One year our Thanksgiving turkey was so dry, everyone ate dark meat only and used a LOT of gravy. When we tried to feed leftovers to our two dogs, Martin Luther and George Whitfield, (we used to name our dogs after great theologians) they gagged and hacked it up on my kitchen floor. Lovely.
The holidays are here and usually a few things go sideways for all of us. Many are excited about celebrations and special times together with family and friends. Probably just as many are wondering how they will make it through until January 2. This is their first Thanksgiving without a spouse. Or maybe, like my daughter’s sister-in-law, and her family, turkey dinners will be eaten in an oncology ward. Some folks experienced tremendous financial setbacks or job loss this year. How will they even buy Christmas presents, they wonder.
Whatever is happening in our lives, good or bad, it all seems more intensified between the end of November and the beginning of January. With that in mind, I want to share some of our family’s humorous and tragic holiday stories over the next couple posts. May our mishaps and sorrows bring you some laughter and encouragement.
My in-laws, Bette and Warren Stults are celebrating Thanksgiving together again in heaven this year. Separated by Dad’s death three years ago, Mom joined him last fall shortly before the holidays. These two knew how to lay out a Thanksgiving feast. Turkey, candied sweet potatoes, sausage stuffing, mashed potatoes and more were a large “We love you” from them to all of us. They worked together for days to prepare the entire meal.
In the early years of my marriage, Stults Thanksgiving turkey was magnificent and juicy. Then, pop-up timers became the rage. Mom and Dad bought their first turkey with a little red button buried in it. They bought it but they didn’t trust it. When the timer popped up, all their children assured them that this indicated fully cooked meat. We in-laws hid out in the living room as voices grew louder.
After heated arguments, Dad put his foot down. “It can’t be done that soon!” he declared and forcefully shoved the roasting pan back in the oven. An hour and a half later, the turkey came out with mom and dad’s approval. We used quarts of gravy that year just to swallow it. Nobody said a word about the bird for the entire meal. The final insult came with Luther and Whitfield barfing the leathery white meat up in the kitchen.
Several years later, our family experienced a rather dismal Thanksgiving. Both of our mothers spent the holiday in the hospital. Pneumonia and heart troubles limited visitors and kept them and our two fathers sharing hospital turkey dinners without any of the rest of us. The loneliness we all felt threatened to encompass the day entirely. God’s grace still brought laughter and joy to the meal the rest of us shared together that year but it became a warning of things to come.
Within the next six years we said good-bye to my mother and both of Ken’s parents. Empty places at holiday tables became the norm. Assuming new roles and comforting brokenhearted parents amidst our own grief, made Thanksgiving and Christmas just hard. For the sake of children and grandchildren we honored our traditions and stayed upbeat outwardly. Inside I wanted to bury my head in a pillow and weep, thinking of holidays in the past.
If you are experiencing one of those holiday seasons this year, God sees and cares deeply. The joy of Christmas is specifically for those who mourn. “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government shall be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9:6 NIV) No one understands your sorrow like Jesus.
“Indeed, the LORD will comfort Zion; He will comfort all her waste places. And her wilderness He will make like Eden, and her desert like the garden of the LORD; Joy and gladness will be found in her, Thanksgiving and sound of a melody. (Isaiah 51:3 NIV) Only God can bring life to your desert places and provision in the wilderness.
Next time I’ll share stories of screaming babies, lost dogs and the worst gravy ever. Til then, start thanking God for as many things as you can think of, it will change your whole environment.