Thankful for the Thorns

No one imagined our Thanksgiving table talk would end in tears. As we went around the table sharing what we were each thankful for, we couldn’t have anticipated my sister and I would soon be standing in the kitchen, sobbing, holding each other close.

And yet, that’s exactly how this year’s Thanksgiving meal ended. With only scraps of turkey and stuffing and lingering bits of glazed carrots and mashed potatoes left on our plates, we all went around the table sharing the things, the people, the moments we were most grateful for.

We all had similar sentiments. We were grateful for family, for each other, for the new baby sleeping peacefully by my sister’s side – my beautiful nephew. And, in some ways, we were even grateful for the pain that had brought us this beauty. We recognized that the discomfort of the unknown was also bringing us exciting new challenges and opportunities we hadn’t even discovered yet.

Shouts of Joy

As my sister Lisa expressed her thanksgiving, something she said caused me to shout with joy. In response, everyone turned to look at me wide-eyed.

“Shhh, don’t wake the baby!”

Perhaps it was the wine that allowed the tears to flow more freely in that moment. As I felt them brimming at my lashes, my lower lip trembled, and I knew it was all over. While my dad began to share his thanksgiving, I tried to blink back the tears, but my efforts were in vain.

Not wanting to disrupt the conversation, I quietly excused myself from the table. The last thing I wanted was to cause a scene after I felt like I’d already disturbed the peaceful, sleeping baby.

I grabbed a tissue and dabbed at my eyes, trying to collect myself so I could return to the table and resume the festivities.

But Lisa quickly followed me into the kitchen and looked at me with such love and grace in her eyes – the perfect antidote to all the fear and anxiety I was feeling about the new role I played in her life.

As it turned out, we were both feeling insecure about our new roles.

I desperately wanted to be a good sister to Lisa and a good aunt to my nephew Tate, but I felt like I kept failing them both. I couldn’t seem to do anything tangible enough to really help Lisa with her entrance to motherhood. And while Tate was getting increasingly comfortable resting in my arms, he would still fuss, and I felt clumsy and unhelpful.

Of course, Lisa had it much harder. From what I had observed with my friends and now my sister, being a new mom is everything people say: amazing, miraculous, incredibly challenging, and riddled with obstacles like exhaustion, fear, and shame. You constantly feel like you’re not doing enough.

So, we both stood there in the kitchen, hugging, letting the tears flow freely because while we held different positions at the table – she the new mom, me the new auntie – we were both experiencing the fear and uncertainty that comes with all that newness.

The Hard Stuff

Those moments in the kitchen together were some of the best we’ve had in months. We were vulnerable with each other. We let our guards down and got real.

Lisa is such a natural, nurturing mother. As many people have already commented when observing her with Tate, she makes it look easy. And yet, there are all sorts of uncertainties and challenges she’s facing as a new mom. What she needed right now was grace.

That’s what passed between us as we stood there together in the kitchen. Me sharing my insecurities, her sharing the details of her struggles. Grace changed something between us. It brought us closer into each other’s inner circles.

Lisa trusted me with her pain, fear, and tears. And while I felt like mine had less validity since I’m just the new auntie, she didn’t make me feel that way at all. Instead, our mutual tears brought us closer. We were back in community in the most intimate way – sharing everything with each other, allowing each other to see the multi-faceted truth of our situations, not holding back the hard stuff.

That’s the heart of community that Paul talks about in the book of Acts: “All the believers were together and had everything in common.”

They shared everything they had in very tangible ways, but I have to believe they also shared their hearts with each other. Paul talks about them breaking bread in their homes, eating together with “glad and sincere hearts,” and praising God.

Sincere hearts.

That’s what I experienced this Thanksgiving. Around the table. In the kitchen. My family was so open and honest about our realities this year. We’re so grateful for each other, for Tate, for job changes and new opportunities. And yet, there’s some pain in all of that.

Thankful for the Thorns

“I think that’s often how it is,” my mom said when it was her turn to share her thanks. “With the deepest gratitude of our hearts, there’s often deep pain that comes with it.”

She reflected on how this time with Tate, her sweet grandson, has redeemed some of the pain she felt as a new mom to Lisa and me. We were – ahem – not as peaceful as this baby boy is. Understandably, my mom took much of that upon herself. Like most new moms, she felt like she wasn’t doing enough.

I hope, looking back, she can see that she did more than enough. She’s been the most incredible mom throughout our lives, and now she and my dad are amazing grandparents and a huge support to my sister and brother-in-law in this season.

But I think she’s right about redemption.

When we’re in those moments of pain and confusion, it’s so hard to see what good could possibly come out of them. We don’t have the full story, and we’re just living chapter by chapter, page by page, trying to trust that there are more words. More moments. More pages to come. More life to redeem what’s come before.

That’s what we celebrated around the table last night. A beautiful baby boy. A marriage on the horizon. A new job. And still a lot of unanswered questions and uncertainty about the future. Beauty and pain. Thanksgiving and thorns.

Like Paul, these thorns keep us from being proud. None of the beauty we celebrated this Thanksgiving – none of the goodness in our lives – is a result of us working hard enough or being good enough moms, sisters, fiancés, friends. It’s all grace. And we will continue needing more and more of that great grace throughout our lives.

“My grace is all you need,” our Father says. “My power works best in weakness.”

We thank Him for that truth. For the thorns and the grace, we give thanks.

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