Thankful (or not)

My nephew-in-law, JP is in the poultry business. Usually here in the south we just drop the formalities and welcome a boy into the family with the “nephew” title as soon as the vows are spoken. But not JP – he’s the nephew-in-law. I’m keeping him at arms’ length for now because I’m mad at him.

You see, being in the poultry business, last summer JP heard about a coming avian flu scare and warned us that we’d better buy our holiday turkeys before the prices went through the ceiling. The industry was forecasting shortages, rationing, and all kinds of mayhem for November – he said. And this is where we ran afoul of each other. With my entrepreneurial spirit, I loaded up. Thinking that when housewives all over the south were clamoring for turkey that they couldn’t get, I would open my friendly freezer door and sell them turkeys at three or four times what I paid. Only the price hikes never came. There was no run on turkey and yes, my basement freezer contains 500 pounds of bird that is worth no more than when I bought them. I don’t even like turkey.

I am currently not thankful for JP.

To be honest, this year has brought me a host of things for which I am NOT thankful. As I consider our Thanksgiving tradition of going around the table and naming something we are thankful for, I wonder what I will say. How will I ignore the empty chair? I am not thankful that Kylie will be absent this Thursday and I feel that saying I am thankful for something that remains diminishes how supremely unthankful I am for what has been taken. Just like any thanks I could give for JP minimizes the plethora of turkey in my freezer.


Pilgrim Smiley Kylie

No God, I am not thankful this year.

My mind conjures the image of an old southern preacher with a booming voice, white wispy hair, and thin fingers. He alternates pointing at me with pounding the pulpit as he rattles from the book of Job, “The Lord giveth, and the Lord taketh away.”  

Giving… Taking… I think we humans look for things to be fair, to stay in balance – or at least come close. Most people don’t legitimately foresee a windfall in their future, but they don’t anticipate losing it all either. The average man just wants to win a few more than he loses and have a little fun along the way. But this loss of Kylie – it can’t be balanced. I see no way God can giveth equal to what he tooketh.

You’re going to have to help me with this one, God, because I don’t know how to be thankful for what I’ve been given this year when so much has been lost.

You might read this and wonder how I could feel that way. How could I allow my grief to overshadow the abundant blessings for which I should be thankful? To that I respond with something I learned early in my marriage. It took years for my patient wife to drum into my head the fact that I had no right to tell her how to feel. So I say to you what I was repeatedly told, “Don’t tell me how to feel!”

But even while I feel decidedly not thankful, I do see some things:

I see friends and family who have been our strength and support since our cancer journey began.

I see an abundance of new friends – people who have shared this terrible sadness with me and lived it themselves. While diamonds are formed through time and pressure, friendships can be forged with either. When I meet a parent who has fought childhood cancer, we have an immediate bond. When they have endured loss such as mine we have an unbreakable one.

I see children who are winning their fight against cancer.

I see my daughters, who not only loved their dying sister with everything they had, but made straight A’s, honor roll, and dean’s list in the process. How is that possible? Only because they are all three remarkable. If my work over the year had been graded it would have been a marginal D-, at best.

I see a wife who gets up every day, pushes through pain and loss and loves us completely.

I see a God who has provided abundantly in so many ways. I often feel his love, even while I question it in the next breath. He has made my table full, despite the hole in my heart and empty chair at my table.

I see a new calling and opportunities to engage in the future.

I see a fight we have to win.

I see many good things. And yet, it is still hard to feel thankful.

Maybe your Thanksgiving brings similar emotions. Have you a loss or heartache in your life that leaves you less than thankful? You and I may wrestle with God for the rest of our days. My faith is often stretched to its limit when I consider this: I believe he had the power to change our course and yet chose not to. I will never understand that. In this life I do not believe I will find a patch that mends or a balm that soothes, but I am learning that people will bring out thankfulness. Love is all and it is not found in isolation. It is found among others.

So if I can stumble my way to thankfulness this year, it will be for you people. In fact, you might be the only thing I can raise in thanks this year…



Oh, and… do any of you want some turkey?