Six years ago on Thanksgiving morning, I started what would become a new tradition with my father.
It was, in fact, merely an accident that I was at my dad’s home six years ago on Thanksgiving morning. I was supposed to be on a white-sand beach in Florida with my husband and our two daughters. We had made arrangements and paid for our trip in advance. Our family, along with my husband’s parents, and his siblings, had planned a leisurely beach vacation for the week of Thanksgiving in 2012.
That trip would never become a reality for me. What should have been a week filled with sun and sand with my family was a week that initially left me alone, anxiety ridden and miles apart from my two daughters.
The week of Thanksgiving, I was in my hometown and my children were in south Florida with their father and their grandparents. We were at least 1,000 miles apart and this was the first time we had been separated for this length of time. My youngest daughter called me daily crying and wandering why we were not together.
The true story was that weeks before Thanksgiving, the unraveling of my 20-year marriage occurred. My husband admitted he had secretly been seeing another woman and he was in love with her. If he had been more careful on our home computer, his indiscretions would have remained a mystery. But I somehow had to believe God’s hand was responsible for what was revealed.
“For there is nothing hidden except to be made visible; nothing is secret except to come to light.” (Mark 4:22)
As if that bit of information was not enough to shake my world, I was diagnosed with breast cancer just days after he moved out of our home. I could not believe God could possibly allow this to happen. What was His plan? Never in a million years could I have imagined my life could be this hard and this painful.
I had been betrayed — by my husband and by my body — at the same time. My faith was deep, but I had never encountered this kind of suffering. I knew God was faithful and He could be trusted, but perhaps that was just superficial thinking on my part. My knowledge of God was in my head, but not in my heart.
And so on Thanksgiving morning, I woke up and faced two facts: my marriage had ended and I had cancer. I had two paths I could take: mope around and complain or attend morning Mass with my father. I decided to go to Mass. Perhaps the Holy Spirit was working in my soul that morning, leading me down a path to peace.
Before Mass began, the congregation sang Over the River and Through the Woods. I had not sang that song since grade school. It put me in a better mood. Then the homily drew me in to what was really important: my relationship with Christ and an attitude of thanks.
“Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (1 Thessalonians 5:18)
Suddenly, I was so thankful to be at Mass with my father. I was thankful that Christ was in my life. A sense of calm came over me. After the homily, the priest announced we would sing one of his favorite songs that he chose to sing every year. Ironically, the song was called Song of Thanksgiving! The refrain had me in tears —
“Love that’s freely given wants to freely be received. All the love you’ve poured on us can hardly be believed. And all that we can offer you is thanks, All that we can offer you is thanks.”
Peace settled into my soul and God’s love transcended my life’s situation through that song. God freely gives me his love and he wants me to receive it! Sitting in Mass, instead of on a beach, was going to be just fine because Christ was with me. It didn’t matter where I was if I had Christ in my heart. That message came through loud and clear that morning.
This was a true gift from God. He showed me compassion by inviting me to Mass with my father. He offered me peace with a song. My fed me with the Eucharist.
I knew after Thanksgiving week I would have to go back to my home, face the marriage problems and face the cancer. I knew I would need to keep my eyes on Jesus by attending Mass, going to confession, being in Adoration and even receiving anointing of the sick before my surgery.
It’s now been five years since my bi-lateral mastectomy and I’m cancer free. I have received a divorce and an annulment in the Catholic Church. And I’ve attended Thanksgiving Mass every year since 2012 with my father. The Song of Thanksgiving is my favorite part and always brings me back to that moment of tenderness.
Now, I can say most sincerely that God is faithful. In know in my head and in my heart that Christ is truly the Prince of Peace. It took years and lots of prayer to forgive my ex-husband, but it is what Our Lord asks of me. I am thankful.