 To God, to our Lord, than our Thanksgiving?

Thanksgiving especially when times are trying
Thanksgiving especially when our hearts are crying…
Thanksgiving when like the lepers we’ve been healed
Thanksgiving when the good is yet to be revealed
Brothers and sisters, may your Thanksgiving tables abound
With good food, good friends, and family all around.
May your blessings this year be too many to number
May your nights be full of peaceful slumber…
But when hard times come as they often will 
And when the going seems mostly uphill 
And you’re sad more than happy and glum more than glad 
May your heart trust there is still joy to be had. 
You’ll find it when you least expect 
God will reveal it perhaps when all seems most wrecked.
Like Maria you’ll find solace in a statue or a place
An old song, a memory, a warm embrace
And it will remind you that you are not alone – you’ve never been
God is with you, always was, always will be. Amen.

(I wrote this in 2006 and the rhyme is original, although it was inspired by
a story I heard elsewhere, but I don't remember where the original thread
of story came from. If it rings a bell for you, let me know.)

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