SO, how DO we get our family and friends around the table for the upcoming holidays? My kind of family lives in several countries and not everyone wants to celebrate the same holidays on the same day. That would just be too easy! Still, I value having everyone around the table at least once a year even if the actual day we celebrate doesn't match the occasion.
Let me explain. Thanksgiving is always on a Thursday. We do not live in a country that recognises this day as a day off work, no matter how many Style sections of a newspaper or magazine feature the food and hand out localised recipes. Learning how to beat loneliness on the actual day has been part of my challenge in overseas living.
Here are three ways we, as a family, have developed this gathering.
1. I have learned that actually, not everyone back in America celebrates Thanksgiving on the day. There are many families that use this day off as travel time and the meal is held on Friday or Saturday. I am not alone! Taking my own motto a little more seriously ("Blessed are the Flexible") helps me to keep a good attitude.
2. Do the shopping on the actual day (as in Thanksgiving on Thursday). This gets me in planning mode, and shopping can always assist with not feeling sorry for myself. I must admit I treat myself to Starbucks Time, and look for American treats to enjoy at the English Tea Time.
3. Invite as many family members who will come, along with friends who may have heard of Thanksgiving and are curious. You could do this for any national holiday, and use it as a time to share your culture's history and food. You are passing on your culture to those third culture kids! Teach a few regular attendees how to make one of the recipes...OK. not a recipe no one wants, but something fun that truly adds to the meal.
Above all ( this could qualify as number 4!), be flexible. You can't duplicate your grandmother's set up for the day but think of it this way, they won't be doing that back home either. Oh, and remember to call home. We once included an adult child overseas by setting up Skype and putting the laptop at the end of the table! Do forewarn them and they, too, can have some special treat ready even if the time difference means they just aren't hungry. As we are redefining "coming to the table," let's gather our families any way we can!
Sue greeted the Baby Boomers coming into the tent, the marquee holding a brand new event for the 50's and 60's (plus). It was the first time Holy Trinity Brompton summer camp, better known as FOCUS had organised something specifically for our age group. There was a rustic bar set up for drinks, and nibbles were on the tables. "This," said Sue "is something we know how to do well".
She was absolutely right. Our age group knows how to have a drinks party. How to mingle. How to introduce each other. How to talk about the day and what we do, our faith, and family life. No false humility. No boasting in ourselves, and incredibly surprised that God had ever even used us in our long lives. I loved how Sue gently drew people out, making connections with others in the room. She just has this spiritual gift.
Very soon I met Sally, who thankfully didn't spend much time discussing my American accent and was on to more important things such as the Beth Moore Bible study she was leading out in her neck of the woods. Sally had memorised the entire book of James! By her enthusiasm she challenged me to make Scripture memorisation a goal for the year ahead, and suddenly I realised how much I was enjoying a summer evening in the New Forest with fellow disciples of Jesus. It turned out that many of us were mentors of one type or another, whether it be grandchildren or groups in our communities. Our age group has an exciting challenge, backed up by Scripture. We shared how we loved encouraging the next generation in adventures that fit who they were and meant to be. We recalled being on long ago church planting teams, or getting each other through Divorce Recovery or first learning about God's healing, and the wonders of prayer ministry.
As the evening came to a close we talked about our grandchildren and how they had enjoyed the day in their small groups and activities, and thanked Sue for starting a group just for us!
That night, sitting with a friend and my daughter, her husband and my grandsons, I reflected on how much I had loved taking some time just to gather with others who shared the journey of Christian life. Yes, it was great to hear the speakers and sing the inspiring worship songs at a summer conference or camp, but it was a deep blessing just to be alongside others with encouraging stories and challenges. We needed this time to share our stories.
Then, in the last celebration service of the night I had a surprise. Nicky Gumble mentioned St Paul's, Shadwell and I remembered the fun and challenge of being on the original church planting team for that church. They were still going strong, and not for a moment had I doubted they would; but the surprise was the announcement that now they had planted another church in the East End of London! This was truly a day of being blessed by just being at this stage of life, seeing both biological and spiritual grandchildren.
This September, let's take a moment to consider if there is some blessing or even some challenge we could take from the summer into the new year. If you have been reading my blog for awhile, you will know that I still consider the academic year the beginning of the year. This is when I set my goals, even if I need to rewrite them in January.
Three ideas for you to consider:
1. Perhaps plan ahead for "gatherings" next summer. I'm thinking of upgrading to glamping at FOCUS, and that takes a little planning with the budget
2. Perhaps evaluate how we mentor the next generation, considering how we invest time and money. Even if you are 30, there is someone in their 20's who might like a regular cup of coffee and a chat. You never know what might come of it.
3. Perhaps memorise a Psalm this month, something that will sustain you when the summer is over and you head into the challenges of the Autumn/Fall and Winter.
I'm working on Psalm 37, and I'll leave you with what I've memorised so far.....with an expat note or two as an aide memoir!
"Do not fret because of evil doers, (or worry about visas or bumpy flights- though we know smooth flights are from God!)
Do not envy those who do wrong.
For like grass, they shall soon wither.
Like green plants they shall soon pass away.
Trust in the Lord and do good,
Dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture. (OK, God has planted me here in England)
Delight in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart. (family reunions -all nationalities!)
Commit you way to the Lord, trust in Him and he will do this-
He will make your righteousness shine like the dawn and the justice of your cause (everyone in the family of faith, losing none) like the noon day sun.
Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for Him....."
Have a blessed September,
Blessed are the flexible!