When I was a child, I remember going to the fair with my Dad. I loved riding the rides but, most of all; I loved the Ferris wheel. As the big wheel rotated round and round there was a sense of freedom, of being weightless, floating high above the ground, soaring like a bird. At night, from my perch on the big wheel, the city lights resembled millions of fireflies twinkling in the sky transporting me to a fantasy world, a secret place without any cares. I still remember that strange feeling in the bottom of my tummy as the wheel descended and the exhilaration as the wheel approached the top – right before the big drop. My mother would always caution Dad not to feed me before getting on the wheel, just in case my tummy couldn’t take the pressure! Going to the fair was a special time, just Dad and me, and, for a few hours, Dad and I were just two kids having fun.
In my early 20s my thrill-seeking ramped up a notch as I graduated to rollercoasters. The Ferris wheel of my childhood couldn’t begin to compare to the thrill of the giant coasters! I remember the suspense as the coaster slowly climbed upward, the cars clicking and clacking as they inched ever higher and higher. As the coaster reached the top, I recall the rush of adrenalin as it suddenly dropped over the edge causing my stomach to rise to my throat and taking my breath away all at the same time. As I made my way around the track, my body was pushed, pulled, twisted and sometimes turned upside down while defying the forces of gravity. Although I could see the course, I couldn’t really know what to expect until I got there. Each twist and turn became a new adventure.
For the past year, I have been on a different kind of rollercoaster – the emotional coaster of ups and downs, twists and turns. At times my inner self has been pushed and pulled to its limit. Before I was diagnosed with breast cancer, I spent eight months journeying with my mother as she battled leukemia. Thanksgiving was our last holiday together. Four days after Thanksgiving Mom entered the hospital for the final time. Three weeks later she would leave earth for heaven. One day short of the month after I buried her it was my turn in the trenches. Grief would have to wait. Game on.
Thanksgiving is here and the rollercoaster is once again slowly climbing the emotional mountain of our last weeks together. Click clack. I hear my mother’s voice and see her face light up as her great grandson snuggles close to her side quietly playing a video game. Click clack. I smell her perfume. Click clack. I see her savoring not the food but a time filled with family. Click clack. I remember being the one to break the gut-wrenching news that she would not live to celebrate Christmas. Click clack. I remember standing by her grave reading the liturgy. The coaster now comes to a stop. There will be no thrill waiting for me this time.
“At least we had a good Thanksgiving” was her immediate reaction after I announced the doctor’s prognosis. In his letter to the Thessalonians, Paul encourages the church toward a spirit of thankfulness. “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (I Thessalonians 5:16-18). In all circumstances…even in the face of death…we are to give thanks. A good Thanksgiving. In the midst of receiving a terminal diagnosis, my mother was thankful – thankful for a day with her family.
This year Thanksgiving will be different. My first inclination is to fast forward through Thanksgiving. In true honesty, I would prefer to move from Halloween to New Year’s. But I am already strapped in. Click clack. The car slowly begins to move again. Near the top, right before the big drop, a wave of memories flood over me. But something else happened. As I prepared my home to welcome my family, a wave of thankfulness washed over me. I am grateful beyond words for the gift of being alive. I have been blessed with the support of family, friends and a congregation who has loved and cared for me. I have been sustained by God’s grace in ways I would not have known without the “gift” of cancer. As we gather this Thursday for a family meal, I will light candles in memory of Mom and Dad and I will give thanks for their life and their love. Over the course of a year, I have experienced a season of ups and downs, twists and turns. In the midst of an emotional ride, through the deaths of my parents and my battle with cancer, God has blessed me beyond my wildest imagination. Now, Paul, I get it. It is truly a “good Thanksgiving.”
“Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” I Thessalonians 5:16-18