Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Thanksgiving...when "loss is gain"

"O make me glad for every scalding tear,
   For hope deferred, ingratitude, disdain!
Wait, and love more for every hate, and fear
No ill,--since God is good, and loss is gain."

- Mary Baker Eddy

It was Thanksgiving Day 1988, and we were sitting around a kitchen table extended by folding card tables and collapsible chairs. A maze of legs...chairs, tables, and people...that made it almost impossible to get the turkey out of the oven since space was of a premium in that modest New England kitchen.

But it really didn't matter. In my heart, I was somewhere else. I was in a new "space" - a space of gratitude. And that year, it was not for all that I had, but for all that I had lost.

It had been a hard year. The adoption of our first child had collapsed when his birth mother decided that she couldn't go through with her plan to surrender...a decision that was absolutely God-inspired.

But the deep grief that I felt from that experience had left our marriage shaky, and I had become gravely ill. In anticipation of our child's birth, I had given up a job that I loved to become a full-time mother, and there were days that I thought I would go out of my mind.

By Thanksgiving, however, my heart was strong, my health was much improved, and my marriage was finding more solid ground for moving forward. I'd been re-hired for the position I loved, and I was grateful for its demand upon my skills, talents, and receptivity to divine direction. God had restored so much to my life since the damp, cold day, earlier that year, when all my hopes for motherhood had vanished.

However, it was not for the things I had gained, but for the things that I had surrendered..and lost...that I gave humble, silent thanks that day. Most notable was the loss of envy. Freedom from the chains of "want" had been a liberty I'd never even known to hope for.

From the time I was a little girl, my heart was filled with want. I wanted to know I was loved by my mother and stepfather; I wanted to have more than one pair of shoes; I wanted to be an only child instead of the "oldest of eight." As a young woman, I wanted an education, I wanted to be loved exclusively by a husband; I wanted a career that was satisfying and creative.

Most of all, I wanted a child. I wanted a baby to hold, to love. I had wanted it for so long that having come so close had left me in pieces. So why was I grateful?

Earlier that summer I had realized that what I really wanted was to mother rather than to have a baby. I had discovered that "mother" is a verb. This realization had taken me by surprise. But once I saw it, I couldn't be stopped. I started mothering everything in sight. Projects at work, vacationing neighbors' gardens, a friend's broken heart, a country in turmoil. Mothering was a verb that didn't require ownership or possession. It was simply the heart's response to a childlike need for care. The more I mothered, the less I ached for a baby. 

One day, just before Thanksgiving, my younger sister called to chat, and when I asked her about her blossoming pregnancy, I could hear the hesitation with which she opened up to me. I realized in a flash, that in the past I had always been so envious of anyone else's pregnancy that I became maudlin, cold, and distant. Full of melancholy and hurt.

But that wasn't how I felt this time. I realized that I was truly happy for her; I was no longer longing for something I didn't have. I was mothering. I was overjoyed that this sister, whom I loved, would soon have an opportunity to discover the joys of mothering, too.

When my nephew was born later that year, I was thrilled to celebrate his birth, to hold him, and for the first time, to be truly happy for another new mom.

I had not lost a baby; I had lost envy, sorrow, ache, emptiness. I was blessed by the fullness of opportunities I was mother. To express those mothering qualities of nurturing, comfort, strength, patience, joy, humility, energy. Day after day, I was pregnant with motherhood - not a baby. And this was a pregnancy that would never end.

This Thanksgiving I am grateful for the loss of pride, the surrender of pretense, the absence of opinion, the famine of sense (letting go of the sensationalism I see in the news, hear of through gossip, or feel as the judgment of others). I am deeply thankful for the feast of Soul (the fullness of stillness, honesty, humility, kindness, and grace) growing in me. I will continue to be pregnant with gratitude all year.

"Like as a mother, God comforteth His children;
   Comfort is calm, that bids all tumult cease;
Comfort is hope and courage for endeavor,
   Comfort is love, whose home abides in peace.

Love is true solace and giveth joy for sorrow,--
   O, in that light, all earthly loss is gain;
Joy must endure, Love's giving is forever;
   Life is of God, whose radiance cannot wane.

O holy presence, that stills all our demanding,
   O love of God, that needs but to be known!
Heaven is at hand, when thy pure touch persuades us,
   Comfort of God, that seeks and finds His own."

- Mary Louise Baum



  1. Very well written. I know exactly how you felt at that time. I too am coming out of a bad year, but hopeful that 2007 will be the year our family is complete.

  2. Dear absolutegray

    Rabbi Kushner (in his book on the 223rd Psalm) reflects that it is only after one goes through the "valley of the shadow of death" that one finds intimacy in his/her relationship with "the Shepherd" (note the difference between the "person" used in the earlier verses...He (before) You (after))...just hold on to that realization...that you are growing closer to will find yourself on the other side of the may love the book "Hind's Feet in High Places" by Hannah Hurnard...with Love, Kate

  3. Kate, your writing flows like poetry! Thanks.