On Sunday, my family and I visited a church in Baton Rouge, LA, where we sang for their special Thanksgiving service. During the sermon, the pastor mentioned something that caught my attention. That one phrase has lingered in my mind this week and, by God's grace, has developed into a short story. I may eventually polish the story up for actual publication, but I wanted to share it with you today! How I wish that I have fully learned the lesson presented in the short story.
a fictional story
©2015 by Amanda Tero
Just as I laid the baby down, a car horn outside blared outside. I tensed and waited for a brief second. That was it. Ava's eyes popped open and her mouth released a scream.
I lifted her to my shoulder and glanced out the window. The mail truck waited with what I knew would be a hefty package.
"Jackson, keep her quiet." I plopped Ava onto the floor and ignored her cries as I jerked the door open.
"Package for you, Mrs. Randall." The blonde mail-lady lifted a box from the back of her truck. I braced myself for its weight as she handed it over. From above the package, I could see her sheepish grin. "I already placed the other mail in your mailbox." I nodded mutely. Of course she did, when I didn't have time to take the trek up the driveway.
I muttered a "Thank you" before I turned back to the house. I deposited the package on the floor and attempted a smile at Jackson before saying, "Mommy will be right back and I'll take Ava." He didn't seem to acknowledge my words as he looked back at Ava and rattled the toy harder.
The air plunged through my thin jacket as I stepped outside again. If I weren't in a hurry, I would have enjoyed the quiet trek to the mailbox. But it was the day before Thanksgiving and Ryan--my husband--had to work long hours. Why didn't I leave the mail until later? I sighed as I flipped the little door open. If I didn't get it now, I would forget and Ryan might see something that was intended as his surprise Christmas gift.
"Good morning, Mrs. Randall."
I turned my head and gave a slight wave to our neighbor. "Morning Mrs. Crowe." A slight tinge of jealousy pricked my insides. She was taking her leisurely morning walk, as usual. Ryan and I used to do the same--even when we had Jackson and Emma we had managed it. But now with the addition of Joy, Mason, and Ava, any leisure time was a thing of the past.
"How are your Thanksgiving plans coming along?"
I didn't have time for this chit-chat. If I strained, I could hear an echo of Ava's sobs. "They're coming. We decided to stay home again and have just our family's Thanksgiving." It seemed impolite to leave it there, so I added, "What are your Thanksgiving plans?"
A peaceful smile rested on Mrs. Crowe's face. "A nice, quiet home. Then supper with the grandkids after 4:00. They told me not to cook anything but," she lowered her voice as if confiding, "I managed a few sweets after all and they'll not complain."
I tried to match Mrs. Crowe's amusement, but I knew my smile was fake. Pasted there. I flipped absently through my mail then said, "I left Jackson in charge of Ava, I'd better get back before he goes crazy."
Mrs. Crowe laughed and gave a wave. "Have a blessed weekend!"
I waved back then turned, my heart feeling heavier, not blessed. Maybe one day, when the children were grown and out of the house, I would have such a relaxed Thanksgiving as Mrs. Crowe. I turned to sneak a glimpse of her walking back to her house. Did she have any sadness for this weekend? Any moments of missing her husband and the child who had passed away? I shrugged. There were my own problems to deal with--like a croupy baby and four other children who somehow needed to make Thanksgiving dishes without me going insane or the house burning down. Just why did we start the tradition of each child preparing their own dish?
"Mom, she won't be happy!" Jackson's moan greeted me as I entered the house again. I tossed the mail on top of the box I had brought in earlier and scooped Ava into my arms. Her voice lowered to whimpers.
"Can you get your siblings up please?" I turned to my list as I heard Jackson trot away to obey. A few minutes later, he was back.
"Do we get to make the cornbread now?"
"We haven't had breakfast yet!"
"That's okay! I can eat while I do it."
I shook my head firmly and, with one hand balancing Ava, pulled out bowls, cereal, and milk.
"Did you tell them to come eat?"
My shoulders drooped and I glared at Jackson. Sometimes, I could not understand his seven-year-old mind. "Go get them."
The bedraggled group finally gathered around the table and we managed enough silence to say a prayer before they began clamoring for their preferences. I finally set Ava in her high-chair, which only added to the volume.
"Okay! Silence!" The sudden hush--even from Ava--almost made me feel guilty. But the beautiful quiet soothed my conscience. "One at a time. Mason, what did you want?"
The breakfast nightmare was finally over, giving way to clean-up and getting all of the children dressed. 11:00 came too early and nothing from my list was checked off.
"Now can we do the cornbread?" Jackson was persistent.
"No. Wait until I am ready." What I really wanted was for him to be old enough to do it himself instead of me making it through him, taking twice the time.
Ava was finally down for her nap by noon and I kept the children walking tip-toe around the house while we started our Thanksgiving meal preparations. We got Jackson's corn-bread made for the dressing, chicken on to boil, and Emma's pecan pie started when Ava woke with a scream.
"I can finish, Mama." Emma tried to sound helpful, but I didn't quite trust her six-year-old capabilities.
"No, leave it for now." I rushed into the bedroom and scooped up Ava only to discover her diaper needed changing. This was a task I could not wait until Emma was old enough to handle. But for today, it was my job.
A crash sounded then, "Maaaa-ma!" The panicked cry from the kitchen made me finish Ava's diaper change roughly and I sped to the disaster that awaited me.
"I was--trying--to--" Emma didn't get the final words out by the time I caught sight of the goopy yellow mess that was now slathered across the floor. Would we ever get a step ahead? I set Ava into Jackson's arms and got on my hands and knees.
"Emma you help clean this up--I told you to wait." I did not even try to keep the impatience from etching my voice.
"Mama, I hun-gee." Mason nestled up close to me, with his fingers in his mouth.
Of course he would be. It was past 1:30. I finished cleaning up the pecan pie remains and put together a half dozen sandwiches. Finally, Ava was quiet enough in her high chair and I left the children around the table for just a few minutes of calm. Again, I looked over my list. Nothing was scratched off. I rubbed my forehead, trying to ease the pain that crept in. Finally, I rewrote the list and rescheduled the few hours I had left before Ryan got home. Maybe I could persuade him to help--but I knew that wasn't fair, as he had been at work since 6:00. Of course, I had been at work too since then, between Ava and the children. How anyone thought a stay-at-home mom wasn't a fulltime job, I don't know.
The chatter in the dining room turned to clattering of dishes and I knew that the children were finished. I shooed them out of the kitchen and faced the stack of dishes. I had just plunged my hands into dishwater when a knock sounded at the door.
"Mama!" Jackson called. "It's Mrs. Crowe!"
"Shh!" My natural reply came. "And don't stare out the windows." I rapidly dried my hands on my skirt and glanced around the room before opening the door. I couldn't hide the toys that littered the room nor the girls' hair that was no longer tied back neatly. Maybe Mrs. Crowe didn't intend to come in.
"I know I'm probably disrupting your busy day," Mrs. Crowe said in a low, calm voice. "But I saw you looked a little overwhelmed earlier and just wanted to bring you a little something." She held out two trays. I took them and chomped down on my pride and invited her in. She had several children--surely she would understand the mess.
The children were amazingly quiet as I led Mrs. Crowe into the kitchen. "May I get you some coffee? Tea?"
"No thank you. Can I give the children some cookies?"
"Sure." I placed the trays on the table and turned back to my dishes. Mrs. Crowe's presence had a calming affect--both on me and on the children. When cookies were being enjoyed, she sat down at the table.
"Don't you just love Thanksgiving time?" Mrs. Crowe's voice was full of cheeriness.
Dirty dishes, Christmas lists, dishes that needed to be baked, and unruly children flashed through my mind. "No ma'am, not really," I replied honestly.
Mrs. Crowe chuckled. "Oh you'll love these memories one day--but don't wait until they're memories to enjoy them!"
"It must be easier for you to stop and be grateful now, though," I said, "without so many pressing needs." The whole time I reprimanded my thoughtless tongue--because maybe she was missing those "pressing needs" that her husband and child had given her.
"I have been where you are," Mrs. Crowe said, a smile still in her voice. "I spent almost every season in terror of the things needing to be done rather than enjoying--savoring--the moments."
I paused in my washing. "What changed? Having your children grown?"
"No," Mrs. Crowe answered. "The Lord showed me that I was spending my time complaining about things that were hidden blessings."
My puzzled look made Mrs. Crowe laugh.
"For example, when I complained about my workload, I forgot that if I were single or childless, I wouldn't have my loved ones to create that workload. In fact, even my workload was a blessing--because I had dishes to wash, food to eat, and a house that could be made dirty."
I looked down at the egg-remains from Emma's spoiled pecan pie. There was wisdom in this older woman's words.
After Mrs. Crowe's short visit, my brain did double-time in thinking. Maybe I could have the joys of a no-mess Thanksgiving...but it would come at the cost of a no-child Thanksgiving. Did I really want that?
My dishes were not quite done when Jackson clambered up to me again. "Mommy, now can we finish my cornbread?"
I looked down at my son. This time, instead of seeing an annoying child, I saw a young man in the making. In just a few years, he would not need me to help steady his hand while I poured milk into the measuring cup. A smile came more easily onto my lips. "Why don't you help me put away these dishes then we can do it.
"And my pie?" Emma's question sounded a little timid, as if she was ashamed of the mess she had made earlier. I would rather have to clean up all of her messes than not have this precious girl by my side.
"As soon as Jackson's finished, yes."
Emma clapped her hands and beside her, Joy mimicked her.
"An' my sweet 'tato roll?" Joy's lisp made her words hard to understand, but I knew she was talking about the sugary sweet potato casserole that Ryan loved. It wouldn't phase me if the dish never made it to the table, but now I realized I was grateful that the Lord had given me another year with my husband who loved this recipe.
The day's busyness never eased and my patience was not always abounding, but when bedtime came, I could look at each little face and relish the blessings that I had because of them. Sure, they had left me a mountain of dishes to wash instead of spending the last hour of my evening relaxing with my husband, but it gave me time to search for those hidden blessings Mrs. Crowe had mentioned. I had a home, a kitchen, dishes, food, a husband, children, ability to work, and a friend who reminded me of these wonderful blessings. My list was not checked off, but now that seemed so small compared to the massive blessings God had given me that day--all of the laughter, the happiness, the family time. I looked forward to the day when my children were not all underfoot, but there was a bit of me that loved today, when they relied on me for everything. The hidden blessings of the day blossomed into a bouquet of fragrant gratitude and I was able to rest my head after the long day, truly ready for Thanksgiving.
Have you stopped to thank God for those blessings in disguise?