What does Thanksgiving mean to me?
I called my sister Thanksgiving morning to see how she was doing. She didn't answer so I called my parents. My dad answered. We chatted for a while about where I would eat lunch, to whose house I had been invited for the holidays, where he and Emily were in the decorating process, the usual. Then he said, "I'm going to tell you I love you, but don't cry - okay?"
Thanksgiving means family, and Amy, the middle sister, is spending her first holiday really alone, away from family. So when my father had his morning chat with her and told her he loved her, she burst into tears. Now she was on the phone with my mom who was trying to pick up the pieces. That's why she hadn't answered. She was talking to my parents.
I remember my first time really being away from home. Moving to Texas and being a poor seminary student didn't allow for the luxury of returning home for such pithy holidays as Thanksgiving and Easter. Only the really big ones like... Christmas and Summer. Since 2001 I've been learning what it means to be away from family, to be away from home, to re-create love in new places, places it perhaps needs to be nurtured, places perhaps where it just needs to be recognized. This love becomes the substitute for love Amy and I experienced as children and adults growing up in our family.
So, friends. Thanksgiving means friends. It means re-evaluating what family means and creating family out of friends. Thanksgiving helps me remember that community keeps us alive. We were designed for it and without it, we will perish. (Has anyone seen Into the Wild?) Community is not only who we "live" with, but also how we live. How we relate to people, how we treat one another, how we care for the downtrodden, how the encourage the excited - all this is community. Community is why I go to church, why I have people over for dinner parties, why I have a roommate, a boyfriend, a best friend. Community is why I tithe, why I pay my taxes, why I donate money to charity.
Thanksgiving means charity too. It means flipping through the World Vision catalogue and wondering which of my gift recipients would rather have 2 chickens given to a family in Uganda for Christmas instead of receiving a new sweater or CD. It means commitment Sunday at church. It means cutting back on consumerism and cutting checks for Compassion children. It means that even as I bask in the love of people in my community and in my family, I must remember there are many who do not have that luxury. There are lonely people in America who may have everything but no one to share it with, and there are family people in Laos who have no means to provide for those they love. Thanksgiving means sharing hope and sharing resources with those who will die without either. Thanksgiving means being mindful of my neighbor. It means sharing.
Thanksgiving means transitioning. It's the time we put away the leaves and pumpkins and scarecrows and pull out the lights and ornaments and light-up-Santas. It's a time that reminds us we are moving, moving from fall to winter, from pumpkins to evergreens, from thanksgiving to rejoicing. It means preparation (which always means transition): getting ready for Christmas, getting ready for winter, getting ready for the coming of the Christ and giving thanks. And transition always means remembering. As we move from one season to another, from one phase in our lives to new realizations and realities, transition teaches us to remember and to look forward. Thanksgiving means remembering to be thankful, being reminded to give thanks. It means remembering our neighbor and our God. It means looking back and looking forward, all at once.
This is what Thanksgiving means to me and so much more...
Thanks be to God.