First of all, these photos are NOT from this Thanksgiving....they are from last year. Read on and you'll understand....
I trust and pray each of you had a wonderful Thanksgiving; a time of relaxing, spending time with family and/or friends, and reflecting on the many blessings God has given to each of us. My cousin Liz (check out her blog, linked on this page) does a great job of listing three things she's grateful for each day on her blog. From the unexpected to the things we often take for granted to some really great sounding foods, just looking at the things she lists helps me remember to be thankful in and for all things.
It was a hard thing for me to do this Thanksgiving though. Since Tony and I have been married, and even the year before, we have spent Thanksgiving in Iowa (except for the first year we were married when we went to Ohio to visit my family instead) with his brother Paul and sister-in-law Lori. I love spending time with Paul and Lori, whether it is in Iowa at Thanksgiving or here in Minnesota. I greatly treasure my friendship with Lori, especially. And Paul, like Tony, tends to be on the quiet side, but his contributions to conversations and on email are something I truly appreciate and anticipate, along with the wisdom Lori also shares.
This year we had planned an extended trip down "south." We'd planned to head down to Omaha first, spending the night in neighboring Council Bluffs, stopping in at the Bass Pro Shop there (my brother Tim works for Bass Pro and is always getting us all kinds of goodies -- we usually stop at Cabela's, a rival store, since it's on the way to Iowa, but this year was going to be all Bass Pro!), which just HAPPENED to have a class on creating fly fishing lures (and Tony LOVES fly fishing, an activity he has not found time to do since we've been married), and then taking Luke and Susanna to the Omaha Zoo. Years back, a group of Carter relatives headed over to the zoo on Thanksgiving, and Tony still talks about what a great zoo it is. After a busy Wednesday at the zoo, we'd take the 1.5-2 hour drive over to Paul and Lori's, spend the night, visit with them, and have a wonderful Thanksgiving, as usual. Tony's cousin and his family would drive over from Omaha, there'd be laughter, fun, a football game outside with Billy's rapidly growing boys, wonderful food (mostly prepared by Lori, pies by Chris), visiting, and as the day would wind down, board games inside. Time spent with the Thanksgiving history book that Barbara Rainey wrote, seeing what's on TV, Thanksgiving songs led by Paul (since Dad Carter wasn't plannng on making the trip this year), talking about what we're thankful for, all the stuff that so many people do on Thanksgiving.
Well, Tony's trip to the hospital last week changed all that. An unexpected two days out of commission set everything back, and we reached the hard decision that we needed to stay home in Park Rapids this year. I didn't understand why I was so glum Saturday afternoon and on through Sunday and Monday morning until it hit me.
To me, Thanksgiving isn't just a day to remember to give thanks. I do that every day. I am so thankful for even the things I usually take for granted. My Grandpa and Grandma always replied "I'm thankful" when asked how they were. Luke and Susanna always say "thank you" for just about everything, even when they pray when someone is sick ("Dear God, thank You for my owie, and thank You that You will make it all better....).
Thanksgiving, for me, is more about family. Not just my family consisting of my wonderful husband and children, but extended family. Not just my parents-in-law, whom I am truly blessed to have living so close to us (TRULY blessed!), but extended family from both sides of my marriage now -- Tony's family and mine. Those that we don't see often. Those that we see only once or twice a year. Those that I haven't seen since we were married....and some since even before then. Those that are able to join the rest of the gang every so often, like Dad Carter's sister Gloria and her husband Ken (Billy's parents), like Andrew who spent Thanksgiving this year in Iraq. Granted, none of those "extra" blessings were able to join the group at Paul and Lori's this year, but still, us not being able to be there was really disappointing.
Growing up, we spent so much time with family. We lived about an hour away from most of the relatives on my mom's side and several on my dad's side (although quite a few of his siblings lived in California while I was growing up). We spent time with cousins and grandparents and aunts and uncles at least two or three times a month, I think. Many of my cousins were my best friends. As we all grew up and started going our separate ways, we still lived within reasonable driving distance to each other, or at least when we were still single, we were able to spend more time with each other. Now, almost all of my cousins are married and have families of their own, like me. We keep in touch with occasional emails and phone calls, and are even able to occasionally connect if we're all in Ohio at the same time (which isn't often). Trips to Ohio now are even more special since two of my dad's sisters moved back, and I'm able to spend time with them after getting to know them so much better from when we all lived in California.
However, this year has been a year of difficult changes for me regarding family. Two of my three grandparents passed away, and my last remaining grandma was very recently diagnosed with throat cancer. They have all lived long (in their 90s) wonderful lives, loving God and passing on that love to their children and grandchildren, but it's sad saying goodbye and knowing there will be another goodbye, whether from the cancer or just from the results of old age (but there will also be a "forever hello!" sometime in the future, praise God). When someone has always been there and no longer is, it's difficult to even think about. One of my cousins moved to Indonesia with his family to work as language translators. There have been several serious bouts with illness, disease, and trauma throughout my extended family, and even closer to home with Tony last week. Tony and I have also been unbelievably busy with the farm and the market this year, and we haven't been able to get away for our 2-3 day family break, which we try to do each September or October. I was REALLY looking forward to getting away from everything here, uninterupted time with my husband and children, just having a break, but most of all visiting with relatives who are also dear friends.
After spending quite a bit of time in tears ("Mama, why are your eyes dribbling?"), talking with Tony, talking with God, and truly examining my heart, I realize even more how important family is to me. If you're family, you're important (okay, if you're "just" a friend, you're still important to me!). Life changes as we get older, and it isn't always easy to accept. However, we are still linked as family, and if you have also given your life to Christ, we are even more importantly part of God's family.
I felt a bit guilty as I was having my little melt down. My sister-in-law had a big birthday this year (on Thanksgiving! Happy birthday Carla!)...and she's half a world away from her family (other than her husband and children...). One of my favorite cousins hasn't spent a Thanksgiving in the States for who knows how long since she lives in Paraguay (Kar, when's the last time you had turkey and all the trimmings?) with her husband and boys. Another dear cousin spent his Thanksgiving even further away in Indonesia (do they have turkey there, Rog?) with his wife and boys...and another was up north in Canada, like the last several years, with her husband and boys. To top it off, those three cousins are from the same family...when's the last time their parents had all their children home for Thanksgiving...or Christmas? My nephew is far away from all family as he serves our country in Iraq and probably didn't even have time to think about Thanksgiving.
Why am I so sad? God blessed me with a new family five years ago when Tony proposed. The two of us grew to four, and I am thankful and blessed we were able to spend yesterday together, as we spend each day together. We were able to have a wonderful dinner at Tony's parents', and while Jon and Julia were unable to join in the festivities as their children were sick, we had a relaxing day with family (but no board games, bummer!).
I love my family, whether I grew up with you or whether I joined your family five years ago. I love spending time with you. I missed that this year, but please know I treasure the times we're able to spend together...and always will.
Thank You, God, for family and friends, even when I can't be with them all. (and for those of you reading this, please post a comment and tell me about your Thanksgiving!)