‘Tis the season, in America, for the great holiday rev-up.
Today, a week’s worth of planning, traveling, grocery store lines, and cooking culminates around that famous and DELICIOUS traditional meal, hopefully a bit of giving thanks, and usually some football. Then, a certain species of Americans will push through 3am crowds for extreme Christmas shopping and fill their cold fingers with red Starbucks cups. Let the fa-la-la-la-la’ing and decking the halls begin!
It’s a litttttle bit different here…
Ok, it’s completely different.
The year winds down with some sort of lethargic gusto, if that’s even possible. School, structure and all things normal come to a screeching halt. South Africa seems to sway in a non-celebratory, non-structured haze for the month of December.
A year of growing relationships, digging deep roots, and investment can be sealed or discarded as the safety of routine dissolves and people revert back to how they know how to survive December.
Yesterday, the same day most Americans were making pie crusts and preparing the turkey, I found myself crying like a blubbering turkey in front of the South Africans here that I’m closest to. This week, it feels like all the cultural differences came to a head. Like a wave of this-isn’t-where-you-come-from crashed over me, and I couldn’t keep my head above water.
Because ‘tis the season in South Africa when you go back to your old ways… where it becomes painfully obvious that the people I love the most still default to being the one who’s enslaved and the one who’s orphaned.
This week I saw that, even though we’re doing so much life together, when the December default started kicking in, our differences were the loudest. I broke. I cried. I blubbered through a construction site, on the floor of a daycare, and through a teatime meeting. Then I stomped my foot and said, “IT’S THANKSGIVING.”
I looked at these women.
They are running back into their enslaved and orphaned identities to disappear into December.
They are learning about, but not yet claiming and tasting, their places set at the Father’s table.
I cried hurt, sorrowful and angry tears.
I told them about the holiday where work and school stop with the purpose of families coming together around a meal. I told them that people travel great distances, go through great expense, and are intentional about preparing the most extravagant fare. And it’s for the purpose of giving thanks with your family.
I told them that I left my family and my culture and my traditions so that I could be family with them. And I told them that it felt like our cultures, our languages, and my skin color was keeping me from being family.
I left my family to be a voice for His Family, and on this Thanksgiving week, I felt like a December discard. I felt like the white-skinned charity worker who gets put on hold while people slip away into a month of oblivion, secrets and back-pedaling.
Eyes bugged out.
Heads shook fiercely.
“No, Kacy. No, no, no. That’s not it. We are family. We are one.”
They wrapped their black skin around my white skin.
And I longed for their orphan hearts to wrap around the Father’s heart.
I felt something break loose, in me and hopefully in them as well.
I realized how deeply in me I don’t want to work here. I don’t want to feed mouths, build houses and do the Africa song-and-dance of relief work.
I’m not here for relief work. I’m here because Family works.
And I thanked my Father that, on this Thanksgiving week, I’m walking around like a blubbering turkey because I want to be a part of this family, and I want them to know His Family forever. And it’s deeper in me than it’s ever been. It’s how I want to live and breathe and love.
Even when it hurts.
And then I laughed and remembered that this really is right on par with Thanksgiving week anyway, isn’t it America? A family’s history, love, personalities, expectations, and differences are crammed into one room and the dysfunctions seem to surface so much more quickly and blatantly. And it’s all because we want to feel like we belong together. It’s all because we want love to be whole.
I laughed REALLY hard when I remembered the Thanksgiving that the cousins, aunts and his mom were catcalling Cousin John’s catwalk as he modeled his new nipple piercings. And Uncle Neal walked up just in time for the pivot and caught the glimmer of the newly bejeweled man-nipple. Thanksgiving got a LOT louder and then a LOT quieter.
Ahh, family. It all comes up, all comes out, and all gets much more obvious when we all get together. (And now I will find out which family members read my blog!)
The differences and uncomfortable history I’m experiencing this week go far deeper than a difference in a taste of jewelry or acquiring permission for nipple accessories.
The differences have a lot to do with things I didn’t choose, like where we were born: a country founded on freedom with healthcare and education and Thanksgiving… and a country still wobbling out of slavery, with disease and poverty and oppression.
But we have the same Father, and He said we all belong at the same Thanksgiving table for eternity. So, just like any family, when we come together we can pretend we are the same and everything is fine, or we can decide to be one and to love anyway.
I’m thankful on this Thanksgiving. I’m thankful that I’m still celebrating family with messy dynamics, increased emotions, and all the love that is behind those things. I’m thankful that, even with all the broken parts and holes, there is family and that it’s worth gathering for, staying for, and expecting greater things for.
[Confession: Some of those tears might have been because I miss my family too. I love you and I wish I were with you today to hug you TIGHT, to laugh with you, and to eat so, so much of NaNa's stuffing.]