November 26, 2014


Tonight I had planned on spending a few minutes working on my post about the murder trial, but instead I have other thoughts that have been on my mind about Thanksgiving and what it has been in my life.

-The definition of Thanksgiving is: the expression of gratitude, especially to God.

-Gratitude is defined as: the quality of being thankful; readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness.

I have so many memories of the Thanksgivings of my past . . .

I remember cramming sixty or so people into my grandma and grandpa's farm house and eating the most delicious food ever. I remember cousins and aunts and uncles, and most of all, my great grandma who lived in a little house next door.

I remember staring at her paralyzed arms that hung by her side, and listening to her stories of Thanksgivings gone by. I would sit in her living room for hours—and watch her little space heater light up and turn off—as she repeated old stories and remembered new ones. I studied her white hair and her wrinkled skin. Every word she spoke to me was filled with life, and so many memories of her past.

I never thought about the memories I was creating—that they would one day be the stories I would sit and tell my great grand daughter some day. I just figured life would always be the way it was. It never crossed my mind that each holiday I spent would one day be a distant snap shot in my mind. I always thought I would be the young carefree child running through pastures and chasing pigs. I had no idea that Thanksgivings would ever be any different—but I soon learned that truth.

When my parents got divorced our traditions changed. Everything that once seemed concrete and secure—was all the sudden different every year. I came to understand my new normal and appreciated the different kinds of memories that were created each year—at the two different houses. My parents both remarried and our families grew. New relationships brought an even broader spectrum to the memories of my holidays gone by.

I remember Thanksgivings at my mom’s with our blended family. They were full of people, and full of love. We had so much to be thankful for—and we were.

Every year was a different group of siblings, and different memories created.

Soon I was off to college. I stuck to the rotations of holidays with my little sisters—switching off at our parents' houses each one. A few weeks after Emmett and I started dating I planned to go to my dad’s for Thanksgiving—by chance his dad lived in the same town. We decided to go together. We drove a few hours out of our way to pick up my little sisters, and headed to see our fathers.

By the time we were half way there snow had begun to fall—and we were in a full on snowstorm. We could barely see the road and I started to get nervous. Emmett reassured me that everything was going to be ok—that he could see the tracks of the truck in front of him and he would follow them closely.

Way past midnight we rolled into town. We met each other’s fathers for the first time the next day. That was our first Thanksgiving together, and the first time Emmett told me he loved me.

The next time Thanksgiving came around we were married. We went down to Arizona with Emmett’s mom to visit his stepbrother and their family. We hadn’t found out I was pregnant with twins yet—but my belly was huge! Everywhere we went people would ask me when I was due. . . I was only three months along! A few weeks later, on Christmas Eve, we found out there were two babies—and they were identical girls!!

The next few years of Thanksgiving traditions were filled with babies. We always traveled to see family—switching between our four sets of parents. With so many parents, we always had somewhere fun to go and celebrate. I loved watching our babies with the extended parts of our families that meant so much to us.  

Thanksgiving 2009 we moved into our house. The next Thanksgiving, before Emmett died, we went and stayed with my Aunt Diane and Uncle Dave. The house was filled with people. It reminded me of the Thanksgivings from my childhood—filled with cousins and aunts and uncles and grandparents.

So many memories of Thanksgiving bring peace to my heart. It is weird to look back, and hard to not wish to have a piece of those days come to life again. So many family members, in my memories, have passed away. It is strange sometimes to continue to celebrate without them.

Thanksgiving is a tradition that has always meant a lot to me, but one memory in particular stands out in my mind—the moment I felt in my heart the true meaning of Thanksgiving.

Shawn and I had not been married long when Thanksgiving rolled around. We had no traditions together—and frankly we were both a bit scared to share any traditions from our previous marriages—neither one of us wanted to feel like a replacement in the other person’s holiday celebrations.

My brother Josh invited us over for dinner. My sisters, and dad were all getting together there, so we decided to go and take Shawn’s parents with us.

Walking in I was a little bit nervous. It was our first real family event all together. I didn’t know how everyone was going to respond to each other. Everything was so new. I didn’t want any awkward conversations that made any of the parties feel uncomfortable—or not part of the family. I hoped no one would bring up Emmett, or things from the past we used to do with him. I worried Shawn would feel like a replacement if anyone was to say how they missed Emmett.

Then on the other hand, I didn’t want anyone to feel like they had to pretend they didn’t miss Emmett. There was a hole in our family from his death. He had brought many of them together and had been the glue to so many of the relationships in our family. I wanted to be able to honor their grief . . . but I was so scared it would push Shawn or his family away.

I became so worried about what others were saying and doing . . . I was hardly enjoying the day.

Dinner was great. The food was amazing. Everyone was kind. Nobody brought up Emmett, or said anything to make things uncomfortable. After dinner we were all sitting around and each person began to say something they were thankful for.

When my turn came I stood up. I did not know where to begin. I felt a lump in my throat as I pictured memories of Thanksgiving past. I stared around the room. Gratitude filled my heart as I looked at each face in front of me. Tears came to my eyes as I fumbled for the words to express the thankfulness that was in my heart. I said, “This has been a very hard year for us . . . As I look around this room I am overwhelmed with so much emotion. When Emmett died . . . we were broken—we were lost. That was really hard, trying to be everything for everyone—and wondering how we were going to make it through. Because of everyone in this room, we didn’t do it alone. I am thankful for each one of you. We have been blessed with so many blessings. One in particular—we were given a miracle. This amazing man who swept us up and gave us a reason to find good in this world. Shawn, you didn’t come to replace Emmett—you were sent as an angel to give us hope. You believed in us in a moment anyone else would have walked away.” I looked over at his parents, “Your son is what I am thankful for this holiday—and I am thankful for both of you for raising a noble man who was worthy to be such an angel. Life has not been what I thought it would be—but I have so much to be thankful for. Thank you to everyone in this room for being there for us—and giving us a reason to remember all that we still DO have. I am thankful for this amazing family and the many blessings Heavenly Father has sent us . . . each one of you.”

I hadn’t planned a single word—but once they hit the air, my fear of anyone else making everyone uncomfortable by mentioning the past . . . was gone. I was so afraid that the past was going to ruin the moment—but it was in that moment that I realized  . . . it was the past that had brought us all there.

 (Pictures from our first Thanksgiving)

Every Thanksgiving I had ever celebrated made up my memories—but the things that were in front of me that day—were going to help make up the future. And I was thankful for them all.

Thanksgiving—a time to give thanks. There will be memories of the years gone by; there will always be hopes for the years ahead . . . but really all we have besides a snapshot and a hope—is today.

Wherever you are this Thanksgiving—make it count. Find the beauty in the room with you. Don’t worry about the memories you are missing, or the ones gone by—focus on the memories you are making. Live in the moment. Put away your phones and your computers—and live for today. Make a memory you can tell to your great granddaughter someday as she sits on your couch . . . not knowing all the memories her life will bring.

Life is not going to be the same every year. People will come, and others will go. Traditions of the past are fun—but they do not make a holiday. Holidays are for relationships—strengthening the bonds of the people we love. Don’t let your fear of losing traditions stop you from creating new ones. Embrace the imperfect things you are thankful for just as they are. No year will ever be just like this one—so that makes today pretty dang special.

Thank you for finding hope, for seeking faith, and for embracing your story.The ideals of our pasts and the hopes for our future are only a little part of our lives. 

Thanksgiving is giving thanks for what we have right now. I am thankful for grandparents who have given me so many memories. I am thankful for my parents who have taught me so much and given me life. I am thankful for Emmett and the love I shared with him that brought me five of my babies. I am thankful for my healthy body that made it possible for me to bear each one. I am thankful for my children and the different gifts they have brought into my life. I am thankful for Shawn and his willingness to see past the fractured parts of me—and find the good.  I am thankful for Jordyn who came to complete my motherhood. I am thankful for our very imperfect family that continually teaches me about patience, hope, and hard work . . . but most of all LOVE. 

I am thankful for the broken road . . . that has lead me to today—because without it . . . I am not.

Here is to new traditions—living the stories that will one day just be a faded memory of the past.

God has given us a lot to be thankful for . . . the hope that all of these memories can last forever. The grace of His Son—Eternal families—Life that does not end. And for that, this day—I am so thankful.

Happy Thanksgiving. May your day be filled with gratitude—and your heart be filled with love, for the memories of Thanksgiving past, for the hope of Thanksgivings to come . . . but mainly for what we have to be thankful for today.


Mr. Thompson and Me said...

Beautiful Ashlee. Just beautiful. Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours!

glenda said...

Happy Thanksgiving to you and your beautiful family! I read this post with goosebumps... wow! beautiful writing... beautiful words Ashley!

revbradl said...

Hi Ashlee, I was deeply touched by your Thanksgiving post and shared an excerpt of it on my facebook page. It has been picked up and shared all over today. Thank you for using your writing gift to bless the world. Happy Thanksgiving and God Bless you and yours!

Anonymous said...

Thanksgiving is the best! Happy thanksgiving!

Unknown said...

Thank you

Unknown said...

I love how you stated: "Life is not going to be the same every year. People will come, and others will go. Traditions of the past are fun—but they do not make a holiday. Holidays are for relationships—strengthening the bonds of the people we love." Our family had a Thanksgiving different this year than ever before and it will be a wonderful memory to never forget. Thank you for being a voice to me and so many others.

Unknown said...

Beautifully said!! Thank you for sharing!

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