I was scanning the room, making a mental checklist of what I needed to do before I could leave.
My church hosts a Thanksgiving Day Dinner for our community and has for years – just one picture of the way God can work hope out of tragedy.
It had been a great day, one of those days that reminds you why you do what you do. But the day was drawing to a close and I was in a hurry to get from one Thanksgiving meal to another. My wife and I were celebrating Thanksgiving by ourselves this year and there was a slow-cooker full of ribs with my name on them as soon as I could make it home.
About that time a church member came rushing into the room with an urgency normally reserved for news that isn’t good.
My first thought – those ribs better not get cold.
“Daniel – you’ve got to see this!”
There usually isn’t much use arguing with this particular child of God and there certainly wasn’t going to be on this day.
I walked across the hall into a classroom packed with clothes – some on hangers, some on tables, all given so that moms and dads might find some coats and clothes to make the winer a little less harsh for their kids.
But she pointed not to the clothes, but to a wooden bowl against the wall, normally reserved for a Sunday’s School class’s offering. In the bowl was a wadded up piece of paper.
A closer examination revealed that it was more than paper, but a dollar bill, left by a mother with a message for us. Snuck between the wrinkles and the lines sat two words in fresh black ink:
I was reminded of that message this week. We’re getting ready to host the dinner again – turkeys and pies being prepared, clothes being organized, people giving their time and their gifts for the reason that this is just who we are and this is just what do.
These simple words of gratitude from a woman, like so many in Scripture, whose name we’ll never know. This mom, who would have given anything to have enough money not to need our generosity, giving us the kind of gift money can’t buy.
And to think how close I came to missing it.
It’s not hard to miss things these days, in the days and weeks after our votes have been counted. They told us life would return to normal after the election, but normal feels a long way away.
I attended graduate school with many friends who take pride in calling themselves progressives. I serve in ministry with many friends who would take great offense at being called the same.
And so, like many, my Facebook feed is filled with point and counterpoint. I could spend, and admittedly have spent, days swimming in outrage and self-defense, trying to keep my head above water in the midst of analysis and accusations about why things are the way they are and just what they expect me to do about it.
It’s exhausting. And as anyone with kids knows, when you are tired you miss things.
I wonder how many gifts all this point and counterpoint has blinded us to. I wonder what grace we don’t have the eyes to see because we just can’t take in anything else. I wonder how many times Jesus has walked right past us while our eyes were watching something else.
I’ve come to realize in the last few years how so much of faith and discipleship is resisting the temptation to blindly settle into the categories people want to squeeze us into – rich and poor, blue and red, young and old, urban and rural just to name the most obvious.
Most of us have a hard time seeing ourselves as resistors. It might be because we’ve been conditioned to be skeptical of them. I suspect, however, that the real reason is that in the midst of work and family and church and everything else we don’t have a whole lot of energy left for resisting.
But what we need, now more than ever, is to summon the courage to resist and to find a better way to live our days. The good news is that as we turn to Thanksgiving and prepare to watch and wait through Advent, the path of resistance might not be all that complicated. It might be so obvious that even a beginner can find it, it might be right there on a wadded up dollar bill.
These words might be the clearest path beyond the categories that fuel our outrage and our defensiveness.
It’s hard to feel superior to the person across the table when you remember that everything you’ve been given is a gift. It’s hard to convince yourself that you have it all figured out when you look back on all your mistakes that somehow in grace weren’t terminal. It’s hard to judge the person who thinks differently when you are reminded of the things you used to think.
At least it is for me.
Because no matter what gets our blood pressure rising, we all have have received much from the God who has chosen to give it to us. No matter whether our bubble is an urban one or a rural one, we all have much to be grateful for. No matter what we want to say to that one family member, if we are honest, we can all find one place to say but for the grace of God go I…
So, how can you survive Thanksgiving Dinner this year? What is the way forward for us all?
The answer might be the same.
Begin with two simple words.