Have you ever noticed that most of us remember our worst Thanksgivings? The time the turkey burned, or the time when we were so ill on turkey day, we could only stomach a cracker? The truth is some folks will experience their first worst Thanksgiving this year. However, I pray they keep heart because there is a secret hidden amid difficulty or pain.

Years ago, just before a Thanksgiving day in the early ’80s, I was admitted to the hospital for extreme exhaustion. I didn’t burn the turkey, but I was mentally and physically burned out. It was a terrible time when distress and sadness enveloped me. If I tried to attempt any chore, my heart would race, and my head would pound as if my 30 something-year-old body was giving up or tuning out.

At the time, I was newly divorced with three small children who were looking forward to Thanksgiving Day. The dog had given birth to puppies, the turkey was thawing in the fridge, and my recipes were scattered among work papers and laundry. Yet, here it was the Wednesday night before Thanksgiving Thursday, and I was staring at the ceiling of a hospital room.

Thankfully, my children were safely in their father’s care and traveling to his parent’s home miles away to celebrate the day. My mother and father were planning to drive up from their home in Florida after Thanksgiving to help. No other family members lived in Georgia, and for the first time, I faced Thanksgiving alone.

Tears began to stream down my face turning into downpours. A nurse came into the room and sat on the edge of my bed. She said little but took my hand and held it tightly until the tears dried, and I fell into a deep sleep.

When morning ushered in the dreaded Thanksgiving, I prayed that God would somehow speed up the day for those of us who were in the hospital, and it would be over. However, every minute seemed like an hour, and the only thing that was speeding was my racing heart.

When it was time for lunch, the nurse came into my room with a wheelchair. “Hop in, girl, we are going to have Thanksgiving dinner!” she cheerfully commanded.

“I don’t feel like it.” I quietly responded.

She was a somewhat intimidating nurse with a stern demeanor, and when she said, “You don’t have a choice!” I knew I didn’t. With a scowl on my face and tears beginning to pool, she took me into a room where several round tables were covered in white tablecloths.

Each one was decorated with turkeys formed from various colors of construction paper and a tiny vase holding one flower. Most of the patients had families who joined them with small children in tow. Around my table, with its purple paper turkey centerpiece, sat those of us who were without family, plus the nurse.

I took a deep breath and prayed for aid to survive my utter isolation and overwhelming gloom. When we thanked God for our blessings, I didn’t feel very blessed at all. And, by the look on their faces, neither did anyone else who was sitting with me.

As I tried to eat the cafeteria turkey and dressing, I recall studying the folks around me. We were a group of strangers with individual stories and various illnesses. We were of all ages, of various ethnicities, and living different lives. Yet, we were holding hands and thanking God for all we had.

Out of the blue, and to this day, I have no idea why, I remember suddenly sensing it was my responsibility to spread cheer to this abandoned looking group. To my utter surprise, by the time the tasteless pecan pie was served, our wheelchairs were shaking with laughter.

After two weeks, I returned home, life resumed, and Thanksgivings were never the same again. Every year when that special Thursday rolls around in November, I always recall the purple paper turkey on the hospital dining table as I decorate mine with candles and a cornucopia. Each time I offer a prayer of Thanksgiving, I thank God for the laughter he gave me on my saddest holiday. When I view my family gathered around our Thanksgiving table, I recall the strangers who once held my hands to pray. It was the FAITH we all embraced that stressful day, that eased our pain and turned strangers to friends.

This Thanksgiving, when we give thanks for our blessings, let us also offer a passionate prayer for those experiencing illness, suffering, homelessness, or grief.

My worst Thanksgiving created more appreciativeness for all the holidays that would follow, and I am incredibly thankful for the God who holds my hand through them all.

Lynn Gendusa of Roswell is the author of “It’s All Write with Me!” Essays from my heart. She can be reached at www.lynngendusa.com.

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