When You Can’t Be with Whom You Want for the Holidays

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That Thanksgiving looked and tasted different, its colors muted and holiday food a bit bland. I still cooked cornbread dressing and apple brown sugar sweet potatoes because if my husband couldn’t be home with us, the “right” food dang well would be. The kids and I ate turkey with friends and kept our hearts open to making good memories, even if they didn’t look exactly like we would have picked.

Somewhere between dinner and pecan pie, I asked Mark if he would mind helping me pull down the heavier Christmas decorations, and of course he said he didn’t mind at all. So on the following weekend he did exactly that and the kids and I decorated our hearts out while singing the familiar Christmas tunes of Harry Connick, Jr. and the Boston Pops Orchestra.

Because when you’re missing the one you love for the holidays, it helps to fill the empty places with familiar sights and sounds.

Unlike a lot of military folks, my husband has been home for more holidays than gone. But we have spent too many to count away from extended family. Memories of our first Thanksgiving together are a mixed bag of hankerings for home and A+ efforts for a party of two. I was the brand new wife who could barely boil water, and I was bent on cooking one grand Thanksgiving meal that would reverse all my previous cooking failures. So with one hand on Martha Stewart’s Living magazine and the other holding the phone to ask my mama another question, I managed to make one halfway decent meal, even if it wasn’t ready ’til 9pm Thanksgiving night.

Because when you’re missing the ones you love for the holidays, the hunger for their closeness eases when you fill up on familiar tastes and treats.

And then there are those holidays piled-high like mashed potatoes, those spent with family away from family – friends who couldn’t go home, either. The plane fare was too expensive, the weather too tricky, and the work schedules too demanding. So we circled our wagons and brought whatever said “home” for us to our community table.

Because when you’re missing the ones you love for the holidays, it helps to blend your own favorites and their favorites into new favorites.

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If this holiday season finds you wishing you could look across the table and see those who aren’t there, know that it’s okay to lament their absence. Know that it’s okay to long for them more than your grandma’s homemade pecan pie. But also know that while your loved ones may be away, the goodness of God is not. Keep your heart open for His miraculous gifts, His just-try-it recipes for different but good tasting memories. Give Him a thanks offering for who is at the table. Your celebration may not look exactly like you hoped or planned, but it may have a glorious beauty all its own.

Happy Thanksgiving, dear friends. May it be full of all kinds of lovin’ and good things from the oven. I am thankful for you!

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  1. There has been this part of me that keeping thinking I need everything to be different. The familiar would be too hard. But yesterday after church ended and I was missing my husband desperatly I realized familar was exactly what I needed. So I headed to Panera Bread (where we would go to every Sunday after church together). I thought I’d take it to go but instead I found myself I table and I prayed, and continued to write all the reason I’m thankful in my gratitude journal. What you shared really made me think about yesterday and how there will be those traditions that need to stay because they make him feel a little closer. I’m thankful for how God reminds me every day that I am never alone.
    Grateful for you my friend!
    Much love,
    Beth

  2. I miss my boys, but I’ll be thinking of them and talking to them on Thanksgiving…Almost the same, right?

  3. Thanks for this encouraging post! I’m getting ready to drive to my parents’ for Thanksgiving this year and while I am thankful to spend some time with them, all I’d really like to do is rest over Thanksgiving Break from grad school and have Thanksgiving with my husband. Unfortunately, my husband is deployed and he’ll have his Thanksgiving on another continent. While I spend time with my parents and siblings, I will make an extra effort to open my heart to God’s goodness in all situations and I won’t be ashamed to miss the time with my husband.

    Thank you for your encouraging words and the reminder to always go back to God!

    • Danielle, ugh…so sorry you have to spend Thanksgiving away from your man. Infinite thanks to you both for your sacrifices. May God’s goodness rain down on you this week and always. xo

  4. I just love God’s timing! I so needed your encouraging words today. My daughter has moved several states away and will not be coming home for the holidays. I’m living on the verge of tears, constantly praying for peace with her decisions. I am thankful she is happy, healthy and has a good job. I’m just a selfish mommy and want to be with her. Again, thank you for your faithfulness and sharing your heart.
    May your holidays be filled with love, blessings and thanks to our loving Father.
    Rebecca

    • You sound more like a mama who enjoys her daughter’s company than selfish. I’m so sorry you can’t be with your girl, but I pray you find other comforts close to your home and heart. Hugs to you, Rebecca.

  5. Thank you for the reminder that God is present at Thanksgiving, even when our family cannot be. Distance can be really tough, but I’m excited for the new memories we’ll make with friends this year. I’m missing my extended family a lot, but thankful for my husband, babies and friends this Thanksgiving.

  6. thank you kristen. got married to my AF man two weeks ago and moved to Germany one week ago. hubs got put on trip over thanksgiving and i was wasn’t allowing myself to acknowledge that i’m really missing everything familiar. sitting here in tears being thankful even still for God’s faithfulness in my life.

    • Oh my, Ashley. Married 2 weeks ago, a move to another country, husband gone…that is *a lot*. I am praying right now that God provides you a seat at a table brimming with good food, warm conversation, and new friends. Thank you for everything, Ashley. Just thank you. xo

  7. I am not part of a military family, but I just am so thankful for you all. And of course, just because of time, there are those now missing from our table, but yes, I will give Him a thanks offering for who is there.
    May God bless you this Thanksgiving and always!
    Elise Daly Parker recently posted..Great Gifts That Give to Others

  8. Kristen,
    It’s still hard not having my dad be present at the table and as my kids have grown into adults I can’t always count on their being at my table for holidays. It makes me count my blessings for those who are gathered around my table… sometimes a hodge-podge. I’m getting better at whomever God hands me on holidays. Giving thanks for those who will join me on Thursday! Happy Thanksgiving Kristen!
    Blessings,
    Bev

  9. This is so true. We are gathering about 8 families in our neighborhood for a giant Thanksgiving meal. And the ‘hood threw an early Thanksgiving for a neighbor who is in New Zealand for six months before they left, so they would not miss Thanksgiving either. That is something I love about my military family — always pulling together.

  10. This has made me cry, but thank you for writing it.

  11. Guess i’m lucky that I’m spending the holidays with my loved ones.