Tag Archives: thanksgiving

Thanksgiving (part 2)

This summer while doing research for a book review I stumbled upon one of the most famous documentaries of the last decade, called A Harvest of Shame. My husband and I watched, astonished at how powerful and intense it was. The documentary also made me rush back to re-read one of my top five books ever, Children in Crisis by Robert Coles. In it, he has an entire section devoted to migrant children (and their parents). Here is a (long) quote from that section:


“Somehow, then, we come to terms with them, the wretched of the American earth. We do so each in his or her own way. We ignore them. We shun them. We claim ignorance of them. We declare ourselves helpless before their problems. We say they deserve what they get, or they don’t deserve better—if only they would go demand it. We say things are complicated, hard to change, stubbornly unyielding. We say progress is coming, has even come now, will come in the future. We say (in a pinch) that yes, it is awful—but so have others found life: awful mean, harsh, cruel, and a lot of other words. And finally we say yes, it is awful—but so awful that those who live under such circumstances are redeemed, not later in heaven, as many of them believe, but right here on earth, where they become by virtue of extreme hardship a kind of elect . . . I have many times extolled these [migrant] children and their people—extolled them all almost to heaven, where I suppose I also believe they will eventually and at last get their reward, and where, by the way, they will be out of my way, out of my mind, which balks at speaking what it nevertheless must be said about how utterly, perhaps unspeakably devastating a migrant life can be for children.” (201)

The conditions chronicled in Harvest of Shame remain virtually unchanged–we just have a different population working the fields now. As a season of feasting and abundance is nigh upon us, this is an excellent time to consider where our good fortunes are made. Can we put down our religious language and lofty idealism and consider the human cost of our broken world?

I can think of nothing better to do with your time (today, tomorrow, or on that most horrid day known colloquially as “Black Friday”) as watching this documentary. Gather your friends and family and watch it together. And think about how the kingdom can come, and even now is coming, here on earth.

Here is the video:






I wrote more about this documentary for Red Letter Christians. Go on over to read it.










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Writing About Thanksgiving (Part 1)

Do you guys know the Enneagram test? I tend to think people who get waaaaay too into personality types can be a teensy bit boring, but there is something decidedly spiritual about the Enneagram. I think it is because it points us to our flaws just as much as it points to our strengths. Anyways, this was my Enneagram e-mail of the day (I’m a 4, by the way, if that means anything to you):


Remember that your Direction of Stress is towards the Two, where you people-please, try to find needs to fulfill, and call attention to your good works. Is this showing up in you today?


Um, yes. Every damn day. And this especially comes out during the holidays, where I go into a zealous sort of overdrive, trying to cram goodwill into every thing I do. I think that this year marks the 10th or 11th time I have made a traditional (yet pared-down) Thanksgiving meal for refugee friends and neighbors.

Celebrating holidays is always such a mixed bag for me . . . this year it has come up more than others. It’s just unbelievably difficult to celebrate holidays with a). people who don’t celebrate your religion/culture and b). people for whom the holidays are the worst time of year and they just want to hibernate/drink/medicate until January 2nd. And that sums up a large chunk of our relationships–which causes me to constantly wonder who am I cooking this for for?

This year is no different. I went to the store and bought all of the supplies for the meal and I never know who will really show up. There is a large, lovely family of Kurdish refugees who we are friends with and we invited them over. In true Muslim hospitality, they then insisted that we come over to their place on Saturday for an epic 4+ hour feast (my daughter was in heaven, both because she loves Kurdish food/music but also because she got to watch cartoons and was surreptitiously fed pieces of candy all day). It was so relaxing and so wonderful and makes me feel very pitiful about my own awkward attempts at hospitality. I think they are coming over for Thanksgiving, but as they are quick to tell us–they don’t like trying new foods or going to new places. Life is hard enough, and they prefer to eat their own foods on their own terms (one of the few things in life they can control). It has taken me years to get to this place, but I am trying to have open hands about it all. I am prepared for nobody to eat much this year, and it will be ok.



she waited patiently for 3 hours while the food cooked, and then she was ready to EAT.

she waited patiently for 3 hours while the food cooked, and then she was ready to EAT.


All this to say: I did write about a Thanksgiving we had a few years ago and it is up today! I am super excited to tell you that I am going to be writing semi-regularly for the Good Letters blog (which is run by Image Journal). The company I will be writing with is . . . intimidating, to say the least. I think I will have a post up over there once or twice a month, and I will be sure to link here.


So head on over to read about my type 4 tendencies, hospitality, and the Day We Cooked the Big Chicken.






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my husband really wanted me to put this picture on my blog.

So, many of you are on are official super awesome prayer e-mail list and already got the run down on our Thanksgiving. But for those who aren’t . . .

The day itself was great. The day before . . . I cried. A lot. And I watched the movie Pieces of April (which I surprisingly loved, especially the crazy apartment aspect of it. That I could relate to). I couldn’t even call my sister for fear of sobbing, all day long.

But we woke up, the day was nice, I went for a lovely jog, starting cook food in faith, watched the parade half-heartedly on TV, ate chocolate croissants. Then, some friends from Bhutan came (and they brought friends, including a little boy!) and we had a lovely meal (save for the fire on our burner, which greatly agitated everyone). There was a lot of food. Our friends did a really good job of eating as much new food as they could handle. We laughed. Some neighbors from upstairs joined us. Everyone drank a LOT of orange soda. [Side note: this is the only place where I feel as though I can speak with authority, and so I will tell it to you straight. It has been my personal experience that when working with people from other cultures, you cannot go wrong if you show up with a couple of liters of orange soda and some family size bags of Spicy Hot Cheetos. This will ensure grace and favour with you wherever you go, in most cultures. I don’t know why this is true; it just is].

After they went home, we collapsed for an hour or two, revived enough to eat some cake and pie, and then the child and I packed up the remnants of our meal and went down the hallway to our other friends house. She was not able to come to our meal so we brought it to her, and her neighbors came over as well. Our neighbor made us some lovely Somali food to complement the feast, and we ate and watched wedding videos and laughed and made toasts (with orange soda, naturally) and it felt a teeny bit like family. Sweaty, hot, spicy, tired family. And then it snowed, which I found magical until I had to go outside (I don’t think I am going to survive this midwest winter, ya’ll).

The day in itself was a gift to me. There is nothing else I can say about it. Being surrounded by people who I don’t even know that well but who surrounded me with family–this was Christ, reaching out to me.

As I have been processing here, aloud, on this blog, I think you can tell that we are learning a lot. Paradigms are being shifted. Lies are being sorted out, truths are gently being placed in their stead. I am starting to realize all the times I clung to easy charity, when I have been called to long-term, unsexy, lonely old justice. And we are also placing our toes in the pool of some of the deeper issues troubling the surfaces of the waters. Like how the holidays are hard for most everyone, how they exacerbate loneliness, old patterns, family hurts.

Thanksgiving is no exception. Here in our neighborhood we have a lot of Native Americans. This in of itself opens up another way of viewing history, of celebrating holidays. I can’t begin to understand these different points of view, but this is something I am praying the Spirit opens up for me.

One of my Simple Life Pleasures is the This American Life podcast, which I listen to every week. For Thanksgiving, they aired an episode devoted to one of the darkest chapters in U.S. history: the largest mass execution in our nation, of 38 Dakota men in southern Minnesota. This year marks the 150 anniversary of the hangings, which took place the day after Christmas. There is so much sorrow in even reading or listening to these events, but mostly I feel shame. Shame that I don’t know this history, that it has never bothered me before. And just moving to a place where I have neighbors who care, has caused my heart to open a crack. And as painful as it is to listen to such stories, it is for a greater purpose.

As we are approaching Advent, I am trying to live in the reality that the light has come and is coming, and that the darkness cannot overcome it.

As as I slowly start to become more aware of the night all around, the light is shining brighter and brighter.

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a thanksgiving of firsts

i got hit by a wave of sadness yesterday, out of nowhere, alone at the park with the toddler.

and i realized: this is the first thanksgiving i have ever been away from my family.

for some reason, in all my travels, i always made it back for this holiday (but i did miss a christmas or two). and my family has always done thanksgiving up big, my childhood filled with memories at my grandparents house in the woods, so many cousins to play with. in recent years the hub has been portland, any and all travelers, wanderers, or the family-less welcome to a seat at my parent’s table. my sister, the famous food blogger, has in recent years upped the ante of our meals, and they are now culinary masterpieces. we play games, watch tv, lounge and laugh at the babies. and we talk, all day long, about what we are thankful for; but the strangest part is that we don’t even have to use words. the day after thanksgiving i always did a second meal for all my refugee neighbors (sometimes it was disastrous, sometimes it was peaceful–but it was always fun).

so this year is the first time i ever went to a store and bought all the fixin’s for a meal, myself.

this is the first year i am not rushing around trying to plan anything. this is the first year of cooking food by faith, of not-knowing who will come and eat.

this is the first year with a mobile child (my blue velvet cake has prodigious finger poke holes in it, there are chocolate fingerprints on the couch).

this is the first year of feeling, deep down in our bones, that our choices will not always be easy. and this makes us grateful for the grace to obey.

in the midst of the tears (yes, there will be tears), i am very thankful. to even be in a position like this is crazy-cakes. i feel as confused and expectant as a pre-pentecost disciple, wondering what in the blazes is going on, just along for this crazy ride. with jesus, you never know what is going to happen. and, of course, there is a solidarity in lonely meals, in being far from loved ones, of having to forge your own customs in a strange place. i am grateful for the privilege of experiencing life here, of getting a small glimpse into the other side of holidays, the dark and lonely places.

so for us, like many, today is full of both sadness and thanksgiving. maybe it is for you too.

may you be present in all of it, wherever christ may send you.

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mutuality is a big buzzword in our new circles out here, and it’s a word i thought i knew, which seemed as familiar to me as an older relative, harmless, well-intentioned, sitting in the corner eating a piece of pie.

but we are learning that this word has power beyond what we know, how this one concept can change everything in relationships, in a life of service, in crossing barriers of culture and socio-economic status.

most christian programs are based on the opposite of mutuality; one person is in need, the other person helps. this is the way it is. i am the volunteer, the mentor, the homework club founder, tutor, basketball camp organizer, art class referee; i am the teacher, the helper, the servant. and others–they were always served.

these connotations are negative in any light, if we would so choose to look at them carefully. but compound that with any hopes for expanding the kingdom of god, and we find ourselves in a race for converts, with my own spirituality on the line. it can get sticky, very fast.

so we are learning here about mutuality. how it is the slowest of slow-cooked meals (starting with planting seeds and all). it drives me batty, to be honest. i would love to march down these graffiti streets like a 60-year old nun, head held high, doing the work of the Lord. heavens, i would like to use the degree i paid thousands of dollars for, to teach people how to read and write and help make life more bearable here. i would love to see a need and pounce on it, fix it, serve somebody. because this has always been who i am. please, please don’t ask me to give it up.

but i have been asked, and my fingers have been uncurling slowly. just being a neighbor is one of the hardest, most boring things in the world. nothing to rely on but . . . where we live. um, toddlers. the weather. being away from family. the cold. is it going to snow. no, i don’t have any plans for thanksgiving. um, i don’t think that is actually a computer, that just looks like a monitor from the 80s. oh, more candy for the toddlers? thanks so much. the guy with the truck full of free food is here again? score! yup, yup, just going on a walk to the library. again. oh, don’t mind her screaming–she’s just two.

and yesterday we hung out with some newly made friends from bhutan, and they cooked us food and invited over all their neighbors “so we could have more friends.” the baby girl ran around with the cutest little boy, throwing stuffed animals, guzzling juice, eating her spicy snacks with glee. we all laughed and talked about everything, and some people said they might come over for thanksgiving (but they made it clear they don’t like american food). as we left both the husband and i looked at each other, stuffed on food and companionship, and realized that this wasn’t a mutual relationship.

we are the ones being served, here.

this is a good and hard week for us. missing family, friends, nostalgic for old times. but our doors have been blown wide open, our days a great blank canvas and we aren’t busy painting anything. we are just watching the colors as they appear, beautiful and mysterious. and for the first time, i am starting to grasp how little i have to do with all of it.



ps. i have had this post in my head for awhile, but i was inspired to write after reading this today. that girl can preach!

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