“Oh Lord, I’m having a hot flash again,” said my Aunt Kathy Jo, wiping sweat from her cheek while setting up for Thanksgiving dinner. “Somebody turn on the air conditioner – I can’t take it.”
I chuckled at her honesty and then complimented her outfit. It was a departure from the more formal Thanksgiving attire of years past. With her black hat, shimmering with rhinestones, tight black pants, and white, denim jacket, she looked less like Martha Stewart and more like Salt n’ Pepa.
“I’m surprised you’re wearing a hat,” I said.
“My hair’s dirty, and I don’t feel like washing it,” she said. “I’m just keeping it real this year. I don’t care.”
And actually, nobody else at Thanksgiving did either.
Thanksgiving in Arkansas is a time when all my grandparents’ offspring get together every year. It started as a small dinner decades ago; but thanks to some aggressive reproduction, this year, we had 55 people.
It’s a time for me to reboot, recall my identity, and remember that DC isn’t the center of the universe. But despite the joy Thanksgiving provides now, when I was a kid, I didn’t feel so comfortable at the big celebration.
Compared to my cousins, I was out-of-place. Their parents were married (mine were divorced), they lived in nice houses with chimneys (we burned trash in our backyard), and sometimes, I wore my cousins’ hand-me-down clothes (awwwk-ward!). I saw myself as an oddball who had somehow slipped into a royal family of elite Arkansans.
But thanks to steady doses of love from everyone there – including the cousins – I eventually felt that I belonged with my extended family. Those reassurances came in a number of ways, like bear hugs from Uncle Curtis, verbal affirmation from Uncle Rod, and Aunt Susan laughing at my clumsy, teenage humor. It was a formative part of me coming to accept myself as a young man.
I don’t want to over-exaggerate the influence of my yearly visits to Arkansas – Lord knows my mom gets the lion’s share of the credit for helping me develop a sense of self-worth as a teen. But my family also deserves credit for giving me the space to be a little weird, but loved nonetheless. It taught me that I could belong to a group of respectable Christians who would take me as I came.
To think, I only saw these people once a year, and they impacted my life that much. I can only imagine what would happen to those in our churches – where we meet at least once a week – if we treated people like valued members of our extended family.
Perhaps we would spend less time being lectured from a pulpit and more time conversing with our much-wiser elders (note that these conversations would happen more naturally in an environment that isn’t segregated by age). We would selflessly socialize with people whom we normally wouldn’t befriend. We’d slip $20 bills to each other and teach the klutzes how to throw a football.
We would concentrate more on having dinner together, opening our homes to each other, and praying for one another. We’d actually miss those who weren’t there and do what we could to help them make the trip.
And if that happened, week after week, oddballs like you and me would come to see that we’re a part of something bigger – a part of Christ’s family – a place where we can be real, hot flashes and all.