As I begin the week of this Thanksgiving holiday, I am filled with positive childhood memories of great family time, while also being stirred about what this holiday can mean to others different than me and those who do not feel included, valued, or seen with these celebrations.
Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday as I am filled with memories as a child, growing up driving down to my Grandma Hartman’s farm down in Southern Illinois. The day car trip was well worth the 4 days we were blessed to spend with aunt, uncles, cousins and my grandma. We could be guaranteed laughter, time outside helping with farm chores, great food, games, numerous hugs, and attending church together. There is something magical about preparing and sharing food and I have fond memories of getting up early to help my grandma in the kitchen add that special spice, prepare the rolls, or set the table with special dishes for family to gather, enjoy a meal, and linger in treasured time together. One way my grandma welcomed, which now seems extravagant, was to make sure everyone had something they loved … Megan always had pickles and Brian had applesauce, Peggy had pecan pie and Chuck got extra turkey and gravy. Everyone had plenty. With food my grandma showed love.
As I have gotten older, naturally holiday traditions have changed. As I wrestle within myself and with my husband about what values we want to instill in our children, the meaning of traditions and celebrations is something we deeply care about. One tradition we have created since before my kids could write their own name, is writing what we are thankful for on a vinyl tablecloth that comes out each year when we share in a Thanksgiving feast together. We invite all those gathered with us to do the same and each year. It is a way to reflect on who we have been able to share meals with and how God has been woven through the goodness and struggles experienced each year.
We intentionally think of our neighbors who may be alone or unable to cook an extravagant meal and think about how we can welcome them to the table; either by inviting them over to our home or taking them a plate and visiting for a while. We have served a bountiful meal to those who are homeless and created space to listen to their stories. As an adult, instead of keeping each year just the same, we continue to change things a bit and lean into what God may be calling us to and trying to experience things from different perspectives.
This year, I am wondering what my kids have learned about this holiday from an Indigenous perspective and also trying to learn from the native culture in ways I have not before. This year I grieve for those who will gather at a table missing a treasured loved one for a first major holiday and wonder if the migrant workers who played a key role in providing the food we enjoy, have enough to eat. A prayer I hold is for Jesus to be amongst those who gather, to stir unconditional love for those welcomed at tables across the country and for all of us to extend welcome to those who need to be included at our tables.
There are numerous ways to welcome and create space, whether at a literal table or just by a safe space. This year I wonder, how am I creating welcome for all, for those like me and those different. How am I called to be love in today’s context, in my community, in my family, and within my job?
A challenge I leave you with today, is to take an opportunity this week in the details of preparing and take a moment to reflect and pray in gratitude and thanks for all that you have, and intentionally ask God for whom are you being called to extend welcome.
Lord, thank You for the food before us, the family and friends beside us and the love between us. May our welcome reflect your love for all, and may we boldly reach beyond our comfort zones, just as you have modeled, to those excluded, lost, hungry or afraid. Amen.