Though our mouths were full of song as the sea,
and our tongues of exultation as the multitude of its waves,
and our lips of praise as the wide-extended firmament;
though our eyes shone with light like the sun and the moon,
and our hands were spread forth like the eagles of heaven,
and our feet were swift as hinds,
we should still be unable to thank thee and bless thy name,
O Lord our God, and God of our fathers,
for one thousandth or one ten thousandth part of the bounties
which thou has bestowed upon our fathers and upon us.
–Nishmat Koh Chai (The breath of every living thing)
Six years ago, I was in the midst of packing up a whole little life and moving into a new and somewhat-mysterious adventure. I cried a lot and my cat Jinx bore the brunt of my discomfort and anxiety. 2011 and 2012 were two years that fundamentally changed my entire life. Now, if you had told me in 2006 or 2007 what my life would look like during that time, or told me in 2011 and 2012 what my life would look like at this moment, I probably would have taken you to the doctor for a full work up because you would have clearly been out of your mind.
God has a way of taking our days—seconds, minutes, hours—and stacking them together in ways that boggle our minds and sometimes break our hearts. But—and this is a big but—in my life, I’ve never once been let down by the end result of God’s plan for my life, by God utterly undoing and redoing my careful plans. In fact, every time I’ve allowed God to prune, uproot, and replant me, my actual wildest dreams and secret hopes have flowered and fruited in ways that were beyond my imaginings.
Five years ago, on Thanksgiving Day, at 11:47 am CST, I looked into the bluest of blue eyes and in front of God and our mothers, I promised to love the owner of those eyes for the rest of my life.
Four years ago, we hosted the kind of crazy, four-alarm all sides of the family Thanksgiving—complete with requisite crisis. (Ours was an unfortunate flea infestation from the Lutheran geese and ducks in the churchyard adjacent to our house. Yes, I’m serious. That really happened. And I can laugh about it now, but the mortification was immediate and intense in the moment.)
Three years and some months ago, we moved to the Ohio River Valley for me to take my Barbie-DreamJob at Forward Movement, and our celebration of these big holidays and personal holidays changed a bit. We’re working on the middle of our second year out at the farm, our fourth year away from our families of origins. We have a wonderful bunch of cousins from my side of the family up here, and so many of the friends we have made here have become members of our family of choice. We have established a new way to celebrate Thanksgiving and our wedding anniversary, and to help us focus our intentions and prayers on the upcoming year.
We cook a special meal—this year, we’re having Mr. Jones’ famous cheese enchiladas. The two of us spend a lot of time together watching our favorite shows, doing things around the house we’ve been putting off doing, and resting. Occasionally (and please don’t tell any of our clergy friends…) we decorate for Christmas. It is our own personal holiday, one where we are only on our own schedule, own dress code, own menu. There was a time when the idea of having that kind of celebration would have seemed so sad to me—so weird. And now, as God would have it, and as our friends the Quakers sing, we’ve come down in the place that’s just right. And thanks be to God.
Thanksgiving is less about what we eat than who we eat with. It’s not about what we avoid discussing—it’s about the love and gratitude we share with those we love, with whoever is sitting next to us. It’s not about perfection—it’s about showing up and trying real hard not to spill gravy on the nice tablecloth. Thanksgiving is the time where we share the fullness of our hearts and challenge the integrity of our elastic waistband pants. Keep something sweet in your glass or on your plate, to remind you that what comes out of your mouth matters more than what goes into it. Eat something you actively don’t like, because honoring someone else’s offering matters. Count to ten, and say amen, and try to sound like Jesus.
If you run out of conversation topics, try going around the table and asking each person about where they were five or ten years ago, or where they think they will be in five or ten years. See where the grace of God and the goodness of the Holy Spirit have brought you, and dream of the places you may go next. And then, maybe have a nice nap.
A Prayer for Today
Almighty and gracious Father, we give you thanks for the fruits of the earth in their season and for the labors of those who harvest them. Make us, we pray, faithful stewards of your great bounty, for the provision of our necessities and the relief of all who are in need, to the glory of your Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
How will you observe the feast of Thanksgiving?