This Wednesday my husband and I will load the car, buckle up the boys, and take I-45 north for four hours to celebrate Thanksgiving with my side of the family for the first time in years. It’s been years since we’ve done a holiday together. I couldn’t tell you exactly why we stopped gathering as a family all that time ago, because the decision was never mine to make, but I suppose at some point it simply became less painful for her to opt out of the holidays altogether. Not the result of just one broken and strained relationship but the result of so many broken and strained relationships. Perceptions were constantly conflicting, words were rarely weighed rightly, and one offense piled on top of another. It all grew so heavy. The remaining structure of the family, with her at it’s core, could not hold the weight of the rubble – so ties deteriorated, losses were cut, and the whole thing entered a state of disrepair.
Each year that came and went made the possibility of us coming back together in this way less and less likely. Each year I hoped, asked, and prayed that time would do good work so that eventually we could try again. I approached the topic gingerly just a few weeks back, expectations as low as I could possibly push them: “So, I was thinking that maybe me, Chris and the boys could head your way for Thanksgiving this year.”
And that was that. After years of “no’s”, I finally got an “ok”. I wish I could communicate to you the distance traveled between those two words.
This year, I get to go home for Thanksgiving. I’m thankful for this. I’m thankful for this despite the fact that I’ll be walking into relationships that have been shattered, grudges that have been long held, and hurts that have been left unattended for years. I’m thankful for this even though there will be tensions and silences and slow-going conversations as we attempt to give this thing another go. I’m thankful for all these difficult things, because they’re the very things the Lord has laid before me.
Right at the end of October, shortly after our Thanksgiving plans were made, my morning reading drove me headfirst into Psalm 50 where the intersection of two particular words caught my attention: thanksgiving & sacrifice.
14 Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving,
and perform your vows to the Most High,
15 and call upon me in the day of trouble;
I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me.
A sacrifice of thanksgiving – the phrase caught my attention and held it there until verse 23, when I fumbled upon those words again…
23 The one who offers thanksgiving as his sacrifice glorifies me;
to one who orders his way rightly
I will show the salvation of God!
It seemed peculiar to me that those two words – Thanksgiving. Sacrifice. – would be coupled together, as I’d never before thought of them as being related. That morning, those verses begged me to linger for a moment in the place where those two words intersect.
So I began to give thanks for all the things I am thankful for – but the sacrifice is missing because what I am most immediately, and let’s be honest – easily – thankful for are all the good and beautiful and right and lovely things in my life and there is no sacrifice required to be thankful for those things. Thanksgiving, in and of itself, is a beautiful, God-ordained practice, but I was seeking the particular place where those two words collide. The one who offers thanksgiving as his sacrifice glorifies me… So I rattle on down my list, digging deeper and pushing harder and begin thanking God for the things I usually ask him to change, to fix, to remove, or make better for me. I thank him for all those broken and strained relationships, for all those difficult times and down-right heart-breaking circumstances, for the rocky, uneven, and tumultuous pathway which He has made my way to Him- and that’s when my thanksgiving turns to sacrifice because my instinct is not to thank God for those things, but to question Him because of them.
And the longer that list grows, the more I begin to understand it – this thanksgiving as a sacrifice. The more difficult it becomes to give thanks the more clearly I perceive that the grown up concerns and complications of life need not choke the life out of thanksgiving, but give fresh birth to it – because thanksgiving is no sacrifice if it is not hard.
Yes, we should intentionally give thanks for the things we are thankful for, but we should also sacrificially thank him and train ourselves to be truly thankful for the things we may not want to be thankful for. Haven’t we, as believers, bore witness to the Lord doing some of his most beautiful work not despite of difficult things, but actually through them?
So thank you, God, that I get to go home for Thanksgiving this year. I’m full-out grateful for this bent and gnarled family tree that you’ve given me – that you’ve gifted me. There may be generational sin around here a mile deep and a mountain high, but thank you, oh Lord, that your grace is so big that it covers it all. And in your sovereignty you could have shielded me from all the pain that comes from loving and losing in the life of a family, but then I wouldn’t understand what it means to have a family. You could have protected me from the unlovely parts of these people I love, but wouldn’t that in some way have robbed me of the beautiful parts of these people I love? So because this is where I come from and this is where I am, this year I thank you, God, not for the beauty, but for the ashes. I know full well that in your kingdom that is always how beauty begins.
Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you, declares the Lord, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, declares the Lord, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile. Jeremiah 29:12-14
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