There was a time in my life when my parents couldn’t be in the same room with each other. As a kid, I learned to wait on the wicker love seat and stare impatiently out the big picture window. (Yes, it was the early nineties and we had wicker furniture in the living room.) As soon as I saw my dad’s black sedan pull into the driveway, I would yell to my sisters that it was time to go and we would race out the front door. Was I that excited to see my dad? Honestly, not really. I was just that eager to avoid him coming up to the house and igniting a possible confrontation with my mom.
In middle school, I remember standing up for my trumpet solo and quickly scanning the crowded gymnasium in search of supportive faces. I spotted my mom in the left set of bleachers and my dad in the farthest possible section to the right. In high school, when I got the lead in Oklahoma, my parents came to different shows, careful not to cross paths lest a community theater become a battleground.
There were a thousand spoken and unspoken hurts between my parents that spilled over into my heart. The way my dad wouldn’t help pay for my sister’s dance classes to make life harder for my mom. The way my mom didn’t hide her disdain for the summer vacations my dad took us girls on, which made me feel like my excitement was a betrayal. Fifteen years of marriage in and as many years of bitterness out. I never knew if their divorce was the right choice, the only choice. As a kid I never longed for them to get back together—I just wanted things to be different. I just wanted to escape the shrapnel of their pain.
At my college graduation, my dad pretended not to hear me when I asked him to stand next to me for a picture with our whole family—the original five. When I was getting married, my mom didn’t want to sit beside my dad and his new wife; my dad didn’t want to sit in the row behind my mom. Several verbal blowups and low blows left me gutted. Three days before my big day, I looked at my wedding dress hanging on the closet door and wondered if my dad would even show up to walk me down the aisle.
I share all this not as a catalog of grievances against my parents but to set the stage for the miracle I never expected.
Fast-forward several years to when my dad was in a difficult place in his life—well, difficult is an understatement. His second marriage had failed, as had his business and his health. Thanksgiving was approaching. Holidays are always extra complicated for kids of divorce. My sisters and I were all married at this point and had to juggle time with our in-laws and separate gatherings for our mom and dad. Now that my dad was single and struggling, the responsibility to host a celebration with him fell to one of us girls—an added stress when our individual lives were already maxed and being with Dad didn’t feel especially celebratory.
The details of what happened next have become a bit fuzzy through the fog of years. The question might have come through an email or group text thread, or maybe we were talking on the phone while I nursed a baby. Either way, I’ll never forget my mom’s words: “How would you feel if I invited your dad to join us for Thanksgiving?”
As I sat there speechless, my mom went on to explain how she understood what a burden it was to navigate three family get-togethers and how the busyness could take away from the joy of the holiday. She said she wasn’t sure if Dad would accept an invitation from her, but she felt like the Lord was asking her to extend it.
Honestly? My first thought was No way! I pictured the awkwardness of being in the same house all together. I thought about how I would take the chaos of bouncing from one Thanksgiving dinner to the next to the next over the tension of sitting at the same table with my parents for an extended meal. The family chasm caused by their divorce was way too wide to bridge with some mashed potatoes and gravy. Years and years of conflict and failed resolutions proved that reconciliation was impossible, right? So why even try?
Given our family history, this knee-jerk reaction was understandable — but it was also rooted in fear. I’m grateful to tell you that my initial response didn’t win out.
The first miracle was my mom asking my dad to Thanksgiving dinner. The second miracle was the doorbell ringing and my dad showing up in his classic corduroy slacks and argyle sweater and handing my mom a bottle of Martinelli’s. The miracles after that were too many to count.
As little ones threw corn kernels from high chairs and unspoken words passed in sideways glances between sisters, we made it through that first Thanksgiving dinner. My dad thanked my mom for inviting him and complimented her cooking. My mom thanked my dad for coming and gave him another piece of homemade pie to go. It felt a bit like I was living someone else’s life.
It was hard and uncomfortable and so very worth it. I left that dinner with a belly full of turkey and a heart full of praise. What I thought was surely impossible turned out not to be. From our pain God produced a miracle — and I’m still giving thanks.
Today’s devotion is an excerpt from Becky Keife’s chapter, “What If Pain Is the Stage for Miracles?” in our (in)courage book, Come Sit with Me: How to Delight in Differences, Love through Disagreements, and Live with Discomfort.
You can listen to Becky read the entire chapter on this special episode of the (in)courage podcast.Leave a Comment