The week of Thanksgiving…what a great week! Football, food, family (not in that order)—all good things. I have celebrated over 40 (getting close to 50) Thanksgivings in my life. I can’t remember a bad one. Even though all of my memories are good, I must admit Thanksgiving has changed through the years. The holiday looks different as an adult than it did as a kid or teen. Let me explain.
My family would load up and go to my grandparent’s house in what was then the rural town of Albertville, AL. My grandparents (on my dad’s side) lived on a farm that had cows, a couple of horses, a cornfield and a 40-acre Pecan orchard. There was plenty of open space to roam, play football or have a dirt clod battle in the barn (some of those dirt clods smelled suspicious). At these gatherings I remember seeing more food than could possibly be eaten, having days I wish would not end and sometimes laughing so hard that my face and stomach hurt.
Both of my parents are from this town so my aunts, uncles and cousins from both sides of the family would be there. My mom’s family was smaller than my dad’s so most of the time they would join us on the farm. My grandmother (on my mom’s side) was a sweet, quiet lady who constantly smiled. Thanksgiving for her was different than it was for the rest of us. She had lost her husband to heart disease many years earlier, outlived some of her children and experienced many disappointments in life. Thanksgiving to her was a reminder of who was not there. Even though she laughed and celebrated with all of us, I can still remember seeing sadness in her eyes. I saw in her that it is possible to be thankful even when life has been hard.
When I got married, my family grew. I could no longer just go to Albertville and celebrate. My wife’s parents became a part of my family. They live in Clearwater, FL. Cherry’s parents are lovely people, but they are unique. They march to their own drum and rarely change the beat for anyone else. We love them and enjoy being with them, but it is not always easy. In spite of this, we wanted to spend the holiday with them.
For the first several years of our marriage, the years prior to kids, Thanksgiving turned into a road trip to Clearwater. I can’t tell you how thankful I am for those trips. Even though I missed my family in Albertville, I was having a blast with Cherry and her family. I learned as life changes we gain more people to be thankful for even when those people are different than us. That became abundantly clear when we had kids; and Thanksgiving changed again. With kids, road trips became more challenging and expensive. Thanksgiving began turning into grandparents coming to us.
In 2007, Cherry and I shared with our parents that God had opened a door for us to move to California. We were excited about the opportunity and even though our parents were very supportive, they were also sad. It was our first Thanksgiving in CA when their sadness caught up to me. It would be the first time we would not be with any extended family. We would be alone. I’ll never forget Cherry crying in bed on Thanksgiving morning. I’ll always remember telling the boys that we were not going to AL or FL and that no one was coming to us. I can still see their blank stares that silently screamed, “What are we going to do?”
That first year was rough, but it got better. God gave us new friends and even though they were not family, the friends became like family. For a couple of years one family in particular, the Hernandez clan always invited us to spend Thanksgiving with them. One year we spent the holiday at one of the prettiest places on the planet: Lake Tahoe. Cherry had a co-worker who let us use her cabin. To this day that Thanksgiving weekend has been one of my favorites.
We now live in Ohio. Our kids are teenagers. It is next to impossible to go to AL or FL for a holiday weekend. Grandparents come to us some years, but we never see any extended family. We have now made our own traditions, invited others to join us in our celebration and learned that God’s faithfulness endures no matter where we are, whom we are with or who is missing.
The holiday season is a happy and sad time at the Duckett home. We are happy because God has been so good, given us so much and been faithful to us in ways we cannot fully describe. We are sad because in spite of what we do have, what we don’t have is the large family gathering of the past. To follow the Lord we have made sacrifices and endured separations. We would do it again, but to follow Him costs something. The cost is small when we filter it through the eyes of eternity. I believe whatever sacrifice we make or separation we endure for Christ will be richly rewarded on earth and in Heaven, but while on earth we will always feel the scar of the cost.
Thanksgiving changed again in 2015. In fact, Cherry and I were not even in the country. We were in Colombia. We had gone there to bring home two brothers we were in the process of adopting. We desperately tried to jump through all the necessary hoops to have them home for Thanksgiving. It just was not meant to be.
On that day we ate our Thanksgiving meal at a food court at a mall in Bogotá with our adoptive sons. As happy as we were, the moment was awkward. Neither one of them could speak English, turkey and stuffing was on no menu and our biological sons, who we missed terribly, were back in the States waiting for us to all return. To make the moment even more awkward, Colombia does not observe Thanksgiving. No one knew what Cherry and I were celebrating, and no one would understand us if we tried to explain it. It truly was a wonderful, awkward day.
Much has changed in two years. The boys are speaking English now (sometimes too much) and they are growing in their understanding of the holiday. They have discovered what green bean casserole and pecan pie is, but they don’t care for either of them. Some things have not changed; we are still experiencing some awkward family moments. One thing no one tells you when you adopt is that your family will never again be what it was. That one fact is both wonderful and sad at the same time. I can’t explain it. I just know that’s how it is. I do know I am thankful for my family. I love them all; the ones I’m with and the ones that are miles away. As the years unfold Thanksgiving will continue to change. I accept this and I look forward to it because my God, like a master chef, knows how to mix the ingredients of life to make something wonderful and tasty.