Missing people: not this year

Label me sentimental if you like. This year is the first Thanksgiving in many that we were with my family for Thanksgiving Day. It’s the first one where we were in the table pictures—the ones that try to squeeze in all the family around a long table.

Living over 4,000 miles away, it was impossible for us to be included.

Most Thanksgivings, even with the empty nest, we spent with at least one other person, but there have been a few Thanksgivings when my husband and I celebrated all by ourselves, just the two of us. We made special foods and enjoyed being together, but Thanksgiving is simply not the same without family.

I grew up going every Thanksgiving to my grandfather’s home in the middle of nowhere. It’s a two-story farmhouse surrounded by porches, on a two-hundred-acre spread. My aunts and mother would take enough food for several armies, and they would labor over the gas stove to bring us the most amazing Thanksgiving fare, beyond most people’s wildest dreams. Over the weekend, we would eat and talk and eat and talk. Insert a lot of laughter, and you can imagine.

We children would play outside and read inside. Field & Stream and old Reader’s Digests abounded. I always took several books of my own.

Thanksgivings meant playing football in the cow pasture and Hide and Seek with our cousins. My great aunt made homemade bread and butter, sausage gravy over homemade biscuits and much, much more. Pies, cakes, frog-eye salad, real mincemeat (venison)….

The men went hunting, and the rest of us just enjoyed the company. Sometimes, neighbors would stop in for visits, and usually we’d attend the little country church where my parents were married “up the road.”

We gave thanks for Thanksgiving down deep in our souls. It was family time and free time—to do whatever we wanted, roam wherever we wanted. Thanksgivings were wonderful.

In 1984, our little family of three moved to Spain. Our co-workers celebrated Thanksgivings with us, many times inviting friends. One memorable Thanksgiving, we invited American basketball players to join us. Two of them were 6’11” tall, and one of the ladies was well over 6 feet. I will never forget them, as they became good friends.

But, the Thanksgiving weekends of my youth were gone. You simply cannot experience a weekend like that in an apartment in Spain.

Years passed, and we did our best to always enjoy Thanksgivings with our children. I am not sure they liked the pumpkin pies, but we made them.

After the children left home, we received photos of parents, siblings, their children and grandchildren around the table. The only ones missing were us—always us. I confess I shed a few tears every year. How I wanted to be in those photos, with those people.

This year, we weren’t missing.

We were with our family, enjoying the traditional foods of the season–and, there was an extra Thanksgiving vibe in our hearts.

Expect God to show up

Have you ever heard the phrase, “God showed up”? I personally have a bit of a problem with the phrase, since God literally fills the universe and inhabits every space. How could He not show up when the heaven and heaven of heavens cannot contain him (from 2 Chronicles 2:6)? God is everywhere.

On the other hand, we perfectly understand what people mean when they say, “then God showed up.” Usually, the situation involves prayer and evidence of Divine intervention.

We tend to limit God, even while reading Bible stories.

We know He parted the Red Sea, drowned the Egyptian army, and freed probably a million Israelites. David defeated Goliath in a miraculous way. Angels shut Daniel’s lions’ mouths. Shadrach, Meshac, and Abednego walked around with Jesus in the oven that killed those who threw them in. Not even their hair or clothes were singed or smelled of smoke. We can cite miracle after miracle in the Old Testament.

Then, Jesus came, and He healed, raised the dead, showed compassion, taught, and ministered. God in the flesh showed the people who God is. He told Philip, he that hath seen me hath seen the Father (from John 14:9).

When Jesus rose from the dead, He evidenced resurrecting power.

And, here we are, more than 2,000 years later. We wrongly think He does less today than He did over the previous 4,000 years. He just “shows up” from time to time.

There’s good news: God is the same. Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and to day, and for ever (Hebrews 13:8). Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning (James 1:17). He never changes. God is the only real constant in this world.

We might limit Him when we pray, forgetting that the One who caused David’s smooth stone to find its mark is the same Person who cares about what we’re doing.

The One who raised the dead and healed the sick can still heal.

Our God is great. He is perfectly wise and just. The Lord cares for His children and loves those who don’t yet know Him. He is almighty.

If He could pile up the Red Sea and Jordan River and cause the people to walk through on dry—not muddy—ground, He can act for you. He hasn’t changed and never will.

How do we pray?

I believe in the power of several people praying together. Recently, a friend’s baby was very ill. She asked a group of Christian ladies to intercede for him. We did. The Lord let her baby get better. I believe a group of people praying to the Lord was effective prayer, and the baby’s getting better was the Lord’s will.

God still works miracles. My husband and I have a whole list of recent situations that we prayed about and God answered. Some looked impossible, but God moved.

For the LORD is good; his mercy is everlasting; and his truth endureth to all generations (Psalm 100:5).

Pray big. Expect God to show up.

In fact, you can expect the Lord to already be there. For your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him (Matthew 6:8b).


Reverse culture shock: the expats come home

As many of you know, we recently made a second-in-a-lifetime move from Spain to the United States. Many of our Stateside friends say, “Welcome home,” as we try to figure out what our new-old home is like again, after more than 36 years away.

I thought I would share some of our culture shocks with you. You might laugh or think them insignificant, but these stand out to us after living in Europe for a whole generation.

  • big cars, parking lots, highways, and lots of pickup trucks—Very few European roads are wider than three lanes each way, and only in major cities will you find three lanes. Although there are SUVs and even pickup trucks in Europe, they are majorly scaled-down versions. Eighteen-wheelers are also much smaller. How else could they wind up and down narrow mountain roads? Most cars are much smaller. You’ll be hard pressed to find large parking lots in Europe.
  • language—Since arriving, we have actually answered people we don’t know in Spanish, even if they ask a question in English. Oh, well … even this shall pass.
  • soft, fluffy toilet paper—No comparison.
  • overwhelming variety in stores—My husband was looking for a brand of deoderant he likes. There were many fragrance options for his brand. In Europe, there would be one or two options max. The cereal food aisle is a whole, long aisle. The same goes for everything. The sheer abundance in the USA is amazing.
  • waste—I am awed by the amount of non-careful buying and trashing that goes on. I’m not talking about our family members, but this is our general observation.
  • food additives—I knew a while back to anticipate this change. In Europe, we make most things from scratch, and there are no GMO foods. Here, it’s very different. Have you ever read the ingredient list on a bottle of salad dressing, for example? It’s a whole paragraph including colorings, preservatives, and sugar syrups.
  • customer service—Gotta give it to the USA for nice, patient people whose job it is to serve you.
  • dressing down—In the Detroit airport, we saw one young woman wearing colorful, fuzzy winter pajamas and slippers, at midday. In Europe, you might spy someone emptying the trash in a housecoat, but you would never see anyone out in public in pajamas. Never. Sloppy, filthy clothing—even work clothes—would not be worn out on the street. Here, it’s another story entirely. Also, men wearing shorts and coats will take some getting used to.
  • being able to run more than one appliance at a time—In Europe, you pay for a certain amount of electricity. If you go over that, the lights dim or the electricity cuts off altogether. Here, one can run the washer, dishwasher, microwave, oven, and fans at the same time. Luxury!
  • non-gluten—European people (with few exceptions) never worry about gluten. They bake the best breads and pastries in the world. Here, potato chip bags are marked “non-gluten.” I guess that means potato chips are thereby healthy?
  • style—This year in the USA, fall fashion is easy. All you need is something animal print, preferably leopard, something buffalo check, and ankle boots. In Europe, though once in a while one might spy leopard print on a scarf or shoes, I cannot even imagine that anyone would wear big, red buffalo checks.
  • clothes dryers—Will I ever grow accustomed to these?
  • huge gallon jugs of milk—In Europe, we have little cartons that hold one liter (quart), and they don’t require refrigeration. Love them! I’m building muscles while pouring milk in my coffee. Win-win.
  • self check-out—A genius thought of this.
  • watery coffee—Americans think coffee should resemble Earl Grey tea. Europeans think black means black.

I’m sure there are many more shocks in store for us. Living here is like being ducks out of water, although we’re supposed to be coming home. Our home was the Basque Country. Almost as if we were immigrants, we are discovering the New World of the USA.

I am thankful that the Lord never changes and He cares about our goofy moments and promises to be near.

There’s a Bible story about crossing the Jordan River. Joshua commanded the tribes of Israel to place twelve stones where the people carrying the ark stood—on dry ground, in the middle of the river. Later, those stones were moved and piled up again, as a monument.

During our intercontinental move, I have often felt the urge to erect a pile of stones of remembrance. Each step of the way, and even as we begin to settle in here, we have witnessed God’s hand working.

When your children shall ask their fathers in time to come, saying, What mean these stones? Then ye shall let your children know, saying, Israel came over this Jordan on dry land. For the LORD your God dried up the waters of Jordan from before you, until ye were passed over, as the LORD your God did to the Red sea, which he dried up from before us, until we were gone over: That all the people of the earth might know the hand of the LORD, that it is mighty: that ye might fear the LORD your God for ever (Joshua 4:21b-24).

If you were ever an expat and came home, feel free to share your “reverse” culture shock moments with us.

Have a lovely Thanksgiving, wherever you are!

“Day of thanksgiving and praise”

Who started Thanksgiving? Well, that is certainly debatable, as people from the Pilgrims to the present day have celebrated special feasts, giving thanks to God for His watchcare and provision.

George Washington, on October 3, 1789, proclaimed that Thursday, November 26 would be a day of thanksgiving to the Lord.

Abraham Lincoln must have liked that idea, as he proclaimed a national holiday for the purpose of “thanksgiving and praise” for the last Thursday of every November.

In the interim, different states held various special days of thanksgiving.

One of the great things about America is this holiday. Our founding fathers, though many were deists and not true believers in Jesus as Savior, recognized God’s providence in the affairs of men. They understood that a reliance on the Lord was vital for the country’s wellbeing. Our presidents set aside a special day for thanksgiving and praise—to God.

Canada and England celebrate similar Thanksgiving Days.

As many of you know, we lived more than thirty-six years in Spain. They don’t have Thanksgiving, but you can be sure that many Americans in Spain celebrate it the best they can along with fellow Americans and invited friends.

Why is it so important to Americans? Of course, there are the wonderful, traditional foods. It’s our excuse to bake pumpkin pies, roast turkeys, and make green bean casseroles. But, it is much deeper and appeals to the essence of being American. We want to be together and give thanks. Recognition that God deserves our gratefulness is why this day is so important, maybe especially when one doesn’t live in his home country.

I read a decree from a state governor that outlaws people going to others’ homes to celebrate Thanksgiving. We are not in that state, and I’m wondering what kind of outcry will come from his action. How can one outlaw Thanksgiving?

The first president instituted it, and the sixteenth made it a national holiday.

To me, Thanksgiving is also about family. For thirty-six years, my whole family has gathered around tables and celebrated without us. Lord willing, this year, we will not be the missing ones from the photos. We will be with family, praising and thanking God for bringing us together again.

No one can outlaw a true Thanksgiving.

Enter into his gates with thanksgiving, and into his courts with praise: be thankful unto him, and bless his name (Psalm 100:4).

What does Thanksgiving Day mean to you?

The best substitute: thanksgiving

Years ago, I heard a message about the principle of substitution: that every time God instructs us to get rid of something, He provides a substitute. The positive trade-off is always much better than its alternative.

We are getting close to Thanksgiving Day, and people are counting their blessings. That is good.

I wonder how many of us are actually putting away junk and substituting a habit of praise for it. Where do I get this idea? Consider the following passage.

But fornication, and all uncleanness, or covetousness, let it not be once named among you, as becometh saints; Neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor jesting, which are not convenient: but rather giving of thanks (Ephesians 5:3-4).

Don’t get tripped up at the first one: fornication. “I’m not a fornicator. This is for really bad sinners.” Look at the rest of the list: uncleanness—all of it. Well, everyone has sinned. Covetousness—ouch! Ever want something someone else owns? Let it not be once named among you. This steps on toes. A Christian hates sin and he’s content.

It continues: filthiness—you can probably include a lot of rottenness in this—and foolish talking. Did you ever say thoughtless, damaging words? Surely you have. The Bible says, For in many things we offend all. If any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man, and able also to bridle the whole body (James 3:2). Perfect self-control means we don’t offend in word and we reign in our physical desires.

Jesting. I had to look this one up. Does it mean playing around, harmless teasing? Does the Bible say that’s bad? No, this word really means “vulgar, lewd, crass, or foul-mouthed humor.”* As you can see, it goes along with filthiness and foolish talking.

What is the antidote for these sins? Praise. Giving of thanks.

I have found that when I have an attitude of praise—when I am actively looking for good and praising God for it—I am a happier person.

Let’s look at a companion passage that talks about giving thanks. The context is prayer, specifically an outline for prayer.

Be careful (full of care, anxious) for nothing; but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:6-7).

Remember the principle of substitution? Here’s another one. Instead of being anxious and uneasy, what are we supposed to do? Well, pray. How? Supplication is asking God for something. We are all very good at that.

What comes next? Thanksgiving. This is the missing element in so many of our prayers. Yes, we are asking, pleading, and interceding—all good things. But, we forget ice our prayer cake: thanking God for listening, hearing, and for answering however He sees best in His infinite wisdom.

What’s the result of this kind of praying? Peace. And not just any kind of peace. It’s the kind that’s a Divine provision, unexplainable. How cool is that?

A habit of praise transforms. It’s the way a Christian is supposed to live.

Negativity and bitterness transforms, as well. It is a sinful lifestyle.

Which do you prefer?

Giving thanks always for all things unto God and the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ (Ephesians 5:20).

Happy Thanksgiving!