FAITH: Empty Chairs at the table
By Michael J. Brooks
Thanksgiving is, indeed, a wonderful time for families and friends to get together and enjoy themselves around a table of good food.
I’ve been thinking lately about other memories from the holidays. I remember my boyhood pastor saying once that Christmas always had a tinge of sadness since it was the time his father died. Little did I realize for Donna and me the same kind of memories would materialize.
It was Thanksgiving, 1992, and we sat at the table with my in-laws in Birmingham. My father-in-law, Robert Bell, always a good-humored man, joked that afternoon about his getting older. He’d been forgetting things and laughed that a few days before he’d missed his cup while trying to pour coffee. A few weeks later the medical tests came back and revealed a brain tumor. He died that summer.
The next Thanksgiving, my mother talked about her medical ailments. She’d not felt well for some time. Still not feeling well at Christmas, she had to go lie down in the middle of our dinner. Family members insisted on taking her to the emergency room. The doctor found a spot in her lungs, and suggested she go to a hospital as soon as possible. The good doctors at St. Vincent’s in Birmingham found the cancer that started in her right kidney had moved to other parts of her body. She died in only seven weeks.
The older I get the more convinced I am that what my boyhood pastor said is often true. Part of the mix could be that Thanksgiving and Christmas are more easily-remembered benchmarks for family losses. I’m not sure. But I do know that for many of us there are feelings of sadness and loss tucked away in the pleasantries of the holiday season.
But, maybe these aren’t entirely unpleasant memories. Despite their premature deaths, in our estimation, my family can look back with gratitude to the years we had with our parents. Mr. Bell was the gentlest and most generous man I’ve ever known. He worked hard for what he had, but was always willing to give of himself to help others. And what can I say about my mother other than she was a sweet and loving woman who was always my advocate, no matter what. The older I get the more I see her as a role model of what a mother ought to be.
Many of us think about those who won’t be with us on Thanksgiving. But we’re grateful that God loaned us some special people and enriched our lives through them. As Paul wrote to his Philippian friends, “I thank God every time I remember you” (Philippians 1:3). -30-
Reflections is a weekly devotional column written by Michael J. Brooks, pastor of the Siluria Baptist Church in Alabaster, Ala. The church’s website is siluriabaptist.com.
Note: This column was first used in 2014.