It was a beautiful Saturday afternoon in May when the Davis and Cassiday families gathered together at some property owned by my parents, Richard and Kathy Cassiday, to prepare for yet another event. The property itself was nothing special. It consisted of thirty-nine partially wooded acres with trails that provided hours of dirt bike entertainment for the thirteen Davis and Cassiday cousins. Three towering maple trees stood over a large field. Providing some shade, it was the perfect spot to set up base camp and a fire pit. For years, running water was the only luxury we had, thanks to a couple of gas generators. Earlier that spring, we finally finished construction on a small pole barn that we had started the previous summer. It became the camp kitchen: complete with a propane stove, sink, and food prep area. The kitchen area had been cleaned and restocked earlier in the day to prepare for the summer. Memorial Day weekend, the official start to the camping season, was just a week away, and we were anticipating a slew of campers as we tried to get everything in order.

Gatherings like this were typical for such a crowd since we were such a close-knit family. When there was work to be done, we all pitched in to help. As the ladies worked in the kitchen area, the rest of the gang spent the day working hard: mowing the large camping area, setting up horseshoe pits, erecting a temporary pool, and painting picnic tables and the wooden playground. We knew the hard work would pay off the following Saturday for the huge celebration we had planned.

This property had become hallowed ground in a sense to my three brothers—Bryan, Jason, and Steve—and me, since our families and many great friends camped here throughout the summer. It provided a fun escape for the kids and the adults, to halt the craziness in all of our lives, even if it was used only a few weekends during the summer.

The venture began one Labor Day weekend over thirteen years ago when my sister-in-law Kelli and I decided to camp there. Our oldest kids were still quite small, so we chose the spot since it was fairly close to home. It was only natural for this hallowed ground to become the location for their dual graduation party.

Nevertheless, this day was vastly different than anyone could have expected nine months earlier. A lot had changed for everyone since August. Gratitude filled the air while everyone worked together cheerfully. We were all very thankful to have two graduates for the dual graduation party next weekend rather than just one.

After a long day’s work, the grill was loaded with barbecued chicken to feed the hungry crowd. When dinner was finally ready, one of the grandkids rang the large cast-iron dinner bell. Everyone instinctively gathered in a huge circle and held hands to say the blessing before we ate. My father, after all of the difficult times our family had been through, became a little sentimental and asked, “Please, would everyone please say something they are thankful for before we eat?” Everyone was a little surprised. This was a Thanksgiving tradition and not expected at a graduation, but, again, this was no ordinary gathering.

As I listened to a few of the twenty-three family members express their thanks, I became lost in my own thoughts.  What am I thankful for? Where could I begin? The last nine months had been such a roller coaster for all of us!  What should I say? There were too many things to be thankful for: my husband (Tim), the kids, love, family, God, hope! How could I choose just one?

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