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Thanksgiving became a precious holiday to my husband and I when we married because our families celebrated simultaneously in two different states, which meant that we would need to do an "every other year" arrangement. One year we'd be with my family, the next with his, and so on. This arrangement has worked well for us all of seven years now, which is cause for giving thanks in and of itself, but it has also taught us the difficult truth of simultaneously celebrating and missing. We love whoever we're with very much, indeed, but we miss whoever we're far from. It's actually a beautiful thing to be able to say: that there's such equal love all around.

This year we came home to my family even though the "schedule" dictated that we should be with my husband's folks. His parents, out of love, suggested that we come home to my people because it's the first holiday season without my grandparents. Any of them. They are all gone now.

We arrived here on a cold, sunny afternoon, and as we came up the front walk I could almost see the shadows of the church ladies who brought covered dishes to the front door in the midst of our grief over my paternal Grandmother, Mimi. That was about nine years ago during this same chilly season. This is the first Thanksgiving without my maternal grandparents. Grandma went on last December and Grandpa went on just a few months ago, in September. 

Even when we expect things to be different in the wake of loss we might find ourselves surprised by exactly which things are changed.

I was setting the table today for the meal and my mother suddenly said, "Oh. There are already enough chairs." That's never happened before. Already enough chairs. I pulled out the silver and the nice glasses. There were two glasses left over. Usually somebody draws the short straw and has to have a plastic tumbler while the rest of us drink our water in style. Extra . . . leftover . . . . room to spare. How foreign. Even as these things articulated the emptiness of this first holiday other things were full - celebrating and missing came to settle together in our midst. I heard my son's delighted laughter as he chased his uncle around the back yard. I saw my husband and my father laughing about something together. I took a walk with my mother in the evening light. I hugged my sister close when she walked into the house. These things were full of joy. But the leftover water glasses, the spare room at the table, and the absence of them . . . these things were full of sorrow.

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A week or so ago a song made its way into my mind - I'm thankful for this. Songwriting has walked me through many difficult things in life, and years ago, before songwriting came to stay, it was the writing of poetry that assisted me in understanding and praying through hard times. I went obediently to the piano and worked my way through this new melody, dancing with the words until they fell in line. It was lovely and I practiced it . . . but it wouldn't be sung. I can't sing it yet. I really wanted it to be ready for a SoundCloud recording this holiday because I know I'm not the only one holding God's hand on one side and grief's hand on the other. But I can't sing it yet, friends, and so I'm offering you the poetry here instead. My hope is that these words (this prayer) would be a comfort and a help to you if you're in the same position - grieving through a time of celebration. 

One

Walking down the empty street, crushing years beneath our feet - 

They look like leaves as dry they fall - We are not what we thought we'd be at all.

Praise the Lord,

Praise the Lord,

Praise the Lord for different reasons.

Praise the Lord,

Praise the Lord,

Praise the Lord through different seasons.

Gain and loss, and the cross of deep compassion bid us come - 

Praise the Lord - make our joys and sorrows one.

Hear us in our empty grief - Teach us from our pain, a peace - 

A letting go - A holding still - Giving rest to our weary, wandering will.

Praise the Lord,

Praise the Lord,

Praise the Lord for different reasons.

Praise the Lord,

Praise the Lord,

Praise the Lord through different seasons.

Gain and loss, and the cross of deep compassion bid us come - 

Praise the Lord - make our joys and sorrows one.

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Dear Reader, I don't mean to suggest that we ignore our pain or seek to overpower it by listing our joys. No. There are Christian teachers out there who advocate for such practices, but I find those to be empty and foolish . . . even unhealthy. Instead, I pray for you what I pray for myself and my own family: That God would give us a sense of God's presence in the midst of our mixed up joy and sorrow, helping us to synthesize and understand this varied life experience with time, patience, and self-love/self-care.

In Brennan Manning's book, A Glimpse of Jesus, the cross is described as a place of sorrow and also a place of deep compassion - a place where adoption happens for each and every one of us . . . . a moment in time that pulls down every barrier separating us from each other and from God. We are invited to participate in the compassion of this long ago moment in our own pouring out of love for God, neighbor, and self. When we are grieving we are in a unique position to have compassion on ourselves, and perhaps on the people nearest us, who are usually the first to be taken for granted. 

Gain and loss and the cross of deep compassion bid us come - Praise the Lord - make our joys and sorrows one.

Peace&Goodness,

OLL

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