Saturday, November 28, 2015

Peace Offering

You may be done with Thanksgiving and moved on to Christmas already, but we're just sitting down to our big meal today.  Each year we invite our friends over to a very traditional Thanksgiving meal on the Saturday after Thanksgiving.  We eat turkey and stuffing and even have The Parade on mute for everyone to watch.  That's always fun to explain to everyone.

 It's been fun to see how our Tico friends have embraced this meal and look forward to it now as much we do. Last year they even started to make traditional dishes to bring, like pumpkin pie!

Over the last couple of years, I've done some studying on peace.  One of the things that caught attention was a sacrifice in the Old Testament called the Peace Offering.  Unlike what you might be thinking, it wasn't to pacify God or to buy Him off. 

Nope, in fact it was an offering of thanksgiving.  It was one of the only offerings that was allowed to be sacrificed any time someone felt like it.  One might offer the sacrifice for the completion of a vow, or out of thankfulness for some gift the Lord gave them.  One might also offer it as a thank offering for the Peace that they had with God.  After the animal was sacrificed, the one offering it ate the meat in community with their friends and family.

This Peace Offering is how I've come to view our Thanksgiving meal.  We very consciously offered all the preparing, planing, time and money as a sacrifice of thanksgiving to God. Let's be honest, that turkey isn't cheap here in the tropics! 

It's a peace offering for the community He has give us.  This community wasn't something that came quickly or easily.  Every year as I look around at the friends who come to eat our weird gringo food and watch this weird parade thing with us, I am so thankful! 

It's also a Peace Offering for the Peace that we have with God. "For He Himself is our Peace."

"So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, 
but you are fellow citizens with the saints, 
and are of God’s household" -Ephesians 2:19

Thankful. Very, very thankful.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015


With a loose theme of Thanksgiving here on the blog this month, some have written about what the Thanksgiving holiday is like in their family or country of residence. I'll continue that theme, especially since I missed it this year, and I usually love it so much.

As a regular holiday, Ukraine and Russia don't really celebrate Thanksgiving. However, the churches have a special harvest Sunday called Zhatva. The sermons and special music and all focus on God's gifts to us and thanking Him for them. There's not a set date for Zhatva. In fact, often regional pastors work together to stagger the dates in the different churches, so that we can visit each other and celebrate together. Usually, Zhatva Sundays are in September, although sometimes they flow over into late August and October.

Some years our family has gone to three or maybe even more Zhatva celebrations, when we've been very involved in church ministry. I especially love when we get to go out to a village to thank God for the harvest He has given there. Those village services are usually followed by a real feast, often outdoors in the lovely fall weather.

This year, I was travelling for other reasons, so I missed Zhatva at the church that we attend, and we didn't visit any others. But, my husband made sure to take photos for me, and I'll share some of those with you. There are always lovely displays of the fruits and vegetables that God has given:

Oh, and here's just one old post (one of many) about a village Zhatva on our family blog. (Can you see how our family has grown since then?!) This really is one of my favorite parts of church life here.

Who else out there has been to a Slavic church's Zhatva celebration? Or do churches in your part of the world do something similar?

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Thanksgiving Trees as a Simple Outreach

I am sure that nearly all of you have heard of the "Thanksgiving Tree" tradition. For those who might not know of it, it's where you make a tree out of paper to hang on your wall, or out of bare branches in a vase or jar, and adorn it over time with paper leaves with hand-written blessings on them. Some people like to do this for the entire month of November, others just for Thanksgiving week or day as a way to focus our hearts on thankfulness to the Lord. You can invite those who enter your home to participate with you and to count their own blessings by hanging a leaf or two on your tree. The end result is a beautiful display of the Lord's goodness.

Our Thanksgiving Tree last year, not long after we started

We have done this tradition in our home for a number of years, and last year got to thinking about how this is such a great way to engage non-believers in spiritual conversation. When we think of the things that we are thankful for, a natural second question is to whom we are grateful for these gifts.

Our daughter goes to Russian pre-school, so we decided to see if we might be able to share this tradition with her class. I explained about the tree and how the teacher could gather the kids around each day for a week or so to ask them two question; first being what they are thankful for, and second being to whom they are thankful. Our beloved teacher surprised us with her great enthusiasm and explained how she loved this idea after noticing how kids these days are growing to feel more and more entitled to things and less and less grateful. Our teacher is not a believer but has a huge heart for developing the character of her kids.

We brought in the tree and a bunch of cut out leaves with string loops attached, and the teacher and class fell in love with this tradition. They did it not only for a week, but an entire month! One day not long after they started, our daughter's teacher, who knows that we are Christians, said, "Guess what? Today a little boy said that he was thankful for the sun. And guess who he was thankful to? God!"

The preschool Thanksgiving tree, also not long after they started

The teacher felt that this practice of giving thanks was so valuable that she went around to all of the other classes in our preschool and even to a gathering of preschool teachers in the city and shared the idea, encouraging them to adopt it for their own classes.

I wanted to share this with you as a very simple and non-confrontational way to spur hearts towards spiritual things and to begin conversations with groups, perhaps at schools or other places, where you might not be welcomed to share as openly about the gospel as you would like. God has greatly used this tradition to open doors for us and I pray that it might do the same for some of you!

Is the Thanksgiving Tree a part of your family tradition? What are some ways that you've been able to reach out to people in your community through the Thanksgiving holiday?

Saturday, November 7, 2015

A Story of Three Very Different Thanksgivings

 Thoughts of Thanksgivings way past... 

  • traveling to grandparents' house
  • aunts and uncles and cousins and family friends 
  • tearing around a small, rural southern Illinois town on bikes in jeans and sweatshirts, fingers and noses freezing, but a last hurrah before it became too wintery
  • the smell of cigars
  • Thanksgiving Day parades on TV - with all of those amazing floats 
  • American football in the heyday of the Pittsburgh Steelers
  • cousin slumber parties in the refinished basement
  • tables and tables and tables full of food including Stove Top Stuffing spiked with chunks of cheese
  • unlimited orange and grape pop in the basement fridge...

Magical memories...

They easily assume an almost mystical, mythological place in our minds, which then makes it all the more difficult to appreciate a present moment. As an adult, I've discovered that those delightful recollections of childhood Thanksgivings had unexpected repercussions. I'd try to recreate aspects of those bygone days, only to fail miserably because it never felt the same, at least not to me.

I was on an express path to lose my love for what had always been my most treasured holiday.

Don't get me wrong. There's nothing wrong with remembering. But there's so much wrong with trying to recreate what has passed... Instead, we have to draw from the past to build something new.

Our first "traditional" Thanksgiving in W. Africa was a memorable one. My father-in-law had flown out to visit and to see our new home. He brought a frozen turkey in his carry-on! I learned to make mock pumpkin pie from squash, mock pecan pie using oatmeal and mock apple pie from zucchini. I made giblet gravy for the first time and stuffing from scratch - we splurged on cheese to stuff down into the chunks of bread. We borrowed VHS tapes with old football games on them, pulled out our piddly artificial Christmas tree to decorate and began playing Christmas music. We worked on puzzles and played board games and watched Swiss Family Robinson. We'd invited a few single friends to spend the day with us. We discovered that some of the best watermelon EVER came into season during November in Niger and started a new Thanksgiving tradition that involved watermelon instead of cranberries. We prayed and thanked the Lord for our new home. It was a beautiful, wonderful Saturday (since the actual US Thanksgiving day was work as usual for the rest of the world) that set the scene for many more W. African Thanksgivings to come...

After we'd been living in Niger for a few years, we realized that our brothers and sisters in the church also celebrated a time of thanksgiving. Sometime in October, after the beginning of the school year (October 1), many churches observed a "Fête de Moisson," or Harvest Celebration. Invitations were sent to sister churches. Neighborhood children were invited. The church was meticulously cleaned, sometimes even repainted and decorations were strung from the metal trusses supporting the roof. A goat or sheep was slaughtered and slow cooked in a sauce we'd smell throughout the entire service. Everyone brought some food - or at the very least, a bag of hard candies or several bagged yogurts to share. Sometimes, there was even a case of cold, glass bottled Coke - for the men. A basket was placed in the front of the church and after the time of singing and a short sermon, everyone had several opportunities to sing and dance their way down the aisle, to the front and place gifts in that basket - first the elders, then all the men, then all the women, then the choir, then the children, then families - one by one... and on and on. Often, the women would buy yards of the same material from the market several weeks ahead of time and would show up to church in mostly matching outfits. There were games during the children's Sunday School time - sometimes prizes were handed out to children who recited their verses. At the conclusion of the service, we'd eat a meal together - men served first, often in groups of 5 or 6 sitting around a large plate piled high with the rice and sauce that had been awfully distracting during the sermon. Then children would be served... and finally the women would eat together. Usually everyone ate with their hands. Sometimes - trying to be nice, they gave us - the missionary family - spoons to use. We always smiled and said thank you - and never said that it was actually more fun to eat with our hands. I can't say that I loved it... this Thanksgiving celebration... NOT the first time. But it grew on me. The past few years, I've missed watching my children dance and laugh and clap their way to the front of the church - and the offering basket - while our African family danced and laughed and clapped with them.

This year, we celebrated Thanksgiving in Canada.  Canadian Thanksgiving's beginnings are more closely identified to European traditions than to New World unity. Many decades before Europeans settled in North America, festivals of thanks and celebrations of harvest took place throughout Europe during the month of October. It is generally agreed that the first Thanksgiving celebration in North America actually took place in Canada, when English explorer Martin Frobisher landed in Newfoundland. He was thankful for safety as he traveled across the Atlantic. He arrived 43 years before the Pilgrims landed in Massachusetts... 1572. I've only ever celebrated Canadian Thanksgiving in Quebec; according to what most have told me - it isn't nearly as big of a deal in Quebec as it is in Ontario and western Canada (nobody really said anything about further east). At most, it is a three day weekend to spend time with family. More typically, it is a bit of a party weekend, with Monday as the official holiday. After our traditional Thanksgiving meal (with from-scratch cranberry sauce, for the first time ever), our daughter and her friend went out door to door in our neighborhood. They were collecting pop and other cans for recycling (it's a common way students here raise funds for school activities). Her friend said it would be a great weekend - lots of beer bottles to collect - and she was right. We filled our SUV with garbage bags full of bottles and cans. Even the passenger side front seat was packed, and the girls had to walk to the return center while I drove to meet them. Our church did have a meal after the service on Sunday, which was a fun time to fellowship, eat delicious food and visit. But we couldn't hang out all day as we rent a room and had a deadline by which we needed to be cleaned up and cleared out. The Christian school our children attend gifted families with a four-day weekend - and the last Thursday afternoon was spent watching students (dressed in "Fall" themed/colored costumes) participate in an annual competition: the Autumn Leaves Race. Many parents were at the school to cheer their kids on, and it seemed like fun was had by all - even the highschoolers who had to reluctantly run 2+ kilometers. 

We're still figuring out Thanksgiving here. We live near a First Nations/Native American reservation. I'd love to find out if they have any type of harvest celebration! Next year, maybe!

Were those Thanksgivings past better than more recent ones? No. And even though not EVERY year makes memories with the same sort of reminiscing power, Thanksgiving remains my favorite time of year...

Maybe because it isn't all about me. It is all about remembering why I'm thankful... and to quote some lyrics of a well-known song: 

The sun comes up
It's a new day dawning
It's time to sing Your song again
Whatever may pass
And whatever lies before me
Let me be singing
When the evening comes

You're rich in love
And You're slow to anger
Your name is great
And Your heart is kind
For all Your goodness
I will keep on singing
Ten thousand reasons
For my heart to find

And on that day
When my strength is failing
The end draws near
And my time has come
Still my soul will
Sing Your praise unending
Ten thousand years
And then forevermore

Bless the Lord oh my soul
Oh my soul
Worship His Holy name
Sing like never before
Oh my soul
I'll worship Your Holy name"
(Matt Redman - 10,000 Reasons)

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Generating Gratitude

Thanksgiving is this month… unless you live in Canada (like I do now). If you do, Thanksgiving was last month.

Traditionally, Fall- or harvest-time in western cultures - includes a specified time of celebration, family and giving thanks. But that doesn't mean western cultures have the corner on this sort of celebration.

Have you already guessed? Our monthly theme for November is thankfulness... and we hope to spark a conversation about how Thanksgiving (or Action de Grâce as we say in French) is celebrated around the world. 

To start things off, I'd like to revisit something I wrote a few years back... while I was still living in West Africa... all about gratitude!

...I feel a bit stupid starting out like this – 

I REALLY can’t stand listening to a generator.

I know. You’re wondering, “What’s the big deal?”

First, I’ve listened to them an awful lot lately.

Additionally, generators are noisy, they stink, there’s usually a big puff of black smoke as they start up, I’m quite sure they can’t be good for the environment and they consume a whole lot of diesel fuel. That gets expensive. 

And while that list of five might actually be considered valid reasons for my churlishness, they aren’t the real ones behind my stronger than ambivalent dislike.

My antipathy towards those monstrosities which authorize electricity for some while everyone else has plunged into darkness is nothing short of sinful.

I detest them because I don’t have one… everyone else around me does… which repeatedly jogs my memory of something I’d rather ignore.

When the power goes out
  • I’m stuck sitting in the dark trying to mark papers until I get frustrated and my head aches (candlelight is hard on these getting-older eyes of mine).
  • I’m finishing looking up the Zarma words with unfamiliar symbols for Saturday’s Bible study.
  • I’m washing dishes hoping they’ll look as clean in the daylight as they do under that dreamy, flickery glow. 
  • I’m praying that the little ones don’t wake up because the difficulty of rejoining Mr. Sandman increases exponentially when the air seems deader than the inside of a tomb. 
  • Last, but not least, I sweat literal buckets at 11:00 at night when working near even the tiniest flame.
I used to begrudge those who experienced nothing more than a blip when the current sagged or disappeared altogether. I think I’ve gotten past that. I don’t wish they didn’t have one because I don’t, and I certainly understand why they use their generators. If I had one, I’d be using it, too.

EACH time, however, I hear a generator roar into life I’m vehemently reminded of something I’d rather ignore….

I balk at the instruction to give thanks in all circumstances. 

I'm reminded of that reality in slow motion replay each time I hear those machines jolt into life and I begin to growl and complain. 

My father-in-law served for some years in Haiti and tells of visiting a local electric company. Night had fallen, the plant was elevated, located on a small mountain outside of town, and from the plant, he could see the entire lighted city. An employee began pointing out different neighborhoods and then with a sly grin told my father-in-law to watch.


He switched a button, an entire neighborhood went dark... and the employee laughed. Out loud. 

It is easy to joke that something similar takes place each time our power goes out. But reality is that I can live and still function adequately, even with this particular frustration that is so common to the expat experience of life in an impoverished, still-developing locality.

I can also willingly choose to refuse to give thanks.

We’ve had a smattering of power outages in recent days and weeks. More than normal. Each time I hear the neighboring generators roar into life, a still small voice whispers: “I don’t want to thank the Lord that the local powers that be have once again denied me any power.” That voice doesn’t stop there, however. It continues, whispering: 
“It isn’t the electric company denying you power. You’ve done it to yourself, by not choosing gratitude.”
Not only am I stumbling and sweating it out without electricity, I’m also self-rendered powerless, spiritually, choosing to be a victim of circumstances when God offers me practice at building a practice of joy and contentment, regardless.

Just like that dude at the electric plant in Haiti, by refusing gratitude, I’m flipping a switch, laughing… and plunging myself (and sometimes those around me) into darkness.

Choosing gratitude, however?

Choosing gratitude siphons out any clout out of darkness. It leaves opportunity for vibrating voltage, exhilarating energy, and contagious current.

An electrical stream of thankfulness pulsating powerfully can provide perspective and light for me and maybe for those nearby as well.

William Faulkner noted:
“Gratitude is a quality similar to electricity: it must be produced and discharged and used up in order to exist at all.”
Faulkner was absolutely right…


What, in your life, reminds you of those times you reject a thankful spirit?

How can you celebrate Thanksgiving throughout the year - intentionally producing, discharging and using up gratitude?

This article, original form, first posted here.