This month there have been two particularly hot topics burrowing deeper and deeper into my Facebook world – two “lists” that have been making the rounds and into my life day after day. One is lists of things people are thankful for, in honor of Thanksgiving month. While most people will share something involving things they are grateful for today (Thanksgiving), many of my friends have been sharing something each day for the whole month of November, stretching the thankful thoughts out a whole 30 days. I think it’s great and have enjoyed reading.
The other “list” that has been circulating is a things-you-don’t-know-about-me list. This is where someone posts 8 things you probably don’t know about them (like, everyone thinks they’re an extrovert but they really just love being alone – OR – they have a terrible fear of elevators – OR – they recently reunited with their high school sweetheart after 20 years apart). I also think these are great and have enjoyed reading.
In an effort to be a creative writer and to challenge myself to think a little outside the box for this Thanksgiving post, I have decided to combine these two hot topics into a hybrid Things-You-Don’t-Know-I’m-Thankful-For list.
I believe a lot of the things that we tend to say we’re thankful for this time of year are the predictable and safe things to talk about – health, family, happiness, safety, food, shelter, security… Look, these things are huge and good and authentic and we SHOULD be thankful and SAY we’re thankful for all of them. Of course. I am thankful for all of those things too – deeply, sincerely, undeservingly thankful.
But – I can’t help but wonder about all those deeper, rougher, messier, more complicated gems of Thanksgiving each of us has within our own story. The things that aren’t pretty or simple or safe, but that have helped forge us into who we are today. It is those things that I also want to pay tribute to today. So bear with me folks. This is an unconventional, yet necessary list. I wouldn’t be who I am without it.
1. When Things Don’t Go My Way
Some of the shiniest silver linings and most beautiful blooms of my life have stemmed from the rocky soil of heartbreak and the bleakness of failure. In high school, getting cut from the cheerleading squad, while devastating to my all-consuming 15-year-old social life, opened the door for me to spend the summer working at a Christian camp that is a cherished part of my life and family history (I’m riding the horse):
and gave me distance from some friends who weren’t so good for me after all. When I was in my early 20s I experienced my first (and only) real romantic heartbreak. It was like being underwater unable to catch my breath, or like a drug addict going through painful withdrawals each time I looked at my message-free phone or passed a place we used to go. But that break up ultimately re-focused my course, my self image and my standards, and I am such a different person today because of the road I have taken after emerging from that wreckage. Thankful.
It’s something that still isn’t spoken of or encouraged in many families and social circles. There is often a stigma or shame attached to the words “therapist,” “shrink,” or “mental health professional.” And THAT, my friends, is a shame. These people save lives, save marriages, help save us from ourselves in ways that everyone else in our lives is often too “close” to be able to do. While it started out as a stretch of my comfort zone and something I questioned whether I really ‘needed,’ appointments with my therapist have grown to be some of the most cherished hours on my calendar. There is something uniquely special about having someone in your life who doesn’t know anyone else in it, and who is there for YOU, to listen only to YOU, and advocate for YOU. My therapist helps prepare me for the battle that is daily life in a complicated world. She is my treasured sounding board for all the things I really want to say to real people in my real life, and gives me a place to flesh out those thoughts as I work up the courage to say them out loud. I am thankful for the team she and I have become, and the important work that we do.
As a person of faith (or one who tries really hard to have faith that some days comes easier than others…), throughout my life I have tended to shudder in sadness at the mere mention of this word: atheist. It has always felt like a personal assault on MY God, a rejection of MY intimate faith, a mockery of MY beliefs. But you know what? I am thankful to have people who believe differently than I do in my life. I think their doubts and their anger and their love and their questions and their honesty make me sharper, more compassionate and less complacent in my own beliefs. I believe we’re all on some kind of a faith spectrum, let’s call it zero being no faith in God at all, and 10 feeling as rock solid sure as you possibly can in everything you believe to be true. On a good day, I’m at a 7 or an 8. But have most us had days, seasons, even years in our lives where we’ve hovered at a 1 or a 2, or even a zero? I think that at the very least, we need to be comfortable talking about these very real peaks and valleys, beliefs and doubts on this scary, uncertain human journey we all share. Personally, I choose to believe God loves us no less when we claim we don’t know Him, as when we claim we do. He loves us in our honesty, in our struggles, and in our faith. The pieces of other people’s puzzles are not for me to belittle, judge, or solve. Recently, we had Anderson dedicated at our church, because that felt right to us. This was a symbolic, joyful day for our family, and I appreciated all the love we felt from friends and family, near and far on the faith spectrum.
Many people don’t know this, but I am Aaron’s second wife. It feels weird and foreign to even type those words, because I don’t think of myself that way. Ever. I only think of myself as his wife. His one and only wife. Period. But, for some reason I have never been uncomfortable talking about the fact that he was married and divorced. That is his story to tell, but as far as it has impacted our story, I can’t help but feel thankful to live in a country and culture where people aren’t stoned or disowned (or worse…) for making the painful, HARD decision to end a marriage that isn’t right for them. I would never take divorce lightly, or wish it upon anyone, but I also can’t ignore the fact that some of the best couples I know are part of second marriages for one or both of the people. I also can’t help but feel that something about the experience of going through a devastating divorce makes many people even MORE loving, MORE faithful, and MORE grateful for their relationships moving forward, and a BETTER husband/wife/girlfriend/boyfriend because of the brokenness they have known. I’m only 30, but I can already count at least three friends my age who have been married and divorced – two of the weddings I attended. I don’t know the details of their stories, but from the glimpses I do have into their current lives, these friends each appear to be healthier, happier, freer and more gentle people in light of what they have been through. I would imagine divorce can be a very lonely, alienating, confusing and painful place to be – especially for a young person who never saw it coming. We plaster our Facebook walls with photos of engagements, weddings, and anniversaries, but you almost NEVER see a post or a photo indicating someone got divorced. Those revelations come slowly and quietly, through an absence of photos, an absence of the mention of that person’s name. The rest of us awkwardly assume a divorce has occurred after enough of these absences, but most of us prefer to never actually ask the person directly. I can’t speak for these people, but I would imagine that they would like the freedom to talk about it, the knowledge that they are accepted and supported, and the friendships they have relied on as a married person, to continue beyond divorce. Maybe that is a gift we can all strive to give our divorced friends. No judgment, just love. And a listening ear if they want it.
5. Baby Weight
I have always been a thin person, from a thin family. I really never had any experience with being overweight, feeling overweight, struggling with dieting or exercise or maneuvering the heavy-ness of my body to do simple daily tasks. Until I gained 50 pounds while pregnant.
I still have a good 10+ pounds of extra “padding” almost 9 months post-pregnancy. One of my fellow young mom friends and I were just talking yesterday about all things post-baby-body. From the struggle to make the time to work out, to how we feel about ourselves naked, to considerations of plastic surgery that many women face – we talked about it all. This was just one of many such conversations I’ve had with various women over the past year. Thankful for women I can “talk about it all” with!
One thing I really can’t respect is women who cringe at the thought of what pregnancy would do to the mere physical appearance of their body, to the point of deciding against it (though these vain, narrow-minded people probably shouldn’t be mothers anyway IMHO. Oops, did I just say that?) or DO get pregnant and deny their bodies much needed pregnancy calories and fat intake, valuing their own body image over the health of their baby. It makes me shudder with disgust, to be honest. I’m all for feeling good about your body, but not at the expense of your baby. So I am thankful for my “baby weight” because it is a constant reminder that I am here on this earth serving a purpose so much bigger and more important than myself. I would, without question or debate, rather live the rest of my life in a black one-piece bathing suit, with a soft belly and a happy, nourished family to show for it, then give back the most amazing, sacred experiences that are pregnancy, childbirth and a baby that is worth any bodily sacrifices 1,000 times over.
So on this Thanksgiving Day I am thankful for all the things that everyone else is thankful for, and fully, authentically so. But I am also thankful for the things on this list that aren’t often talked about, that have woven together the unique, imperfect, sometimes uncomfortable but ultimately genuine fabric of my life. And I like my life, and it wouldn’t be MINE without each of these things. So for all of it, I am grateful. Happy Thanksgiving.
“I pray for you, that all your misgivings will be melted to thanksgivings.” – Jim Elliot