When I was approached about submitting an article for this issue of TAAL, I knew I wanted to write something about Thanksgiving, one of my favorite holidays. For me, Thanksgiving is a holiday that engages all of the senses – the sounds emanating from the kitchen early in the morning as we chopped, peeled and diced; the sight of the table, usually decorated with pinecone “turkeys” and other finery; hugs from aunts, uncles, and cousins as they arrived for dinner; the smells of roast turkey, fresh rolls, and pumpkin pie; and the taste of our amazing feast.
So, originally, I thought I would write about the things for which I was thankful: family, friends, food – things that many of us would have on our list. But this year, which has included so many tragedies, both global and personal; I was reminded that sometimes we need to give thanks for the thorns in our lives.
Years ago, after a dear friend suffered a significant medical emergency and long recovery, she shared the story “Thankful for the Thorns” (https://www.dailyencouragement.net/seasonal/thankful_for_the_thorns.html). The premise behind the story is that we tend to thank God for the joy in our lives, but neglect to thank Him for our thorny times, where we see the beauty of His comfort. And while I would have preferred to have no thorns in my life, looking back, I can see how the hard times mold us. So, this year, I’m going to share one of the “thorns” for which I’m thankful.
A pick-up game of volleyball in my late 20’s ended with me experiencing a Joe Theismann-like injury. After surgery, which included a bone graft, plate and screws, there were months of therapy and learning to walk again. In addition to shattering my knee, my illusions of being able to do everything myself were also shattered. I needed help with everything, from washing my hair to getting a cup of coffee.
I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t feeling sorry for myself the first day of therapy, barely able to move my leg no matter how hard I tried. I was ready to give up when a young man in a wheelchair buzzed into therapy and did a shoulder roll onto one of the beds. Paralyzed from the waist down, he attacked each exercise with vigor and a smile on his face, and his attitude was the antidote I needed to end my pity party.
As I continued my recovery, my family and friends were there for me; they helped with household chores, drove me to doctors’ appointments and encouraged me to be diligent with PT. And in the evenings, when I was counting the seconds until my next pain pill, I would pick up my Bible to get the strength I needed to make it through the night.
After what felt like the longest three months of my life, I was back at work, walking with a limp and a leg full of hardware. Week by week, the limp became a little less noticeable, as did the pain.
Looking back decades later, I’ve realized that breaking my knee was a major turning point in my life. I learned how much work and help it takes to come back from a major injury. The gains come in tiny increments and at great effort. Being hurt opened my eyes to people with disabilities and the struggles they have to live with every day. I learned to become pretty resourceful after three months of living with a full leg brace and crutches, but every task took so much longer and was so much harder; and every day I am thankful for the gift of mobility that is so easy to take for granted.
I’ve learned to be more grateful for my friends and family. During recovery, sometimes I needed compassion, nurturing and chocolate; other times I needed a kick in the pants and told to work harder. The people in my life (especially my husband) were there to give me what I needed when I needed it, and it’s taught me to watch for opportunities to help others.
After close to 30 years of living with one leg shorter than the other, I know to pay attention to what my body is telling me. I know if I’ve put on a few pounds or if I’ve overdone an activity, or even when the weather is going to change – my knee lets me know! I’ve learned to exercise in 20 minute increments to keep pain at bay and prolong the time before I’ll need a replacement. These experiences have made me more compassionate to those struggling with chronic pain.
I’ve learned is how quickly life can change. Nothing in life is guaranteed, and now I try to slow down and enjoy the little things – a sunrise, a good parking place at the store, an unexpected phone call from a friend. We could be saving more for retirement, but instead, we take the trip while we still can.
Perhaps the main lesson I’ve learned is that when I let God take over my life, He can transform anything and bring good things from some of the worst moments. So, this Thanksgiving, in addition to being grateful for your blessings, take a moment to give thanks for your thorns.
Terry Kish is a freelance writer in the Pittsburgh area. She has been an integral part of the writing team for This Awful-Awesome Life since September 2017.