The beauty of the South Carolina sunset took me by surprise. Low and warm and welcoming, I turned my face toward its glow and felt the chill in my northern bones begin to melt away. The farther we journeyed toward my sister-in-law’s home, the more majestic the sky became. The hot oranges and golds turned pink, then violet, before engulfing the entire sky in the deepest of purple hues.
This visit was not what you might have expected it to be, given that it was the weekend before Thanksgiving. It was not the long planned for family gathering around a giant turkey and all the trimmings. This was a trip made in haste and I had prepared myself that the visit might be hard. My brother-in-law had suddenly taken ill and we were traveling south to encourage him and to support my sister-in-law.
When you love someone, you take seriously the responsibility of being an encouragement to that dear one. To encourage means literally to fill with courage. It is an awesome responsibility to encourage and bless someone you love who is hurting.
And so my mind was filled with thoughts of what I would say that would be helpful. What I could do that would be useful.
The magnificent sunset should have been my first clue that it was I who would be blessed by the visit.
Our planned gathering of two siblings and their spouses had quickly grown to include parents and a grown daughter, until we numbered seven, and spanned three generations. It had been far too long since we had all been together; years upon years have separated us. And during that time we have all known hardship – illness, death of loved ones, broken relationships, financial challenges. But we have all seen much joy during those years as well – new marriages, new life, restored faith.
We did what all families do who haven’t seen one another in far too long – we talked and we listened. We shared our stories until we were satisfied that we had truly communed with one another. And at the end of our whirlwind 24 hours, we longed for more time together.
We are entering the season that brims with family – beginning at Thanksgiving, moving through the Advent season and on to Christmas, and culminating in New Years. We feast, we celebrate, and we fill our time enjoying those we hold most dear in our hearts.
But the eve of Thanksgiving can herald the beginning of a tough time for many people. For many of us there is discord within our families that prevents real celebration from being possible. We have known seasons in both my husband’s and my extended families when we were not as close as we are today. Where we have allowed misunderstanding to block our way to true love and peace within our families.
I am thankful to those members of my family who have taught me that love’s way always trumps discord’s way. And that family is always worth fighting for.
I wasn’t expecting this impromptu family gathering, just days before Thanksgiving, but I will forever be grateful for it. While our celebration did not include a turkey and all the trimmings, it was one of the truest celebrations of thanks I have ever experienced.
And so, with a full heart, I offer these words of thanks that whispered to me through the great southern pines, and I pray they will be your words of thanks this Thanksgiving season as well.
I thank God for the gift of family,
For the gift of music,
For family memories made long ago and cherished in the secret ways of old family folklore.
I thank God for new beginnings,
For warmth and hospitality and generosity of heart,
For good food shared in a home brimming with love and service to one another.
I am thankful for the reckless love of God, who never stops pursuing us,
For the desire he placed within human hearts to go over the river and through the woods to be with the ones we love.
I am thankful that the Great Reconciler shows us the way to truly love one another.