It was Thanksgiving Day 1988, and we were sitting around a kitchen table extended by folding card tables and collapsible chairs 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 mentally 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 him.
The deep grief from that experience had left my marriage in ruins, and I had become gravely ill. 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 with regret.
By Thanksgiving, however, my heart was strong, my health was much improved, and my marriage was finding more solid ground for moving forward. The job that I loved had been restored to me, and I was loving its demand upon my skills, talents, and humble listening for direction. God had restored so much to my life since that cold day in late winter when all my hopes for motherhood had vanished.
But it was 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 didn't know how to even hope for earlier that year.
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. 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. It was just 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.
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, hold him, and for the first time be truly happy for another new mom.
I had not lost a baby; I had lost envy, sorrow, ache, emptiness – by the fullness of opportunities I had discovered for the expression of those mothering qualities of nurturing, comfort, strength, patience, joy, humility, energy. 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 of the judgment of others), for the feast of Soul (the fullness of stillness, honesty, humility, kindness, and grace) growing in me. I continue to be pregnant with gratitude all year.