After October’s spectacular kaleidoscope of colors, November’s bare trees and grey skies strike a decidedly more somber note. Much of the gold and crimson finery that dressed October’s trees now lies in tatters on the ground, crunching underfoot. If October is the grand ball, November is the morning-after letdown. And yet, in the midst of this seemingly barren month comes Thanksgiving, a holiday for celebrating the abundance of blessings in our lives. One of my favorite Thanksgiving symbols is the cornucopia, that horn of plenty, overflowing with the fruits of a bountiful harvest. The trees may be empty by Thanksgiving, but after the fall harvest most of us find our larders—not to mention stomachs and hearts—generously filled.

Unlike the changing colors of the leaves, however, a bountiful harvest doesn’t just happen. It is the result of the hard work we did in the spring, preparing the soil, planting the seeds and nurturing those first tender green shoots. The excitement of new life, full of anticipation and promise, charges the spring air and energizes us. We invest our time and labor in hopeful expectation of seeing our visions and dreams fully realized come harvest time. If all goes as planned, the hopefulness of spring will yield the satisfaction of fall.

But what do we do when things don’t go as planned, when our best efforts are completely undone by unexpected changes and circumstances beyond our control? What happens when we do everything right, nurture our seedlings and faithfully tend them, yet the resulting harvest is meager? How do we respond when our horn of plenty is anything but?

These are questions I have been asking myself as I prepare for Thanksgiving 2015 because this year has been one of unexpected, and at times seemingly insurmountable, loss for me. There are faces that won’t be around my table this year, or ever again, and the loss of their love and friendship is devastating. There are dreams that fell woefully short of my vision, seeds I planted and faithfully cared for, but which failed to bear much fruit. And some turned completely to dust. My heart is heavy with disappointment and my cornucopia seems empty of blessings.

But is it really? I adjust my view a bit and force myself to look through the lens of gratitude. As my cornucopia comes into clearer focus I see it isn’t empty after all. True, there are precious faces missing, and while those can never be replaced, there is an abundance of love, care and concern from others, filling in those spaces. I see the many hands that have supported me through the hard times, that have pulled me up again and again and steadied me enough to walk on. I see new dreams breathing life into those that had withered on the vine. I even see shiny bits of hope among the dust and ashes at my feet.

This year’s harvest isn’t the kind I’ve grown accustomed to, nor is it the one I had expected, but it is a rich harvest nonetheless. And so, even as I grieve the losses of the past year, even as I hold those who have gone from this life forever in my heart, I will give thanks for the blessings I have received and have faith there are more still to come. And I will pray for eyes that can recognize blessings in disguise.

Wishing everyone a bountiful horn of plenty! (And pie.)

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