Thanksgiving has always been one of my favorite holidays. When the kids were little we would create a Thanksgiving tree. Each day of November we would fill it with handmade leaves of things for which we were grateful. Then on Thanksgiving Day we would offer those leaves as our Thanksgiving prayer. It was a wonderful prayerful exercise to be aware of how much we had to be thankful for. Of course when the kids were young, the leaves contained names of toys and favorite foods and friends. As the years went on the Thanksgivings evolved to include broader things. When they became aware of homelessness and hunger, they were grateful for food and shelter, and volunteered to help those without them. When they became familiar with war and the loss of life, they took a bus to Washington D.C. to advocate for peace with their dad.
As Thanksgiving approaches tomorrow, I can’t help but to reflect on the last year. There have been significant losses and grief has companioned us on much of the journey. We experienced the loss of my mom, one of our dearest and most treasured friends moved, and discrimination and hatred became a personal experience, to name only a few. It has been a hard year. And yet, there have also been gifts in it too.
This year has deepened us and taught us. It has crystallized what is important and crystallized what is not. Like flour being sifted we are learning to let go of what doesn’t matter and cherishing what does. I was recently blessed with visits from two cherished friends with whom I share 30 years of history. There is nothing like sitting with someone: who knows you and your story through and through; with someone with whom you don’t have to explain yourself; with someone who sees all the good and not so good and loves you anyway. What could be worth more than that? People matter more than things and jobs and image. People matter the most. We usually only realize that when we lose someone. We learned again that speaking up for what is important and what is right, is more important than fitting in.
The losses this year haven’t just been personal. They have been global and communal. We have been shocked and dismayed by the discrimination and hatred targeted towards the LGBTQ community which resulted in approximately 270 transgender persons being killed in the last year. We have been disheartened by the 91 school shootings since Newtown, and the lack of gun safety laws. The message it sends is that guns and the right to own or bear them are more important than our children. We have been angered by the expansive divide between different parties that put politics before people, caring more about having power than helping those without it who they represent. We have been appalled at the increasing violence towards women worldwide. And we have been heartbroken at the rampid racism in this Nation, of which Ferguson is symbolic. We have been deeply saddened by the church becoming a continental divide over issues, rather than a place of compassion and acceptance, which is reflective of the God we love and serve.
It has been a hard year.
So as Thanksgiving approaches, for what are we thankful? What would fill our thanksgiving tree this year?
What fills us with gratitude and inspires hope are the hands that join together to say that systems cannot do this the same anymore.
What inspires hope are the voices being raised to educate others, so that discrimination and hatred lessen so that more people learn to see the person next to them no matter how different, as a fellow human being and a person of great worth.
What inspires hope are the people and organizations that speak with a prophetic and compassionate voice, while seeking to change systems so that they embody all of God’s people.
What inspires hope are those who have taken risks to speak against all these things, in order to make a difference.
Black lives matter. Trans lives matter. Each person matters.
What inspires hope are dearly loved and remembered people like Martin Luther King Jr., Oscar Romero, and Richard Carlson who were and are prophetic and compassionate voices and persons of action who embodied justice and inclusivity. They stood with the downtrodden. They walked beside the oppressed and stood up for them and we will never be the same because of them and the difference they made.
What inspires hope are those who walk in their footsteps continuing in this ongoing work.
What inspires hope are people like Laverne Cox who continually speaks to raise awareness of transgender issues and rights. How grateful I am to her.
What inspires hope is that even though we are as people, works in progress, God loves us as we are, and continues to work within us and between us to heal and transform us.
What inspires hope is that our God is truly, Emmanuel, God with us, who walks beside us through all that this journey brings and who loves us one and all.
It has been a hard year, and yet there have been gifts in it too, gifts that will fill our Thanksgiving tree.
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