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This Thanksgiving was so different, but no different. While Covid was a component, it wasn’t the culprit.

The holidays are not my favorite time of year. In fact, they’re my least favorite, which seems almost sacrilegious, especially because, I am religious. Not only am I religious, but Thanksgiving used to be my favorite holiday. Tired of consumerism, but loving food to a fault, a holiday centered around foods unique to once a year and family, was just great with me. It segued into transforming the house into a Christmas wonderland. I relished the Christmas spirit, with my children underfoot or at older ages, making their Christmas gift lists overtly known. The gift exchanges with friends, baking, giving extra to those in need, I loved it all, but so much more, because it was done within the framework of my family.

Which is probably why it’s so hard to find joy in the holidays still, ten years after my divorce. Wait, it might be eleven! But I’m not counting. Those are the holidays that I still want, and cannot have. I made the decision soon after the divorce that I would not give in to the temptation of a stale emotional state. So, for the holidays, I would do my best to maintain the integrity of who I am. Each year, while on a lesser scale, but still in earnest, I pursue the holidays. I do my best to maintain a semblance of the home and traditions my kids grew up in. While the family we knew died, we don’t have to live like we died, but can live and thrive.

But that is no easy task. Thriving can mean striving, and if one is always striving, seeking that life that we desire, the one that brings us joy and peace, the process can be arduous.

Even today, with just my daughter, our two dogs, and myself, I made a full Thanksgiving dinner. Yes, a whole turkey, and the works. Because of medical issues, my daughter did not eat (these are not related to her medical issues she had in HS or college). I can imagine what some of you are thinking, and it’s probably not, “Can I have the recipe?”

Since the divorce, this family still struggles to find its footing. The reasons are complex, and for many families of divorce, this is not the case. But it is the case for ours, and I know there are others.

In spite of the big meals I make, the bounce in my step, the decorations of tinsel and sparkle, the holidays are difficult, and I find myself enduring them, instead of running into their arms with the excitement I once knew.

Well-intentioned people have advised me with admonishment to move on, reminding me that God is my husband and my father. My first response is to punch them. I want to say, “Well, that’s easy for you to say, since you have one.” Would one say that to someone who lost a child in death?

Punching them isn’t cool though, and I could not agree with them more. Without God as my husband and father, I would not be here today. Besides the health of my daughter, my relationship with my children, and living without my family during the holidays has brought me closer to God than any other thing. God created my family. It is his design. And I believe that as my heavenly father and husband, he mourns with me, with every ornament I hang, the disappointments I bear, and the tears that fall.

If you are divorced and strive to thrive, but face the glare of the holiday lights that expose the losses, and intensifies the pain, I see you. I feel you, and I know you. God created the design of family to be the pillar of our society, and our strength in times of good and bad. Every form of media emphasizes the value of family. That when we have our family, we have everything, even when faced with the most difficult of circumstances.

What does that mean then, for those who don’t have family, or it’s been dismantled beyond recognition? When that family is no longer there, like the rag that gets tossed around a bit, yet still predictably, always ready for use when needed?

There are times I turn to some of my amazing friends. Some people will turn to romantic relationships, drugs, or alcohol. Determined to wedge something into that empty space, they attempt to complete the puzzle that was uniquely made for their family.

My friends are a generous salve. They are angels in my life, divinely appointed for me. And while they are sometimes an answer to prayer, they, nor drugs, alcohol, or romantic fulfillment can answer prayers or change hearts.

Every year, it’s the same drill. I brace myself, I prepare myself, I’m disappointed, I grieve, and I beg God for mercy. And every year, he delivers in specific, unique, and holy ways that are difficult to articulate, because I think, all miracles are.

This Thanksgiving was anything but typical. It was fragmented and disjointed. I couldn’t find the answer in one TV illustration on how to handle the complexities of Covid. None of the experts on TV addressed my personal scenario. But God heard my pleas and answered my prayers. He gave me courage to find the right words when I needed them, and tenderness in my execution. Angels were on my side and in my presence. My daughter and I shared a time of conversation that united us and a memory that I will treasure; one on which we can build.

The holidays shine a light on the brokenness that we work so hard to recover. But there is one who is the light of the world, whose light is so powerful, that he will not let the darkness overpower him (John 1:5). He is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit (Psalm 34).

Covid is hard. I understand that the destruction it’s caused. But the media and God are right. That when we have the love of our families, we can overcome any hardship. Of the hardships we face,  none compares to the hardship of losing one’s family.

Being this transparent is hard for me. But I know this hard walk. It’s exhausting and discouraging when we don’t reap what we’ve sown. It reminds me of some favorite movies. One I recently saw called The Biggest Little Farm. It documents the enormous energy that a family puts into building a farm out of nothing. One fiasco and tragedy after the other occurs, until ultimately they discover how all of those mishaps shaped their farm into the success it is today.

The other movie is more relevant to this time of year. That is “It’s a Wonderful Life.”  After so much sacrifice and devotion to the people he loves, George Baily faces the potential collapse of his business, and not because of any fault of his own. Through an angel, and the beautiful gift of perspective, George is able to reconcile his losses and overcome his despair.

It’s true that in the end, George has his family. But it’s God who gives him the perspective he needs to be pointed in the right direction, positioning himself for God’s miracles.

Many of us can relate to George. If that weren’t true, they wouldn’t have made a movie about it! Look for your Clarence, and let him point you in the right direction.

You can do this, because God can do this.

PS: Oh, and a whole pie. These are the best store-bought homemade pies ever.

WHO World Mental Health Day, October 10, 2020

There was a time when I didn’t understand the term “mental health.” Granted, I was much (much) younger. But still, in my early twenties I recall someone taking a mental health day off from work. I couldn’t remotely wrap my head around it, and assumed the person didn’t have what it takes to overcome a difficult day. When in fact, that was exactly right. On that particular day, this person did not have what he/she needed to manage.

But because I could manage, I didn’t understand why others couldn’t do the same. Many (many) years later, I know there is much more to that person’s story than the simplistic narrative I’d assigned to it. To date, I’ve been fortunate enough to have not taken a mental health day off of work, yet I’ve taken days off for the flu or strep throat. No one questioned me. It was “deserved,” and in fact, co-workers would be glad that I spared them from a contagious illness.

My lack of understanding was ironic, because I am no stranger to the tragedies of mental health diagnoses. Before I was placed in a foster home at a young age, I lived with my mother who was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, and then also bi-polar.

Years later, as an adult with my own family, I faced the complexities of various diagnoses with immediate family and extended. I also have friends whose depression cripples them and impacts the trajectory of happiness their families anticipated.

Our mental well being, whether clear and intact, or plagued with an altering state, penetrates our relationships and affects the dynamics of our families and friendships.

A mental illness can cause frustration, weariness, and unbearable grief. When left ignored, confusion and disbelief at circumstances create havoc, and a nonproductive battle against a nebulous enemy ensues.

Like cancer or ALS, or any other physical ailment, grave or not, an illness must be identified and attacked with fervor if there is a chance of survival. That’s why people will say, after many trips to a doctor, “At least I know the diagnosis.” Now they can consider step 2.

People experiencing mental illness often call the symptoms something other than what they are, ashamed to assign a diagnosis to it. Instead, they adopt an “I can manage this on my own” mentality that is the “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” signature of old American culture.

That is not all bad, which is to say, put things in place that will give you an advantage. Pulling oneself up by the bootstrap does not mean, doing it alone, or without assistance from medicine.

Pulling oneself up requires vulnerability.

It’s asking of ourselves, what we ask of each other.

It’s recognizing the stigma that unfairly accompanies the illness, but not giving it any power.

It’s a decision to build scaffolding around your world, to safely navigate in an effort to reach what seems so very unattainable.

It is exposing the condition and speaking truth. It’s saying, “I have strep throat and it’s completely debilitated me. I will need to see the doctor, and take medicine to overcome this illness.”

Except, it sounds a little different.

Instead, it’s, “I have anxiety about the things I can’t change, and I want to run from them and ignore them at all cost. I don’t think my perspective is what it should be. I need to see a doctor, and I will take the medicine prescribed to me.”

For me, it will first always include:

“God, show me the way. I cannot do this on my own, point me in the direction of joy and happiness.”

And then I will lift the lead-heavy blanket and make my way out of bed because God has told me I have a purpose. Ephesians says, For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”

Once, someone I love very dearly said to me, “I don’t want to have to take medicine my whole life.” I replied (I hope gently), “Our friend doesn’t want to wear a prosthesis his whole life.”

Life can be so unfair. Our streets are filled with unfairness; those who couldn’t figure a way out. My own mother was one of them. She didn’t understand that she was mentally ill. Her mental illness prevented her from seeing the world with clarity and perspective and from self-sufficiency.

That is the tragedy. Unlike a person with a physical ailment, who is keenly aware and might equip themselves for battle, some mental illnesses rob a person of their ability to see the enemy, in which case, the enemy has the advantage.

And that is why, if we can see the enemy, we must all call it what it is, and attack. That is pulling ourselves up by the bootstraps.

The WHO is hosting a big event today. Click here to access.