Holidays and Heart Needs

The holidays are such a funny time; every year, they surprise me.

This is the sixth year that I’ve been away from home in the leadup from Halloween to Christmas Eve, and I like to think I’ve gotten pretty good at it by now. In recent weeks, when my family was anxiously trying to coordinate ways to be together, and whether my sister could come out to visit me in November, I felt compelled to remind them that I’m used to being away from them on Thanksgiving.

It’s ok, I said. You all be together and let’s spend our energy on Christmas.

And I wasn’t just saying that…for a while now I’ve been a Thanksgiving floater, just looking for good friends that I can spend a happy, cozy day with cooking and watching the parade and nibbling on food well before we actually sit down to an official meal. I’ve actually enjoyed some lovely and surprising holidays that way: a cabin in the North Carolina mountains with a dear colleague friend and her kids; a huge southern feast with so many casserole dishes we could barely fit them on the table; a quiet Cleveland celebration last year with seminary friends.

So I was ready, I thought, for 2020. Ready for another year away from home, with a little added anxiety about infection protocols. And my two friends, my quaranteam, who I will be with this week, proposed ham instead of turkey. Why not? I thought. Less leftovers, less mess, and since I won’t be cooking it – who cares?

Turns out, though…I care. In a way that caught me off-guard and frankly irritated me a little.

I started thinking about the lack of thanksgiving leftovers, the lack of gravy to put on my potatoes, the lack of turkey smell for hours in advance…and I got a little squirmy.

Truth be told, this is a year when a lot of traditions have simply had to go out the window, and it has left me a little less flexible when it comes to what’s left.

When I called my friends last night to make the menu plan, they heard it in my voice – that need for something familiar; in this case: turkey. (Long story short: we are going to eat the bird. I have terrifically understanding friends.)

But it brought up a good point for all of us: what is it that you need – which we can achieve together?

For my one friend, it’s pumpkin pie. No frills, no cheesecake swirl or praline topping – just simple, classic pumpkin pie. That will make her feel cared for and content.

And we can do that.

The truth is, there is both a lot of loss this year when it comes to the holidays, and a lot of opportunity. Because it’s simply not wise, or safe, or possible, to do everything we normally do, we are in the unique position of having to re-examine how we gather and celebrate, and to reconsider what’s most important to us. And many of us might well be surprised, like I was, when we try to find answers to those questions.

We might find that what we need is actually radically simple, in contrast to what we thought we needed: all of the glitter and bustle and busy-ness.

I firmly believe that God does not intend bad things to happen to us, like a pandemic, but that God will always show up in the midst of them and be at work. That God will find ways to make something out of nothing, to bless us in the middle of great hurt. And I believe that as we reimagine our holidays, God might be inviting us to reconsider what we really need from this time, and what our hearts really long for.  

Maybe it’s turkey. Or (more likely) it is people who care enough about you that they’ll make a turkey happen if that’s what you say you need.  

So here’s my invitation to you: join me in thinking and praying about what matters most to you this season, what you need and what the ones you love need. Try to find safe ways to accomplish those things – and just watch to see what God can do in the midst of the mess; how God shows up; how Immanuel really is God with us, even in these days.

-Pastor Jen

One thought on “Holidays and Heart Needs

  1. Soooo True! I’ve never appreciated simplicity as much as I have this year. But you are also right about the turkey smell! And leftover turkey for sandwiches later.


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