Last weekend my parents were in town, and we had a wonderful visit with them. Because this is the first year that I won't be in Michigan for either Thanksgiving or Christmas (sad), I decided to treat their visit like the holidays. This mainly meant that we did puzzles together (three puzzles, in fact), watched movies, went for walks in the brisk Montana air, drank lots of chocolate-flavored coffee (because why on earth not?), munched on salted caramels, and went caroling all around Helena. Okay, so just kidding on that last one; the image of Bryan, my parents, and I caroling made me laugh. We did give them the full tour of Helena, though - just no caroling involved (and Helena can be thankful for that).
Then, because I'm me and I'm crazy and I love big family meals, I decided Sunday would be our day to feast. After church that morning, we had smoked salmon with dill and capers, cheese, rice crackers, and sliced apples for lunch, accompanied by sparkling apple juice, of course. To burn off a few of those calories, my dad and I walked the dogs. Once back at home, my mom and I tackled the pre-Thanksgiving dinner. We roasted a nearly six pound turkey breast, made gluten free gravy (and by we I mean my mom did this), mashed potatoes, baked winter squash and tossed a cranberry and pumpkin seed salad. The day before, I baked corn bread and pumpkin pie and cooked the cranberry-pomegranate sauce, so those were mostly ready to go. We set the table, poured sparking wine, and enjoyed a glorious feast. It was lovely - the company, the food, the conversation. When the trip wrapped up, I was sad to see my parents go, but I was thankful for the opportunity to spend a few days together.
This week I was putting together a Christmas list, and I felt amazed at the fact that there is so little that I really, truly need. That thought honestly almost brings me to tears, because, while Bryan and I are hardly "rich" by American standards, we are indeed incredibly blessed. We have a warm and comfortable shelter, jobs, food to eat, our health, and so much more. As I pondered that, I thought about how my favorite gifts from God are people and experiences. They are memories like this pre-Thanksgiving meal with my parents; like the time Sarina and I drove to Kampen, Netherlands to see where my great grandma was born; the moment Bryan proposed on a beach in Chicago and the surprise flowers that awaited me when I came home from work yesterday; the images of both of my grandpas' smiles that are embedded in my brain; the weekly phone calls with Kelsey that always uplift my spirit; opening stocking stuffers on Christmas morning with Bryan's family; the birthday cards from my grandmas and great aunt; the Monday nights that were filled with tea, prayer, and truth-telling in my women's group; the moment I first saw my newborn nephew in the hospital; sipping afternoon tea in England; the candlelight service at Kate's church; a childhood of playing duck hunt and basketball with my brother and coming up with dance routines with my sister. These are my gifts, and they are wondrous and many.
Of course, that's not to say that I never want a new sweater or cute earrings, or wouldn't love to spurge on a Kate Spade purse or a Vitamix blender, but I know that those things, while enjoyable, won't give my life meaning or fill me with a deep and abiding joy. I also know that when I write a Christmas list, it's easy to go overboard and suddenly think of 150 new things that I don't own but might want to own someday (or, possibly, right this moment). Basically, I start to focus on what I don't have, on what I lack. This year, I'm trying hard to avoid that way of thinking. I'm trying not to think about what other people have or how I imagine my life might be better if I had more things (especially after moving and realizing how many things we do, in fact, already own). Instead, I hope to remember to be thankful for the many, many gifts that I do have and which I receive every day. I want to treasure the memories of the beautiful moments that I've been blessed with, moments that I have not earned or deserved but have simply been gifted to me by my gracious Lord. I guess you could say that for Thanksgiving this year, I'm writing a Christmas list in reverse. Like Ann Voskamp in One Thousand Gifts, I'm taking stock of the gifts that are already present in my life. The result is an overwhelming feeling of gratitude and a new spirit of generosity based in the love that I've been shown.