There’s nothing like walking through the doors of familiar homes that hold lifelong memories and greeting the faces you love at the holidays.
We arrived at my aunt and uncle’s home last night, and our evening was filled with my favorite childhood comfort foods and the laughter of board game-playing aunties and the aroma of hashbrown casserole and the clinking of little glass bowls my late grandma used to use to serve us fruit salad as kids.
It was a beautiful throwback to my childhood and this perfect picture of extended family — the kind of extended family I had growing up. The kind I’ve always wanted for my kids.
And yet, even in the midst of the love that filled this home last night, I felt a twinge of loss.
The truth is, holidays are hard when hubby isn’t home. The loss feels greater, the absence of his games and jokes is more obvious and the joy he brings to our home is just noticeably missing every time he’s not here.
We miss him. All the time we miss him. But on these days, we all seem to miss him most.
It’s here in this moment, as his empty chair taunts me from its place beside the Thanksgiving table where we will share turkey and gravy tonight, that I get to choose.
I get to decide how this day of thanks will go … and how my children will view it for years to come.
I can be grumpy that my husband is missing his fourth Thanksgiving.
Or I can be grateful that, in 12 years and nine deployments, he’s amazingly only missed four.
I can count up my losses. Keep tabs on missed moments.
Or spend those same hours making new memories with the boys who are watching my every move.
I can focus on a heart that hurts a little more today being apart from the heart that became one with mine 12 years ago. That’s a little extra tender on these missed holidays, no matter how many times we’ve been through them before. The heart that really aches this morning and longs for that hand that fits perfectly into mine to give me that extra little squeeze when we pray over Aunt Pam’s pumpkin pie. For the lips that kiss cheeks and hands and foreheads and greet me with the sweetest smile and cup of coffee on lazy holiday mornings.
Or I can thank God that in this life, I’m blessed enough to be married to the kind of man who it hurts this badly to be away from.
Both of these versions of my life are true. Life on any given day can be both really hard and really wonderful. But I get to choose which version I see. I get to choose which lens I use to view my years.
And the lens I place in my world-viewing spectacles dictates the rest of my minutes. My hours. My days. My life.
When I view life through the lens of entitlement — through the lens of the things that I think I am “owed” or at the very least should get to enjoy in this life, no matter how big or small they may be — I become a victim of my circumstances. A helpless puppet run by her emotions. A person whose happiness depends strictly on her circumstances, and who, in stinky circumstances, is quickly robbed of all joy.
But when I view life through the lens of gratitude, I can view the same world, encounter the same situations, acknowledge the same f’real feelings — and then choose joy. I stop being a victim and start becoming a victor over my circumstances. My circumstances no longer rob me of my joy. They no longer dictate my emotions. They no longer demand that I live a life where I focus on LOSS. Instead, that lens retrains my eyes. Illuminates my blessings. And allows me to live a life focused on outward LOVE.
Gratitude gives me new eyes to truly see everything I have to be thankful for. It moves my eyes from the empty chair and everything I DON'T have to the full room and everything I DO.
Like the special bond between Superman and the grandfather he was named after as they wrestle on the family room floor.
Like the home-baked goods that no one makes like Aunt Pam.
Like other beautiful hearts and faces we see so infrequently who sit, too, at this table with the ominous empty chair … and fill the empty space beside me with their laughter and their love.
And when I have eyes to see those little gifts — on top of the sloppy boy kisses and the 10-year-old jokes and the hands that also fit beautifully into mine on the other side of the table — even amid the challenges, I find I’m too blessed to be stressed.
I find my life is too full to feel empty.
I find my life is rich and abundant and full of blessings I don’t deserve.
And some of the BEST blessings come from the hardest moments I complained about before I put on my grateful glasses.
Without deployments there wouldn’t be homecomings. Without absence, no heart growing fonder. Without trials, no perseverance. Without a man who can’t be dependably home, no complete and utter dependence on a reliably-available God.
In this life, some of my toughest trials are actually some of my greatest godsends.
To enjoy them, on Thanksgiving and always, I just have to be willing to actually give thanks.
"Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus."
~ 1 Thessalonians 5:18