Giving ThanksWednesday, November 24th 2010 @ 2:51 PM
Growing up, Thanksgiving Eve and Thanksgiving Day were the two most special days out of the year for me. I can remember them as if it were yesterday.
On the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, my mother went grocery shopping at Waldbaum's and bought everything she needed to make our family feast. Most likely Grandma Martin and Grandma Bennett, both widowed, were sleeping over our house for the holidays and helping my mother as well. My father was down in his workshop working, creating his next invention while the ladies were in the kitchen creating the most amazing meal. The entire house was filled with the aroma of delicious food cooking and baking - including the homemade pies and goodies by my grandmothers. It is something I will never forget.
My father would come upstairs around 4:30 pm and go to the cabinet and pull out his Seagram's Seven and soda water as he did most every night. My mother joined him for her first cocktail which was usually a glass of Gallo wine. My parents were happy, loving and cordial for about the first 20 minutes until the alcohol started to change them. It wasn't long before my mother - who could never handle alcohol - was on her second glass of wine and already crying. The fighting would start between my parents and quickly escalate. On a number of occasions, things became physical. My father, a seasoned alcoholic, could polish off a bottle in several hours, throw something together for dinner, and would always pass out around 6:30 pm. Thank God for the grandmothers who would finish the rest of the prep work that evening.
For some reason, Thanksgiving Day was different from every other day out of the year. It was the one day out of the year my father never drank and my parents didn't fight. Ever. It was also one of a handful of days that we actually all sat down together as a "family" and had a family dinner where alcohol wasn't involved.
Without question, Thanksgiving Day was the most special day of the year for me.
Earlier in the morning, my brother and sister and I would be playing together, watching the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. There were many Thanksgiving days where it snowed living in beautiful Southern New England. My father would make us go outside and fill up the log rack for the fires that burned in several of our fireplaces. We did so with joy.
After our Thanksgiving Day meal, coffee and dessert was served and we couldn't believe after all the turkey and ham and stuffing and potatoes we ate - that we could even eat another bite! Yet we all sat at the table for what seemed like hours talking and laughing with our entire family - something that rarely happened in my childhood home. How I wished every day of the year was like Thanksgiving Day growing up.
It wasn't long before I grew up and went away to college at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New York in 1981 to become an artist. My father protested and refused to pay for my education. My mother used her inheritance money from my grandfather who died to pay for my education, and to help make my dreams come true.
Only a few months into college, I gave in to a life-long struggle and had a sexual encounter with another male student. I also got drunk for the first time - something I swore I would never do because of my family's past. Traumatized by what I did, I dropped out of college after only four months, losing my mother's $10,000 investment.
I came back to my parent's home in Connecticut and was now the black sheep of the family according to my father. It wasn't long before I finally "came out" as a gay man to my family and further disappointing them - and even joined my mother and father in getting drunk at the kitchen table after 4:30 pm every now and then.
With relations strained between me and my parents, I also found solace in the same bottle they both did, along within the arms of other men at our local gay bar. There were many people there who welcomed and loved me with open arms - only to be used every time. The bar and the boys became my new "family."
It wasn't more than three or four months when I dropped out of college that I came home drunk from the gay bar at 2 am at my parent's home. My father was outside waiting for me, with my mother trying to pull my father inside. When I came closer to the front door, my father lunged at me and beat me up. My mother was on top of him trying to pull him off me as I just cried and covered my head with my arms. He kept slapping and punching me on my head, in my face and on my back. The next morning, my father told me to leave and never come back again.
I did just exactly that.
For the next several years, my sin separated and estranged me from my family. I would visit them every now and then - mostly when my father wasn't around. The two most special days out of the year for me as a child became the two hardest days of the year for me as an adult as I spent Thanksgiving away from my family.
Thanksgiving Eve, for me, became the worst drinking night of the year. Combined with my illegal and excessive use of cocaine, I can't even believe I survived. Many years, after the gay bar closed, I spent Thanksgiving Eve night at my friend Tom's house by the water. I already planned I would get drunk and high just to numb the pain and I knew I wouldn't be able to drive. Tom always took care of me.
I would wake up Thanksgiving morning to the sounds of the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade on Tom's living room television and him cooking food to bring over to his parent's later that day for his big family feast. I looked up at the skylight in the room I stayed in and could see the snowflakes falling outside. All I could do is cry and cry, longing for my childhood days with my family once again.
I would end up at someone's house for Thanksgiving - usually one of my gay friends or a fellow cocaine addict, only to look forward to go back to the gay bar that Thanksgiving night to drink my sadness away, and hopefully find love and a new life.
I eventually found a male partner and we were together for many years. I stopped my drug use and getting drunk in 1988 and I enjoyed Thanksgiving with his family every year thereafter.
In 1992 though, something incredible happened. Everything changed. In fact, my life completely changed when I was saved and I accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior. A year later, by God's amazing grace, I was engaged to a beautiful, godly Christian woman who became my wife in June of 1993.
I shared with my wife Irene about my Thanksgivings past as a child and said I wanted to make new, happy memories with her and our soon-to-be family. She obliged and every year since 1993, Thanksgiving has always been at our home.
My parents came to several of our feasts, until my mother passed away at 55 years old from pancreatic cancer in 1998. One month later, the Lord gave me another special, individual in my life - my first child and most precious little girl Chloe. On Thanksgiving Day when Chloe was two years old, only an hour before our guests were set to arrive, Irene found out she was pregnant with our second child, Blake Stephen. The Lord gave me my own beautiful family.
Tomorrow, Thanksgiving Day, will now be our 17th Thanksgiving that we have hosted as a family - and Thanksgiving Eve and Thanksgiving Day have once again become my most favorite, cherished holiday out of the year.
Irene and my mother-in-law are in the kitchen right now as I write cooking away, preparing for the major dinner we will celebrate and share tomorrow. Guests will begin arriving at 1 pm and dinner will be served at 2. The day will be bittersweet as my father is no longer alive, nor my uncle who joined us for the past several years. However, we have our in-laws who will join us along with some new friends.
After our meal, the tables will be cleaned and the coffee, pies, cakes and goodies will all come out. My daughter Chloe is in charge of making the annual Thanksgiving Day Card, which is then passed around to every guest to be signed. Each guest writes what he or she is grateful and thankful for. We then set up the camera to take a photo of everyone gathered and it is glued to the cover of the card, which is then put away in the drawer with all of the previous year's cards.
All of the children (and me of course), will move into the family room where we will watch our annual tradition - Laurel and Hardy's March of the Wooden Soldiers (Babes in Toyland.) The boogiemen still scare the children even as they get older!
Later on, the adults whose bellies are full will fight for their places on the couches and we will put on the Walton's Christmas Special - The Homecoming. This movie has so much meaning for me and is one of my favorite movies of all time. This video kicks off the official beginning of the Christmas Season for us! We do the same thing every year, without fail!
So this year, I give thanks for Irene, my lovely, incredible wife who is also my best friend. I give thanks for her every day and even though we are approaching 18 years of marriage, I truly love her more today that I did when we first got married.
I also thank God for my two children, Chloe and Blake, who have transformed my life as well. I want to give my children everything I can as a loving father and help to make the most special memories that they will cherish in their hearts, for all of their lives.
I thank God also for my "adopted" son - our Chinese exchange student Xiaofei (shouw - fay) who I already love as one of my own children.
I also thank the Lord for my mother-in-law, Jadja, who is without question the matriarch of this family unit! She is Polish and my children have such a rich Polish heritage to be proud of because of her. I am so blessed to have my mother-in-law in my life.
But most importantly, I am grateful for Jesus Christ for setting me free from the chains of sin that bound me, chains and a life which only brought sadness and more pain into my life. Jesus wiped away every tear and took the old and made it new! Tears may last for a night time, but joy comes in the morning... and I say Amen to that!
So this Thanksgiving Eve and Thanksgiving has a lot of meaning for me, and I have a lot of reason to rejoice and to be thankful for! I hope you do as well.
>From the bottom of my heart, I want to wish each and every one of you - our SBM Ministry Partners and friends - a very happy, healthy and blessed Thanksgiving Day! I want you to know Irene and I are so grateful and thankful for YOU!
One last, yet very important thing. Please know there are people out there who may not have any family or friends to spend the day with tomorrow. There may be people out there like I used to be - estranged from family and even friends. I ask you to do as we do - please open your heart, your home and your Thanksgiving table to someone who may be in need. Let them know they are cared for and deeply loved not only by you - but also by God. If you know of any elderly folk or shut-ins, call them today and see if you can bring them a Thanksgiving Day meal tomorrow. It will make all the difference in the world for these precious souls - trust me when I say that. Make this Thanksgiving Day one of the most special and memorable that you have ever had!
"And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done [it] unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done [it] unto me." Matthew 25:40
Much love and thanks in our God and Savior, Jesus Christ. Happy Thanksgiving!! ~ Stephen J. Bennett