Thanksgiving this year is marked by significant family milestones for my brothers and me. Our mother died 60 years ago this month, which is hard to realize. It’s harder still to imagine what our lives would have been like if she had lived. How can you possibly quantify what might have been?

My oldest brother and his wife celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary in 2019. My second brother’s son, an only child, would have turned 40 this year, yet he remains forever age 19, when he died in an accident. This year my son became the dad of a precious baby girl, our first granddaughter after two wonderful grandsons. My mother-in-law turned 102 and still lives by herself with significant help from my husband, but quite independent and strong. So many memories and so many more in the making!

Thanksgiving has always been my favorite holiday. I love its simplicity, relative lack of commercialization, and the prompt for gratitude. This year I’m thankful for the memories, which have been in the forefront of my mind disproportionately in 2019. God has taken me on a journey of remembrance this year—a deeper plunge into my own story than I have gone before. It hasn’t been new information; it’s rather a reprocessing and reframing of things I will never forget.

Many of those memories, especially of early childhood loss, abuse, and later addiction, are painful. In years past, distressing memories sometimes kept me from enjoying the holiday. Once, early in my recovery process decades ago, I was too raw even to attend the family gathering, and I stayed alone at home in bed all day. At times this year, too, some losses felt crushing.

Yet, I’ve also experienced an internal shift that has prompted deep gratitude for the painful times as well as the happier ones. The process of spiritual direction has opened a new awareness of God’s presence through events that are both old and those more fresh. With different eyes (probably coming from a different heart) I see the loving pursuit, the embrace, the feeling-with attendance of an amazing God. As Larnelle Harris sings, he was in it after all.   I am grateful for a new way of experiencing God here and now as well seeing God more in a review of the past. I’m certain I have gained this perspective most in the school of pain. With God, nothing is wasted.

I’ve also been blessed this year to make sweet memories with friends old and new. Some I have known all my life, including one dear man who rode me on his ankle when I was a toddler, and others who have walked with me through thick and thin. Some people I may have known casually before, and this year has brought a deeper friendship or a reconnection. Such memories warm my heart and make me want to reach out in gratitude. If my words bring people to your mind, too, I suggest you do the same.

As Thursday draws near, I pray you are blessed with good memories and good people with whom to share them. If what comes to mind is more painful or your day is filled with loneliness or longing—and I think of those dear to me who have lost a loved one this year or are enduring very difficult circumstances—I pray you will be warmly surrounded with the arms of a loving God who is with you through all the memories, including those being created in the moment.

Marnie C. Ferree