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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.

Before I delve into Misunderstood, I want to give a brief progress report on self-employment. I laugh every time I say it. Like I’m saying, “Me and the Mrs.” or something so very unlike me that the words cause my head to swivel around to see who is speaking. But I like the sound of “self-employment”, more than I like, “unemployed.” I appreciated the bank rep with whom I worked. When I asked if my business credit card could be denied because I’m not employed, she said, “Oh, but you are. You’re self-employed!” She almost got a hug.

I’m getting closer to sharing my business concept publicly. I’m not trying to be mysterious. I share it with anyone I talk with. It’s just that publicly, like on the big Internet, is a whole other measure of sharing, and I want certain things to be in place, so when the flood of questions come in, I’m prepared.

Last week was a mix of many things. I was strategic about incorporating people into my day, which resolved the loneliness I was feeling by working at home without human connections. I went to an early morning bible study, rode my bike, and met a couple of friends for a walk. I also analyzed my LLC Operating Agreement and spoke with Legal Zoom tax and business attorneys. I opened a business bank account, worked on my business plan, and corresponded with an agent about commercial insurance, which I hope to finalize this week. I worked a really great one-day customer appreciation gig I got off of Craigslist. Within that, I learned (thanks to You Tube, again) to shuck oysters. When I agreed to do that in advance, I had no idea what shucking live oysters entailed. Live oysters come with other live things, like a little crab, barnacles and some other sort of wiggly thing. Ugh. But I powered through. I took a picture, but I’m not going to post it; I don’t even like looking at it.

MISUNDERSTOOD

I’ve decided that being misunderstood is responsible for many damaged relationships. I know a whole bunch of stories where people have shut down relationships because they weren’t able to communicate themselves well, someone didn’t communicate the whole story, a third party was neglectful in the way they told a story, or a person wasn’t even sure they knew how they felt, but how they were interpreted definitely was not the heart of what they intended. Maybe it was a missed text, a missed post, or two people were talking, but walking in opposite directions, and they just didn’t hear well. There are so many different scenarios that can lead to being misunderstood. If we were a forgiving people and naturally gave the benefit of the doubt to everyone, being misunderstood wouldn’t be a big deal. Unfortunately, we tend to be a cynical, critical bunch. Given that, we have to be mindful that we are human, and in our humanness, there is a high likelihood that we’ll be misunderstood, which is worth considering before we cut someone off, or add another brick to that wall we’re building.

When we react out of hurt or anger, our tendency is to layer bricks to what we believe is a wall of protection. In reality, it’s a wall of prevention: prevention from experiencing all the joy and happiness that awaits us. If we haven’t learned along the way how to contend with hurt, pain, and confusion, one hurt at a time, we pile them up. The wall gets to a point where it’s difficult to see beyond, or to remove any of the bricks, where pride is the binding mortar. 

I know I’ve been on the giving side of being misunderstood. I’ve miscommunicated, I’ve left someone out, or have been absorbed in my own life. Once I realized this, I could only hope to be forgiven, and I recognized the value in giving others a break.

I once hosted a party and forgot to include someone who is now one of my best friends. She was the wife of president of the youth football organization. I was inviting everyone. Everyone! But I forgot to include her in the email. Fortunately, she brought up the gathering. I was embarrassed and apologized profusely, but the explanation still fell short: I forgot her?! Very recently, I completely forgot another best friend’s birthday. In this case, I was grateful for Instagram, after I saw a post by her daughter. I was able to redeem myself because she’s that kind of friend. But what about the occasions where someone didn’t say something to me or I wasn’t reminded on social media, because I missed a post (which in my case is often). What happens when I’m just tired and don’t feel like giving an explanation to something, or extend an extra amount of effort toward someone? What if lounging in the sun and eating nachos is more appealing than answering the phone some days? That’s not likely, but what if?!

A misunderstanding can cause us to become slighted or offended, and even indignant. We can stack that wall, or we can step back and consider options that will make a way for us to see more clearly. As Christians we know that God is perfect love. God’s Spirit lives in us, and there is no fear in perfect love. Of what do we have to be afraid? What causes indignation? Fear of rejection, loss of status or reputation, questioning our worth and value? These are worthy considerations, yet as a Christian I seek not to be measured by the world’s judgement, but by God’s judgement of me. John 4:16-18 explains that perfect love casts out fear. When I trust in perfect love, my fears of loss and anger subside, and I can begin deconstructing walls… or maybe not building them to begin with. And I can be at peace with my fallibilities, and yours, too.

Whether it’s in a social, personal, or professional arena, addressing misunderstandings is worth the discomfort that accompanies making the effort towards clarity. At work one day I’d received a really negative reaction from a co-worker. I couldn’t imagine why she was so angry with me. I did my best to engage her so we could sort it out, but she would have nothing to do with it. I was grateful our supervisor called a meeting. She is so great about confronting hard issues and she has learned some skills that are pivotal in resolution. She began the meeting with all of us stating what we appreciate about the other. Beautiful! We all softened. Then my accusers (there was another who was in agreement with the first) stated their beef with me. Bam. A complete misunderstanding. I held back the tears and silently reminded myself that I was a professional. I was determined to avoid an emotional breakdown, yet there were obvious dead give aways on my face that signaled distress. When it was my turn to speak, I said, “I believe I’ve been misunderstood.” About the same time, my supervisor agreed and confessed a key piece of communication that she’d forgotten to provide to this portion of staff. Being unaware of this information, they were in the dark, and blamed me for something of which I wasn’t guilty. There were a couple of tears among all of us, but they were minimal, and happy. This could have gone a completely different direction had we not taken time for discovery.

Sometimes we don’t need discovery, but rather acceptance. Perhaps others are juggling things in their world, and we’re a ball that gets dropped. Maybe a friend is really good at looking like she’s got it all together, but in reality she has a child on her hip while she’s stirring gravy and helping her 2nd grader with math, wondering how she’s going to get her 8 year old to dance practice, and her husband is away on business. At this time in her life, it’s hard for her to wrap her head around her friend who needs her because she broke up with her boyfriend of 10 years. Maybe someone is struggling to keep themselves or their marriage together, and as a result they’re missing some cues from their children.  Sometimes, we need to look past a personality type that we don’t like. Even a personality type can be misunderstood. Scenarios like these happen ALL. THE. TIME.

I understand that not all rifts are a result of misunderstandings. But so many are! Our relationships are life giving and vital to our well being. This is one thousand times more true when this is your family. Paul says not to let the sun go down while we are still angry. Anger is real and at times justified. But if it’s fueling brokenness, especially in your family, you’ve let the sun go down on your anger, and it’s worth exploring a misunderstanding.

The biggest tragedy of all is this: Most of the walls we build are preventable. When we refuse to humble ourselves and to use our skills, of which most of us are capable, we rob not just ourselves of joy, but we rob everyone of joy. The wall builder and those who are on the other side of the wall are missing out. We miss the fullness of all God has to offer us now, in this life, experiencing the intimacies of one another today and the memories we will cherish once our loved ones are gone.

In other words: We miss you.

We are capable. We will reap huge rewards when we are courageous, confront awkward moments and sacrifice our pride. Let us be human. When Jesus was on the cross he said, “Forgive them Father; they know not what they do.” If only we could follow his humble and brave expression of love.

Forgive me, Father. For I also know not what I do.