Thanksgiving has always been one of my favorite holidays, the pause before the Christmas season when we give thanks for what we have, not concentrate on what we want.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I love presents more than anyone else. But there is just something calming and fulfilling about gathering with friends and family to count our blessings.

My father grew up in hard times in Canton, during the Great Depression, when everyone was just happy to have food on the table and a roof over their heads. He would often laugh about one Christmas when he all he told his parents he wanted was modeling clay and an erector set.

I am not sure he got either, but the point of the story was not about what he didn’t get, but what he did receive, even if it was just some new socks, an orange, and some candy. For him the glass was always half full. His generous spirit and love of life color my childhood memories.

When we look back on our holiday memories, most of what stands out is about family and loved ones, the time we shared, the laughter around the table, the appreciation of the little things. We hardly even remember what presents we get.

One of my happiest Thanksgivings was 40 years ago, when I gave birth to my youngest child, my daughter Ann, two days before the holiday. Forty years ago, how is that even possible.

I spent that holiday at Piedmont Hospital in Atlanta. The food probably wasn’t all that great, but the giving of thanks more than made up for that.

Back then, we didn’t know whether we were having a girl or a boy. We just had to guess, hope, and pray.

Our son, Nathan, was almost 2 at the time, and I knew that Ann would be my last child, because I had some issues and was to have a caesarian birth. I was hoping so much for a daughter to complete our family.

I didn’t want to hope too much, so we had not really picked out names for either possibility. I was put to sleep for the delivery and when I woke up, I remember the immense pain, a flash of light, and then a voice.

“You have a baby girl, it’s a girl,” the nurse was saying over and over. Suddenly, as I took in the joyful news that I had a daughter, the pain miraculously lifted, and I felt the rare feeling of pure joy.

We chose the name Ann Sherrer Johnston, which combined mine and my sister’s middle names.

Our family was complete. I will always give thanks for my two children, and all the joy they bring our family.

The last two years have been a time of darkness and worry, loss and hardship, for many of our friends and family.

This Thanksgiving feels a little like that dark journey of giving birth and seeing the flash of light and learning we had survived that journey and had a healthy baby girl.

As we gather together this week, we count our blessings, we give thanks for each day we have together, each loved one who is here. And for those that are not joining us this Thanksgiving, we give thanks for all the happy memories of our times together and pray that someday we will all be together again.

If you read my columns regularly, you might know that one of my favorite passages in the Bible is in Ecclesiastes, chapter 3, verses 1-8. To every thing there is a season and a time to every purpose under heaven.

A time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to build up. A time to weep and a time to dance.

Of course, there is much more. But I feel like right now is truly a season and a time to give thanks.

A devotional I read this week introduced me to a verse in the book of Joel that in light of the pandemic takes on new meaning. “You shall eat in plenty and be satisfied.” That certainly refers to Thanksgiving, but to so much more.

The verse comes after pages and pages of a lamentation for impending doom. Darkness fills the verses in the early part of Joel’s lament. The sun will not shine, the stars will lose their light, doom and gloom everywhere. And then suddenly, you shall eat and be satisfied.

We will always go through times of darkness in our lives. But there is always the promise of light ahead. New birth, new hope for a better tomorrow, new promises of better days ahead.

As we gather this Thanksgiving to celebrate the season with our family and friends, no matter how dark life looks sometimes, we have many blessings still to remember.

Rebecca Johnston is a lifelong Cherokee County resident and former managing editor of The Cherokee Tribune.

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