Thanksgiving is, in my opinion one of the best days of the whole year. There is a reason why flights are booked and trains are full and roads are crowded… it is because one day out of the year we pause to say thank you. And one of the things we are usually most thankful for is a place that feels like home. Where we can eat too much, talk smack about our football team (The Lions) and just be ourselves.
Today, with a turkey in the oven and green bean casserole tempting my taste-buds I am celebrating my 8th Thanksgiving in Zimbabwe.
I am an American, I grew up in Detroit where my family still lives and I spent every Thanksgiving of the first 25 years of my life sitting around a crowded house in Michigan with my family- eating too much, playing games and cheering on a football team that disappointed us almost every week of football season, but somehow managed to make us smile on Thanksgiving day.
Then one year, I took a flight from my home in Southern California to Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe to participate in a short term mission trip with ROCK of Africa Missions. I was missing Thanksgiving at home for the first time. I guess I didn’t know what to expect from 2 weeks in Africa… I thought I would see poverty, AIDS and sadness—and I did. But that isn’t all that I saw. I saw smiling faces happy just to have someone new in their village. I saw families trying to make it through another day. I heard laughter and singing and that most amazing quite peacefulness that if you aren’t listening for you will miss it-the sound of people who know they are blessed.
It was Thanksgiving that changed my life. While my family at home was sitting around for the first time without me, laughing and eating and celebrating our blessings, I was running around Victoria Falls trying to host a party in a town I knew nothing about. We were a team of 8 American friends and we hosted a party for a group of boys that lived and worked on the street. It was the most amazing night. We had food and music and laughter and gratitude and love and no one left that night the same.
We got on a plane and headed back home. And when I got there my heart hurt at what I saw. I saw my home, my things, my life and what a few weeks before seemed so little and inadequate now seemed extraordinary and wasteful. I opened my Bible and I saw a little pink post-it note with my handwriting on it, that I didn’t remember. It said “One pair of my shoes can educate this village for a year.” And it was the truth. And it hurt. And it broke me.
I sold those shoes, and I went back to Zimbabwe a few months later. Knowing in my heart that the plans I had made for myself were good and I experienced a job I loved, a home beyond my expectations and a community I adored… but that those plans no longer satisfied the deep longing of my heart. Psalm 37:4 is a verse that I clung to immediately after I became a believer of Jesus… it says, “Delight yourself in the Lord and He will grant you the desires of your heart.” I did and He did… but the truth is I was selling my heart short. With every shoe and every moment of happiness I reviled in the fact that my God was granting me the desires of my heart, and it wasn’t until a few years later when I was poor and living in a family’s kitchen in a ghetto in Zimbabwe that I realized the truth. That my heart lies to me… it sometimes makes me think that comfort and possessions and predictability and success are what it desires when in reality my heart desires an adventure I couldn’t dream up. My heart desires to be loved and to love fully, my heart desires to make a difference, even if it’s only in the life of one person.
I have now lived in Zimbabwe for almost 7 years. Today I celebrate my 8th Thanksgiving far from home and it doesn’t get easier. I am homesick and I will cry all day today, because the truth is, my heart’s desire cost me something—it cost me everything I ever wanted. And although my days are filled with more blessings than I could hope for—on some days part of me wishes I could go back… to the days before that post-it note was written in my Bible. Back to the days when my hair was shinny and my shoes were gorgeous and I could hop in my car and drive to see my friends or get on a plane and see my grandma just because I wanted to.
I am grateful to God for rocking my world and showing me that my way might be good but his is infinitely better.
8 Thanksgivings ago I was given a choice and I don’t regret it. But I won’t lie and say it is easy. On the days that hurt I often listen to a clip I recorded during that first trip. I sat around one of the poorest villages I have ever witnessed, and a group of little kids sang a song to me. The song they chose was an old hymn and it went like this…
“When upon life’s billows you are tempt and tossed,
When you are discouraged, thinking all is lost,
Count your many blessings, name them one by one,
And it will surprise you what the Lord has done.
Count your blessings, name them one by one,
Count your blessings, see what God has done!
Count your blessings, name them one by one,
And it will surprise you what the Lord has done.”
Today I sit around with an adopted family, mismatched people who just happen to love me even though I confuse them and I count my blessings. I have many and I know you do to. And when I stop to recognize them it does surprise me what God has done. If you only knew what I was like before Jesus got a hold of me... you would know that this flawed woman who sits here now is nothing short of a miracle. I hope that as you sit with your full tables and happy hearts that you remember that we are all blessed, not because we deserve it but because God has allowed it.
With Love From Zimbabwe,
PS. Grandma, If I could fly home every time I wanted to I would have a LOT of frequent flier miles... I love and miss you and wish God could let me be in two places at once!!