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Embracing Change for the Holidays

She was used to having a full house for Thanksgiving. Could she adapt to her daughter and her fiance starting traditions of their own?

Peggy Thompson with her daughter Sarah and son-in-law Matt; photo credit: Shevaun Williams

Fourteen guests sat around my fes­tively decorated dining room table. Plates overflowed with turkey, dress­ing, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes and green bean casserole. Glasses sparkled. Polished utensils gleamed.

Happy chatter filled the room. My husband, Mick, presided at one end of the table. I fussed with a few last details before taking my seat at the other end.

I lived for this moment all year. Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. After a divorce and years as a single mother before remarrying, I found deeper meaning in the joy of a big family gathering.

A crowded Thanksgiving table sig­nified God’s abundant generosity. The more guests, the better. I loved to cook. I loved bringing everyone together.

This year brought feelings I hadn’t expected.

For one thing, this was one of the smallest Thanksgivings Mick and I had hosted during our 24-year mar­riage. We’d had as many as 40 people in our house for the holiday.

I reveled in gatherings like that. I felt like the queen of Thanksgiving.

Over the years, elderly parents and relatives had passed on. My nieces had grown up and now celebrated with my sister and their own families. Think­ing about those missing faces around the Thanksgiving table always made me a little sad.

And something else was changing.

My daughter, Sarah, had brought along a guest, her fiancé, Matt. They would be married the following April. I, along with others in my family, had been praying for Sarah to find the per­fect husband.

Matt was just that. A wonderful man. We were all overjoyed when they got engaged.

Last night, like always, Sarah had come over to spend the night and help me prep our traditional afternoon feast the next day.

We chopped onions for dressing, peeled potatoes, assembled hors d’oeuvres, made artichoke dip, put together the macaroni-and-cheese casserole, whipped cream for pies and baked Sarah’s favorite chocolate ganache cake.

“Mom,” Sarah said as she made the green salad, “Matt and I will be leav­ing the meal early tomorrow to spend Thanksgiving weekend at the ranch.”

Matt’s family owned a ranch in southeastern Oklahoma. Matt’s par­ents were lovely people, and he was a devoted son. Still, I couldn’t help feel­ing wistful. Sarah and I usually spent the day after Thanksgiving together, shopping or visiting a nail salon. Would there come a time when Sarah stopped coming over for the holiday altogether?

I took my seat at the table opposite Mick. He was my anchor, an even-keeled, generous man. That’s one of the reasons I married him. Matt and Sarah sat together halfway down the table. They made a beautiful couple.

Mick said grace. Everyone dug in. Normally I basked in compliments and the sight of my satisfied family. Still, apprehension lurked in the back of my mind.

Ding! I hurried to the kitchen to re­trieve dinner rolls from the oven.

“Warm roll?” I said to Sarah.

“Thank you,” she said. “Mom, sit down and eat. Remember, Matt and I have to leave by three.”

I returned to my seat. I ate a few bites and made small talk until people got up for seconds or took their plates to the sink. Mick gathered dishes to make room on the table for dessert.

Our three grandkids ran outside to play. Sarah, Matt and a couple others lingered at the table with me. Mick’s sons asked questions to get to know Matt better. Matt talked about his career, growing up on a small-town ranch and the Thanksgiving celebra­tion his family would be having later that day.

Sarah circled the table and bent close to me to whisper. “Matt and I should go soon.”

I jumped up. “Don’t you want des­sert? I’ll make coffee.”

Sarah followed me into the kitchen. “I don’t think we have time for des­sert,” she said.

“But the chocolate ganache!”

Sarah smiled weakly and cut herself a thin slice of cake.

“I’ll fix up some leftovers for you to take,” I said.

Sarah put her hand on my arm. I could see she was torn. “We don’t have anywhere to store them. We’re staying the night at the ranch.”

“Well, take this cherry pie.” I wrapped it up and handed it to Matt.

He and Sarah said their goodbyes. I followed them to the door, putting my arms around Sarah and holding her tight. She squeezed just as hard, then got in Matt’s truck.

“Drive safely,” I called, waving from the porch. It was not one of my hap­pier Thanksgiving moments.

My marriage to Mick had been a gift from God. I’d been divorced five years. Mick’s first wife had died young.

Sarah was two when I became a single mom. I had to scramble to find work and pay bills. Thanksgiving dur­ing those years was a small meal at my mom’s house.

Then I met Mick, and everything changed. Mick had two grown sons, and he loved Sarah as if she were his own daughter.

Our Thanksgivings were a celebra­tion of our blended family. We hosted Mick’s sons and their families, his par­ents, his first wife’s parents and their two sons, my mother, my sister and nieces, as well as a cousin from Kan­sas City.

It seemed as if God was saying, “Af­ter a time of hardship, I have prepared a good thing for you.”

Over the years, our gatherings grew. When Mick and I bought land and were building ourselves a new house, we made sure the dining room could accommodate an extra-long table for Thanksgiving. Mick joked that our new home was “the house that Thanksgiving built.”

After Matt and Sarah left, I re­turned to the kitchen and went through the motions, making coffee, serving dessert and chatting.

Eventually, the last guest had left, the dishes were all done and Mick and a cousin had gone upstairs to watch football.

I sat at the kitchen table and opened my Thanksgiving diary. I’ve kept one for years, filled with recipes and notes about who came, which dishes were a hit, which ones needed work.

I came to this year’s entry, with Matt’s name next to Sarah’s.

My daughters-in-law had gushed over Matt after he and Sarah left. They’d been praying for her. Many people had. Family, friends, members of my Bible study.

Matt was a godly man, handsome, responsible, personable, hardwork­ing, from a loving family. A perfect match for Sarah. He was exactly the man I had been praying for.

I felt conflicted. What I most want­ed for Sarah was also what I most dreaded. I started to cry. How could I bear to let my beloved daughter go?

Eventually my tears stopped. My conflicted feelings receded, and a calm come over me. If Matt was an answered prayer, then surely that an­swer was right for everyone. Isn’t God a generous giver?

I had always paid special attention to those words at the beginning of Scripture about marriage. God says that when two people marry, they leave their families and join to one another. They make a new family, just as Mick and I had. If those words were true, then Matt’s family and ours would draw closer in the future.

Did I trust God enough to let Sarah go? Did I truly believe God was a gen­erous giver?

I looked at my diary and its decades of answered prayers. I wouldn’t let my fear or feelings of loss get in the way.

Thank you, Lord, for Matt—a godly man who loves my daughter and who loves his family.

I picked up my pen and began to write notes from this year’s meal. I had so much to be thankful for. So much to look forward to.

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