Sunday, November 17, 2013

The Best Thanksgiving

The best Thanksgiving I've ever been apart of happened during the '90s, in a little house that had been converted into classroom and nursery space for our church in Texas. It was named after a couple of saints, not the famous kind, just the real life kind.

Someone from our church had the idea of hosting Thanksgiving dinner for refugees living in Dallas. Of course my first thought was something like, "What, no Thanksgiving at home with family and football?" But, thank goodness, I got roped in.

We had at least five different kinds of meat because some had to be slaughtered in a specific way in order to be edible for some of the guests. There was so much food, piled on rows of folding tables, I really had no idea where it all came from.

Then the people began arriving. Most spoke little to no English, so interaction was limited, especially for me. I just smiled and helped and hoped everyone was having a good time. At that point in my life, I couldn't really understand what it was like being in a foreign place away from loved ones on any day, let alone a holiday. But it felt good to be doing something different for once, to be helping strangers and making the day about more than just me.

I got a little glimpse of Thanksgiving away from home over a decade later when I was living out in Colorado. And while I could speak the language, I wasn't spending the day with my family. In fact, I didn't have anyone to spend the day with at all. But some saintly folks made sure I wasn't alone and invited me to spend Thanksgiving with them, up in a little rented cabin in Estes Park.

I wasn't totally sure I should go, it always feels a little strange dropping in on other people's family time, but I knew I didn't want to spend the day alone. So I went, and it was the best decision I made. I was welcomed in, ushered to the front of the line, and made to feel more like a guest of honor than a tag-along. We talked about what we were thankful for, and on that day, I couldn't be more thankful for a welcoming group of near strangers.

Sometimes, that's all we need--a person or group of people to remember us on a day that is typically about family time and traditions. Sometimes, we need to be the ones to look for the lonely outcasts or those who are easily forgotten. It may be a group of refugees, or just a single person down the street who can't afford to travel home for every holiday. So before you map out your turkey day, is there someone like that, someone you can include in your celebration? It could possibly be the best Thanksgiving you've ever had.

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