Monday, November 20, 2017

Thanksgiving: What It Isn't

Norman Rockwell painted a pictured entitled Freedom from Want depicting a family seated around an immaculate table about to enjoy Thanksgiving dinner.  It’s a snapshot of iconic American life, the way it should be, and a piece of my past. 

Honestly, I grew up privileged.  My parents were married and my grandparents lived next door.  We had a pristine home, mom homeschooled me, we had a good church, good friends, and my father was a business owner and church leader.  By all carefully cultivated outward appearances, life was perfect.  So, I resonate with that Rockwell painting.  That was my Thanksgiving and Christmas each year, and I loved it.  Thanksgiving and Christmas was a precious time with family giving thanks to God for His abundant blessings and celebrating the birth of His Son, Jesus.

A long story and a rocky road later, it’s gone.  Eight years ago, a few weeks before Thanksgiving, my parents announced their impending divorce.  Now, I understand that this happens daily, all over the world. Any marriage dissolving is painful and heartbreaking.  However, without going into details, we’ll just say that this particular situation was a unique kind of horrible. 

Philip remembers my wishing that my parents could have put off their announcement for 3 more weeks, just to get through Thanksgiving with the fa├žade that we had upheld for so many years.  One more normal family Thanksgiving, please?

For my sake, my parents held it together for that holiday, and then all hell broke loose.

Skip ahead to the following year.  Everything was still a mess, and yet the holiday season was looming.  It felt like a big slap in the face, a season of joy taunting me with what used to be. 

Nw, don’t get me wrong.  God is still good.  He is worthy of my gratitude.  I never ceased to be thankful for His goodness to me.  I never ceased to be in awe of His incarnation.  But all the traditional trappings surrounding that previous time of joy were a stark reminder of what wasn’t anymore. 

Since I was still in charge of that year’s family celebration, I decided to toss tradition to the wind, and begin something new that had nothing to do with the American norm.  I’m a little weird anyway, so my extended family didn’t seem too shocked. We had Middle Eastern food.  No turkey, no stuffing, no gravy, no cranberry sauce, and no pumpkin pie.

It felt good.  I didn’t have to pretend that everything was ok.  I didn’t have to try to force myself or my family into that “perfect” Rockwell mold.  I could spend the time not stewing on what I had lost, but on being grateful for what was.

Middle Eastern food, Moroccan food, Mexican food, German food, vintage food, Thai food….  The list is growing each year.  I am still tossing tradition out the window and avoiding turkey and stuffing like the plague.  Who really likes turkey anyway?

I grieve my broken family.  It’s still a mess.  Only God can heal the many wounds.  I trust Him with that.

But to me, Thanksgiving is different now.  It’s not about the Rockwell painting.  It’s not about a mold to fit into or having a stereotypical family unit gathered around a table.  It’s not about celebrating God’s goodness in a certain way.  It’s not about the past, or what should be.  It’s about what is now.

So, we are grateful to God for His kindness and His wonderful gifts to us, and we do celebrate Thanksgiving.  We don’t meet the expectation anymore, and I’m ok with that.  We invite strangers to eat with us.  We invite those that are far from their families, or don’t have family, or those whose family is a mess also.  We don’t put up a face about how perfect things are.  We avoid the traditions that seemingly mock the reality. 

As we approach another season, the past hurt nudges on my heart again and again. It’s unavoidable.  Instead of focusing on what no longer exists, I praise God for the present and the hope He gives for the future.  Now, please pass the baba ganouche and kibbeh.