I missed the worship service at church yesterday because I was helping in the nursery. Not a big deal, because I really do enjoy baby-wrangling from time to time. From what I could hear, the service was a time to share what we are thankful for and stories of what God has done. And now I’m thinking I should try to listen to the recording, because here we are, just a few days away and I’m not feeling very thankful.

A Place for Everyone… and everyone in their place

I miss my grandma and my grandpa. I miss my family and our traditions, in general. It’s hard because I feel a little alone – as though my family never existed. I really miss the memories of having cousins, aunts, uncles, and the whole family all together. We all knew where we would be on Thanksgiving, because we were family and we belonged together. But somehow we grew up, and grew apart. Some people have passed away, and every year I feel a little like an orphan.

Really, this idea of belonging is such a very treasured and important thing in a person’s life. I want to be in places where I belong, with people who claim me as their beloved. And I’m assuming this is a longing that comes from the little bit of “image of God” that the Holy Spirit is re-working through me. “I am my beloveds, and He is mine.” In Song of Songs it seems that God’s Word acknowledges this deep need of humanity. He fills this need within me – I am His. I was bought with a price and I’m living now in the freedom that comes through faith in Christ.

But as I sit here wishing for the family tradition I remember to be re-manufactured,  I wonder if I’m not being grateful to God? Lord, I know in my mind that I’m yours.  I have a husband and children who love me. We always have a table full of family and friends. But sometimes that tangible sense of belonging lingers – just out of reach. So, what do I do?

I guess I’ll keep trying to live in such a way that my kids will reap the benefits of “belonging” through a stable home and loving, family traditions. I’ll try to show your generosity and hospitality by inviting others into my home for a good meal and a pleasant evening. I guess I’ll keep in step with our traditions, trusting that you will graciously fill the gaps in my character and bear good fruit in my obedient heart.

Really, I know that is the best thing to do. Because, Lord, if I know you… you’ll end up reminding me of how much you love and favor me. And you know, it’s not so much that I’m ungrateful. I think I’m just reminded of my loss – a broken childhood and lost family. I’m overcome each year with a wave of mourning.

And He says to me – 

“He gives us beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, a garment of praise for a spirit of heaviness. That we might be trees of righteousness, a planting for the Lord. And He might be glorified.”  (Isaiah 61:3)

So then, what are the things I miss about the Thanksgiving of my youth?

1)      Like I said, I knew that my family would be there because we were a family and it was a priority to be there. There was nowhere else to go?! I spent the day where I belonged, with people to whom I belonged.

2)      We all contributed something. We started out with the simple jobs like peeling potatoes, washing veggies, putting peanut butter and cream cheese into the celery stalks, slicing the cranberry sauce. Then we moved into the more advanced things like making stuffing, dinner rolls, and lemon meringue pies. The guys would move furniture, take out the garbage, and sneak into the kitchen for taste tests.

3)      It was a time to learn new things. My grandma invested time into each of us – teaching us recipes and letting us get our hands dirty.

4)      We learned to serve our family through a hard day’s worth of work and a beautiful meal.

5)      For one day each year our very humble home turned into a fine banquet hall. My grandma would let us set the table with her beautiful china and silver. I felt like we were rich.

6)      We were praised for our work and everyone was satisfied.

I think a lot of what I miss, is that Thanksgiving was a treasured opportunity for inter-generational communion. We were all together – sharing, learning, partnering, and giving honor and affirmation to one another. For some reason, the tradition of the day trumped the disagreements and frustration of the day before and the day to come. On Thanksgiving we were a happy family; with a turkey in the oven, rolls rising on the counter, and not another care in the world.

So then, the question is… how can I weave the values, that these positive memories represent, into our holiday this year? Can you help me turn these laments into beauty, joy, and praise? And please – help me to generously bless others in the same way I have been blessed. Help me, Lord, to share hospitality and a sense of belonging to all who are at my table this week. That’s going to get me a little closer to “thanks-living”.

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