Presents of Presence

My birthday is rapidly approaching. It falls on the Monday after Thanksgiving this year. My oldest son, Robert, was born on my 27th birthday. This year, he turns 25 and I turn 52. I am always happy when we can celebrate together.

Robert called yesterday about last-minute Thanksgiving plans. He also asked what I wanted for my birthday. I really could not think of anything. “Since we will be together for Thanksgiving, I thought we could celebrate,” he said.

Later in the evening, I told my husband about our chat. He quickly responded, “Did you tell him his and Erin’s presence here for Thanksgiving was enough?” No, I had not thought to say that.

Reflecting on those conversations caused me to consider the idea of presents. My thoughts quickly turned to presence. The older I get, the more I realize the preciousness of someone’s presence in my life.

The occasions when all my kids and soon-to-be daughter-n-law are together, sharing the same space and time? Those are the times I am truly filled with joy and contentment. Instances when I share space and time with my parents? Feelings are the same.

I could go on and on. The presence of aunts, uncles, cousins, and friends remind me how quickly time passes. And time spent with them, even when brief, is a gift.

Just this morning, my daughter was reviewing our plans for the next few days. Thanksgiving dinner, birthday lunch with a friend for me, a movie outing for her. Then she smiled and said, “Don’t make any plans for Sunday.” I don’t know what she has planned, but I know it involves her presence.

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving Day. Our home will be filled with good food and laughter. But more importantly, it will be filled with presents. Not ones which require unwrapping, ones which allow embraces.

Embraces which say:

I love you
I've missed you
I'm so glad you're here
Your presence is the best present I could ever receive

Unexpected Wisdom

Kids love to share their thoughts and opinions. Sometimes, they express wisdom beyond their years. I was reminded of this during my second-grade music class.

Our music lesson this week was an introduction to Thanksgiving. Before teaching students a song about being thankful, I asked a question. “What are you thankful for?”

The answers from this particular class were basic and sweet. Food, clothes, family, and friends topped the list. One boy excitedly mentioned his grandmother coming to visit from Mexico.

And then one little girl gave the most precious answer. She very sincerely said, “I am thankful for the food my mom cooks. Even if it is food I don’t like. I would never want to hurt her feelings.”

The more I considered her answer, the more wisdom I recognized. This little girl truly understands what it means to be thankful. Being thankful for something, even if it isn’t exactly the “something” you want. I don’t always display that level of maturity.

Thanksgiving will be here soon. My home will be filled with family, friends, and good food. Hopefully, I will remember that being thankful has very little to do with “things.” It has everything to do with the attitude of my heart toward others.

As for today, I am thankful for the unexpected wisdom of a sweet second-grade girl.

We Need Each Other

As Thanksgiving weekend 2018 comes to an end, I’m reminded of this truth. It may sound obvious, but for some reason can be difficult to admit. We often think the true test of success is independence. Hearing phrases like-“Be your own person!” “Do it your way!” “No one can stand in your way!”-push us toward a conquer the world attitude.

Maybe there are bits of merit/truth in those statements but they can’t represent our end goal. If that’s the case, the result will most likely be loneliness and isolation. In some ways, it’s actually harder to admit how much we need others than to be independent. It requires a level of openness that we tend to avoid.

A relative recently said to me, “You have no idea how much I need you guys.” Wow! Simultaneously simple yet powerful.  My first thought was, “We need you too!”  So why didn’t I automatically respond that way?

This admission made me think about my own life. There’s no doubt I need my friends and family. I need them to share in times of celebration as well as times of sorrow. They help give meaning and purpose to my life. And letting them know is important.

Expressing these sentiments gives those around us the opportunity to show love and support, to feel needed. If we trust others enough to admit how much we need their presence in our lives, our journey will be so much richer. Getting through difficult times will become a joint effort. Instead of feeling like we’re stranded on a deserted island, we will realize that we are not alone.

The truth is, we have no idea how much we need each other until faced with life’s difficulties. And those come when we least expect them. When they do, we can’t be afraid to say, “I need you.” Although it won’t take away the weight, it has the power to provide comfort by allowing someone else to share the burden.

No matter the circumstance, we need each other.

“Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way, you will fulfill the law of Christ.” ‭‭Galatians‬ ‭6:2‬ ‭NIV‬‬

”Remember, no man is a failure who has friends. ” Clarence-It’s a Wonderful Life

Happy Thanksgiving!

Thanksgivings Past

Today is Thursday, November 22, 2018, Thanksgiving Day! As the day begins, I realize one of the things I’m most thankful for is the ability to remember. There are specific people, places and foods which come to mind with each Thanksgiving past. They all blend together, creating a beautiful tapestry.

As a child, my family spent Thanksgiving next door at my grandparent’s home. There were lots of aunts, uncles, and cousins. With thirty plus people present, finding a place to sit was often a challenge. Thus, the phrases “On your feet, lose your seat” & “Butt in the air, lose your chair” were uttered often with laughter.

I had two important Thanksgiving jobs growing up. One was stirring the pie filling for my dad’s chocolate pies until it began to thicken. It seemed to take forever, but oh so worth it! There would always be enough filling left for a few small bowls. My second job was chopping the pecans for mom’s four-layer carrot cake, using a hand-crank chopper. Remember those?

Our family also made the fruit salad, complete with marshmallows and coconut. The funny thing is, every year we’d forget to take it out of the fridge. About the time we were ready for pie, someone would say, “Hey, where’s the fruit salad?” Better late than never, I guess.

After I was married and had my own family, there were new Thanksgiving traditions. Sometimes we would host the family meal, having my family travel from Arkansas to Oklahoma to be with us. Other years we would have dinner in Owasso with Gart’s parents, his sisters and their husbands, and our nieces. There were also times our family would travel to Arkansas, and I would share childhood memories with my children.

A couple of Thanksgivings were spent far away from home. The first was a trip to Colorado. My parents, Gart’s parents, and our three children spent Thanksgiving in a cabin in the mountains. Complete with snow, fire in the fireplace, a big picture window, and deer in the front yard. Except for one harrowing drive during the snowstorm, it was a perfect trip!

Then there was Thanksgiving in NYC.  A once-in-a-lifetime experience. Our daughter, Rachel, marched in the Macy’s Parade. Watching the parade on television had been a tradition every year for as long as I could remember. Seeing it in person was so special. Even though it was the coldest parade day on record, and we survived by taping hand/body warmers all inside our clothes and shoes!

So many great memories. So many things to be thankful for. Yet in the middle of them, there are moments of grief. The Thanksgiving we’ve talked about most the past couple of days is November 2015. The pictures confirm the meal was at our home. A photo of Gart, his dad, and Robert-three generations. Gart’s parents sitting at the bar. Gart’s dad in the kitchen helping his granddaughter, Hannah, and daughter, Andrea. Typical snapshots from any of our family gatherings. What we didn’t know, however, was that it would be our last Thanksgiving with my sweet father-n-law.

So, what are our plans for this year? Today will be a quiet day at home. Me, Gart, Gart’s mom, two of our children. We will watch the Macy’s parade, eat a simple meal, but we will also prepare food for Friday-cornbread dressing and chocolate pies! Friday we will all travel to Dallas. A huge meal and celebration have been planned at Paula and Martin’s home (Gart’s sister and brother-n-law.) Friends, family, even a great grandbaby will enjoy each other’s company, eat lots of good food, while adding to our beautiful tapestry of memories.

Will there be moments of sadness? Most definitely. People we love dearly will not be with us. Some for the first year, some for the third year, and so on. We miss them. Their absence felt even stronger on days such as this. Days we know they loved because they were about family.  Yet through the sadness, we will be thankful. Thankful for the memories of Thanksgivings past.

What are You Thankful for?

Feeling a little low? Need your spirits lifted? Just ask a group of first graders what they are thankful for. You will smile, laugh, and maybe even cry…guaranteed! And their answers just might surprise you. 

Since it is close to Thanksgiving, I chose to do some silly turkey activities in music class last week. We used our voices by following changing lines to help Mr. Turkey escape from the farmer. Then we sang “Super Turkey!” It’s a riot. I’m not sure who likes it more, me or the kids.

After all the silliness, I introduced a sweet song called, “Let’s Be Thankful.” The tune is “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” and the words talk about friends, family, food, and being glad. Another plus, the song also has accompanying sign language.

Before singing the song, I asked the kids what they were thankful for.  Their little hands shot up in the air, ready to share. Calling on them one at a time, I wrote their answers on the Smartboard. The list looked something like this:

• My mom and dad
• Family
• Dogs and cats
• The whole world
• All the people
• My games
• Food
• Cousins
• Friends
• School
• Music
• Having a safe home

One little boy said what sounded like, “My wife.” I’m sure my facial expression showed confusion, so he said it again. Thankfully I realized he was actually saying, “My life.” Sweet baby still has a little trouble pronouncing certain letters.

The board was filling up quickly, but there were still hands in the air. And then it happened. I called on one sweet boy, “What are you thankful for?” With the biggest smile, he says, “I’m thankful for you, Mrs. Morris.” “That’s what I was going to say,” chimes in the little girl sitting behind him.

Needless to say, I immediately choked up. Taking a few deep breaths to help hold back my tears, I added my name to their list. “I’m thankful for you guys, too.“  I smiled as I wrote the word “students” on the board.  Their faces beamed.

Moments like these help me come back to school each day.  Some days I’m so tired, lacking in energy and motivation. Thoughts turn to how much longer I can continue this routine. But then there’s a precious reminder that what I do matters and I feel a push that says, “Keep going.”

So, what am I thankful for? So many things. I need to make my own list!  Today it would begin with this:

• Kind words from a first grader
• Time to rest and refuel next week because it’s Thanksgiving!

What about you?  What are you thankful for today?