As I think of my most memorable Thanksgiving, my mind quickly travels to a tiny apartment in Tampa, Florida. My new husband and I have been married just five months and although we are quite happy, we are also very broke. He is an Airman, Second Class, and together we are bringing in a little over 200 dollars a month.
As Thanksgiving approaches, we plan to go to the base to eat the reasonably priced holiday meal that the Air Force offers to servicemen and their families. I do not recall the exact price of that meal, but I believe it was around three dollars—definitely not big bucks.
The day before Thanksgiving we receive a notice that we are overdrawn at the bank and it takes every penny we have to cover that overdraft; to ignore it would not set well with the military brass.
Thanksgiving Day arrives and we will not be eating out and we do not have funds to buy more groceries. We will not be having turkey in our tiny apartment. We are over 3,000 miles from home and will not be with other family members. I am suddenly seized with agonizingly brutal homesickness. I recall the many Thanksgiving feasts at my grandparents’ house with aunts and uncles and cousins. I think of holidays with Mom, Dad, my siblings and their families—my adorable little niece and nephew. I miss them dreadfully. I think of all the scrumptious food that will be piled on their table. I am not thankful.
We attend Thanksgiving service at our church and the pastor gets up and talks about how we will all be going to big feasts with our loved ones. His sermon makes me even more homesick. I am not thankful.
We return to our apartment where I pull hamburger out of the fridge and make a meat loaf for our Thanksgiving dinner. My husband thanks God for our food, but I am not thankful. Do I think of the millions of starving people who would welcome our meat loaf and slim trimmings as a feast? Nope! That thought never enters my mind. My focus is not on what I have, but on what I don’t have. I am homesick, eating meatloaf for Thanksgiving dinner, and I am not thankful.
Decades later, I look back and am very grateful for that memorable day and the lessons learned. I gained a deep appreciation for my family of origin. I had always taken their love, their provision, and their sacrifices for granted. I developed a deep compassion for people who are alone and broke during the holidays. It’s a sad and difficult place to be. I also learned that if I focus on what is lacking in my life, I lose sight of the many blessings God has given. When looking only at what I don’t have, depression and self-pity quickly suck away all chances of happiness.
As Thanksgiving 2013 approaches I am thankful that family will gather at our home and thankful that we can provide enough food that they will go away as stuffed as the turkey. I’m thankful we can welcome a few guests who are not family. I am grateful for health, for family and friends, for food and shelter. I am grateful for a God who loves and accepts me in spite of my faults and failures.
And if the day should come that I would be far away from family and friends, eating meatloaf on Thanksgiving, I believe I could, with a genuine heart, thank God for it and invite some lonely person to join me. Yes, I am thankful!