My plan was to ignore Thanksgiving this year; I figured that was the best I could hope for. Maybe, if I ignore it, I won’t feel this aching longing to be with my mother, my sisters, my nieces and nephews...Maybe, if I ignore it, I won’t miss the pie and the stuffing and the fudge that Joel’s grandma always makes....Maybe, if I ignore it, I won’t be frustrated that I have chosen to live half a world away from the people I love the very most.
Last Thanksgiving, we had been in Zambia for less than two months, and I remember spending a lot of that day in tears. In the kitchen, trying to cook, trying to make Thanksgiving work, while tears flowed and frustrations grew. And just as I was attempting to create some semblance of a Thanksgiving meal, the power went out. No electricity, no water, and a half cooked meal. I think that was the point that I sunk to the floor and asked Joel to just leave me alone to sob in the kitchen.
So, this year, my goal was to ignore it. I could be thankful, that was for sure. And I try to be thankful every day. There is so, so much that I am thankful for. But on this day, I figured, I could just give myself a break, and get through it. Without tears. That seemed a good goal.
And then, some American friends invited us to their house for Thanksgiving. I took a little while to respond, but I knew that I wouldn’t be able to ignore Thanksgiving anyway, so we accepted the invitation. They didn’t ask us to bring anything; we chose a few things to take along, but they cooked and created and brought us to their table. And not only was it a Thanksgiving feast, it was a vegetarian Thanksgiving feast, and our family is vegetarian. It was delicious.
Something happened today, as we prepared food with friends in their kitchen, as our children played together, as we all joined hands and shared what we were grateful for, as we ate and laughed and shared our stories...I realized that I was having Thanksgiving. Not a tear-filled day of missing my family, not a stubborn day of ignoring my pain, but a real feeling of gratitude, for these people who were strangers to us a little more than a year ago. But even more than that, a feeling of gratitude that no matter where we are, we are never far from love.
We were far from home today, but we were not far from love. We were invited into a home, to share in that love, to share in the gratitude of the day. I was ministered to, and cared for, and fed. And that is exactly what I needed. And I am so grateful.
Lately, I have heard way too many horror stories. Really, really bad stuff about pain and suffering and violence. From Joel’s travels in South Sudan, to my colleagues’ terrifying accident, to a friend struggling to keep her son alive, I have spent days sick with sorrow. But I do believe that we are never far from love; that no matter what we are going through, whether it is simply being homesick, or having one’s heart ripped open, God’s love is present and powerful and real. In fact, this is the one and only thing that I really can depend on.
And so, today, my friends reminded me of this love, through their kindness, their invitation, their open home, and they filled me with gratitude. There is love. It is real. It is God. And I do believe that this is the foundation of everything that makes me feel grateful.