The kitchen had been buzzing all day.
Two mismatching tables were placed together and twelve mismatched chairs squeezed into a dining room of a beach house in New Zealand. Our table was filled to the brim with carb-loaded favorite foods like stuffing, mashed potatoes, rolls, pierogies (it was an international celebration!), green bean casserole (with homemade crunchy onions), pumpkin pie and a Kiwi classic, pavlova.
It was our last meal as a Discipleship Training School (DTS) outreach team, before heading back to campus to debrief all that God had done over the past five months.
We were a mismatched group of Americans, Aussies, Kiwis, Canadian, Dutch, and German celebrating a North American holiday.
It seemed fitting to let everyone contribute a dish that was their favorite, like pierogies and pavlova, even if they weren’t “traditionally” American. As everyone made a way to their seat, memories floated through our minds of God’s faithfulness, provision, and miracles in Himalayan villages as well as on the streets of New Zealand.
However, my mind was racing of memories celebrating Thanksgiving with my family back at home.
Not only that, I couldn't get it out of my mind how much my aunt loved Thanksgiving—I missed her and wished that she could still be alive today. Grief always catches you off guard and finds you, whatever country you're in.
For me, grief always surfaces around Thanksgiving.
This Thanksgiving was no different. My heart was filled with many emotions of grief, exhaustion, frustration, but also deep down joy, love and overflowing feeling of thankfulness. God in His kindness had been preparing me all day for the moment I would read aloud 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18:
“Rejoice always. pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”
The phrase that kept challenging me the most was “give thanks in all circumstances”.
Yes, this means even in the valleys our hearts should give thanks. When you first think about it—it sounds crazy, but I can testify that continuing to give thanks in all circumstance of life helps you to keep your focus on the one that truly matters, Jesus. It helps us keep our eyes focus heavenward even when we don’t understand why things happen or experience deep hurt and grief.
In that moment of feeling overwhelmed, I saw with my teammates celebrating and thanking God for what He did on our DTS outreach. We remembered the hardest hike of our lives, how we'd had extreme sickness, yet saw people healed and set free, danced with little kids, and were apart of many saying “yes” to Jesus for the very first time.
In the middle of my grief, I was suddenly reminded to turn my eyes to Jesus, to look around the table, and start declaring the things that I was truly thankful for.
I was thankful for my team who journeyed with me the past five months. I was thankful to be introducing such an important holiday to those who were non-American. I was thankful that even in a moment of experiencing grief rushing in, I was surrounded by a group of fun-loving people enjoying some really yummy food.
That’s the beauty of celebrating cross-culturally—you get a little taste of the world. That's something truly to be thankful for.
In all circumstances—whether you are celebrating Thanksgiving in North America or not, whether you are having a good day or not—we have the choice to give thanks in all circumstances!
By the end of the night, my heart was overflowing with thankfulness—tears were long gone.
Gratitude had replaced them with joy.