Today I am celebrating Thanksgiving with nearly 40 international students who’ve come to Massachusetts for graduate school. We have come to New Hampshire for two nights of fireplaces and pies and hiking, and lots of botched communication. Last night, we read Lincoln’s proclamation that the entire nation should spend a day in thanksgiving. It’s a remarkable piece in many ways, but most remarkable because it was delivered just days after he delivered the Gettysburg Address. How do you declare a day of Thanksgiving just weeks after the biggest blood bath in your country’s history?
For years now, instead of going around the table to say what we are thankful for on this day, we have asked people to share the most difficult or painful thing of the past year. When the person finishes his or her story, those of us gathered around the table lift our glasses and say, “Praise God.” Over the years, we’ve witnessed stories of lost girlfriends and jobs and marriages. Spiritual desolation, loneliness, and fear. Loved ones who died and other who are not speaking to them. I always feel honored to hear and hold these stories.
Sometimes it’s hard to lift my glass after such stories. Praise God for what? But I do it anyway, even when I don’t feel like it. I try to live into what I believe. That somehow all of this pain and horror and loss is being redeemed, that the world is being put right, and that goodness and mercy will follow us all of our lives – even when we don’t see it.
This year, I talked about homeschooling. About the dread I couldn’t shake for most of September and that grabs me by the chest on occasion still. About how I had no idea I could feel such awful things about my kids. About the rage I experience when they won’t play along. Some of the students tonight talked about how difficult it was to leave family and friends behind to come here to study.
None of that, of course, means anything to the mother grieving her child. The mother who wishes she could spend the mornings figuring out how to be kind to her insolent son. The mother who wishes that her child were simply on the other side of the planet. I was that mother once, and I would have wanted to claw the eyes out of the woman complaining about her difficult kids.
If you are that woman, I’m sorry for the lack of gratitude I pour out here so often. I am praying for you through tears as I type this, and I hope you’ll understand…