The Thanksgiving that almost wasn’t (or the one where I get smacked with truth, and it hurts)

Noelle kept trying to stick bendy straws in my cranberry candle centerpieces like they were a cocktail.  This has nothing to do with this post, it’s just funny.

This year we hosted Thanksgiving at our place.  It was the four of us, our friends the O’Neals and a little girl form the Youth Shelter that spent the day with us.

Kel has long harbored dreams of frying a turkey, I have long stood in the way of these dreams. I’m not a fan of deep frying, period, in fact I’ve never deep fried anything in my life.

If you gave me a fry daddy, I would probably give it away, mama don’t fry that.

Yet, after several reassurances that the oil would touch only the skin and the meat would be tender, not soggy, I agreed to the deep fried bird.  Yet, it still bothers me, all that oil!

At 10:30 Thanksgiving morning Kel began to rig up the turkey fryer, only to realize that were short on peanut oil.  So off to WalMart he went to procure a few more gallons of oil, gag.

Around 11:30 Kel came in to tell me that the oil was not heating up and if something didn’t change, we may not have turkey this year, we may have to figure out another feature protein.

AH NO! I’d been planning this day for weeks, we had company on our way, I took a big sip of my bloody mary and said something like: “No we’re having Turkey, you get out there and figure it out.”

Kel, Jason and the kids gathered around the Turkey Fryer.. like it’s a campfire or something. Yes it made me nervous having them around hot oil…

Not very cute of me but it was Thanksgiving!  There needed to be Turkey!

He was right, fried turkey is in no way greasy, but instead tender and fantastic. Also it freed up my oven for all the sides!  And yes I’m on my phone in the background clearly doing a great job of being “fully present” and “in the moment”

Finally when our friends arrived the boys decided that the old, loaner turkey fryer wasn’t cutting it so they went to WalMart (again) to drop $50 on a new fryer.

At this point I didn’t care about the money, we needed to get in there and cook that turkey, Stat!

Eventually Kel came in with a this golden brown bird on my largest platter and carved it up triumphantly.

Dinner was served and enjoyed with relish, cranberry relish.

The kids had a snack to hold them over while they watched Elf.  No harm, no foul… except the obvious 17 lb fowl.

After dinner, the kids and Dads went outside to play soccer while Joely and I poured wine and sat down to make Christmas wreaths and chat about life. Mostly what’s broken with the foster care system actually.  You know, typical thanksgiving banter.

Overall Thanksgiving was a tremendous success and I couldn’t have scripted a more beautiful day, even with the two trips to WalMart to save the bird.

Our Thanksgiving almost didn’t happen, turkey-wise, but there’s this whole other front on which Thanksgiving almost didn’t happen and that’s in my heart.

Lately I’ve been intensely focused on all that isn’t, all that we don’t have, all that’s broken and all the goals we have yet to meet.

The weight I’ve gained, the budget we’re not meeting, the sleep and writing time I’m not getting, the prayer time we’re not having, the books I’m not reading to the kids.. or about the kids… I could keep going… 

All the cute little notes on the thanksgiving line above our bar were scribbled down half heartedly because I needed a good photo of thankfulness for a blog I was writing for.

The ugly truth it, I have a heart of ingratitude. Even when I bow my heart to pray, my list of blessings is rote, repetitive, my heart isn’t in it.

I know that we’re blessed, in my head, but I’ve allowed criticism to become the central focus on my heart.

I’ve acted ashamed of who we are as a family and what we’ve been given.

Sure you can come to our house, but it’s small, and I’m sorry about that.

Sorry about my kids, they don’t do chill very well.

Sure you can ride in our van, sorry about the mess and the dented fender.

Everything I have is seen through these ugly glasses of ingratitude that I’ve been playing off as suggestions or room for improvement.

I’ve been quick to point out all the blemishes and flaws, to turn our blessings into crap.

Yesterday, I was privileged to hear a message about gratitude by Pastor Steven Furtick and it shook me up inside.

Yet, shamefully, I was quick to forget his teaching as we drove away from church.

It took some pretty stern words from Kel and about 2 hours of hot tears to realize that I have a heart problem.

I lack gratitude. Somewhere along the line I developed a sense of entitlement and an ugly critical streak that is hurting my family and creating a massive block between God and me.

He’s right, this negativity, this glass half empty is killing our family’s hope, keeping us in a place of misery.

So, as the new Turkey Fryer saved our bird, so did this painful reminder save my Thanksgiving weekend, with only two hours to spare.

I’ve been knocked on my ass, convicted, laid bare.  This morning I’m feeling deeply sorry with only a hint of steely resolve to change.  Yet it’s growing, this change within me.  I cannot remain the critical, glass half empty woman I have been.

Instead of point out room for improvement, I pray I learn to trust God to do the motivating.

Instead of complain, worry and spout black lies about the state of things I will beg Our Father to wash the mud from my eyes and see my life with a heart of thankful praise.

Today I meekly ask that he help me learn to live in a rhythm that sees all that is instead of all that isn’t or all that we don’t.

The critical, the negative, the snark, I think it’s killing us guys.

What about you?  I pray that you’re on the other side of this heart problem that I have.  Yet if you’re not, I pray God shakes us constantly until we learn a life of thankful praise.

  • Kate

    Oh the hard truths, they sting! I feel for you, and thank you for sharing honestly where you are! I’ll have to think hard about this one myself!

    • Anne Vermeulen

      Oh man… I hear you. It’s been a few days since Thanksgiving, and while I managed to have a semi-grateful heart during the festivities, the days that followed showed my true colors. I’ve been focusing on the money we don’t have for all the things we want (but really don’t need, if we’re being honest); our lopsided Christmas tree and the constantly-failing string o’ lights; the bare, undecorated house in comparison to the impressive light displays lining our streets; the kids that just cannot operate at any volume below 11; the weight I’ve gained and the food I cannot eat; an unclear job situation.

      I don’t have any great words of wisdom here; I’m just right alongside you, grasping for the grace being offered to me and striving to keep my heart focused on the blessings, not the burden. I am terribly grateful for your words here – I can’t tell you how many times in the past few months I’ve read a post you’ve written and it was like reading my own diary (if I actually kept one).

      Side note: I cannot handle fried turkey. Not that I don’t intensely love fried things – this momma loves herself some fried foods, amen – but I worked as an RN on a burn unit straight out of nursing school, and I always had a patient or two following a holiday that had had an “incident” involving a turkey fryer. (You’ll be relieved to know that 99% of the time, it was also combined with a staggering amount of equal parts alcohol and sheer ineptitude, neither of which Kel seems to possess, so I think you’re okay here.) I feel equally as skittish about bonfires, lightning bolts, fireworks displays, mobile meth labs (YES – long story there), and any religious or cultural ceremony involving lots of candles and gauzy fabrics.

  • Mark Allman (@Vaderalman)

    I think ingratitude lends to all kinds of problems. It certainly leads to bitterness and it is contagious. It is so easy to fall into the woe is me pit and not have a ladder to get out and sometimes not want one for it feels good to wallow in misery. We like to feel emotion and we really can make ourselves feel misery.

    To be thankful I think changes the heart from one that seeks more to one that seeks to give more. It takes work to make yourself look at the reality of where you are at. To realize you may have troubles but you are also living with a certain amount of bounty. You have to work to move away from those self important feelings of entitlement. I deserve this because I am this and I sacrifice this and I am good at this. We should consistently seek to do those things we believe in and in doing so not pat ourselves on the back and back ourselves into the thinking we are deserving of this and that.

    Let us fight against that desire to bitch and complain and work to identify our daily blessings of substance and relationships.

  • Annette Skarin

    Dear Leanne, My thanksgiving was not even slightly a typical, American, this is what our Thanksgiving with the traditional turkey-on-the-table-with-all-the-sides-going-with-it, looked like. My Thanksgiving was more like a typical what happened after the first thanksgiving and the massacres and the people acting like people do after our Norman Rockwell Painting on the wall is taken down. I went through hell, but because I did, I was able to fall on my face and cry out to God. A little more relationship mending was done, and a little more boundary setting for protection. I won’t go into details here as I feel like my real thanksgiving came after our message Sunday. And I was able to be grateful that I’m not in my perfect home here. I have stopped trying to meet the expectations of what this typical traditional day is supposed to be like and instead I focus on what the eternal sitting down at the table in perfect harmony will be like. I was a foster child for years and I think that, even if the turkey wasn’t the happiest, the looks on the childrens faces said it all. You are who God made you, and you were able to show them how you work through conflict, so you gave them a gift, and you shared a meal and laughter. Good for you.

    • Jill –

      Leanne this is a wonderful post and I am so impressed by your honesty. Personally my heart issue is always trying to figure out how to be grateful for the little things in the face of so much big brokenness in the world. I experience ingratitude just by spending way more time lamenting brokenness that praising God for his good gifts.

      Also this is not as deep, but when anyone in my family is down about something my mom always sings (very off-key) the song “Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate the Positive!” She’s very lame but it makes us laugh. 😛

    • leannepenny

      I pray this finds you healing your beautiful spirit.

  • Andrea DeJonge

    Deep fried turkey is the best! So is deep fried thankfulness! I’ve been pretty dissatisfied with life lately and looking at changing things, which can be good a good thing sometimes. You can’t be satisfied or complacent. But that being said, it is also CRUCIAL to look at what you do have, and what is amazing in life. We are given so many gifts without doing anything to deserve them. Thanks for the reminder! :) Happy Holidays!

    • leannepenny

      Absolutely Andrea! I’ll be keeping up on all your changes too. You’re wise on the gratitude my friend.

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