“We thank you for the blessing of family and friends, and for the loving care which surrounds us on every side.” — A General Thanksgiving, Book of Common Prayer, page 836
I am a few days late with this post. For whatever reason, last week simply got away from me. This is not an unusual occurrence for me, but such occurrences have, unfortunately, happened far too often of late. I’d like to chalk it up to a busy schedule, but my guess is, it has more to do with my own challenges around meeting self-imposed deadlines — but that is a post for another day!
As I prayed the General Thanksgiving throughout the second week full week of November (10th – 16th), I devoted a fair amount of my attention to the second section (quoted above). I am well aware that, for many people, the word “family” calls up all sorts of negative associations. In my work as a priest and pastor, I’ve listened to stories from all kinds of people who are still working toward healing as they deal with the pain and trauma inflicted upon them by those who ostensibly should have been their biggest support system. I understand families are often dysfunctional, frequently hurtful, and sometimes dangerous. And so I can certainly see how this particular sentence in the General Thanksgiving can seem overly sentimental to those whose experience of “family” is at odds with the fantasy of family promulgated in a wide swath of mainstream culture.
My own family had its ups and downs. Because of my dad’s work, our family of four was separated from all of our relatives. We only saw grandparents, uncles, aunts, and cousins once a year when my dad got his annual vacation. So for me, “family” simply meant my mom, my dad, my sister and me. My parents worked factory jobs. We lived in a small, ranch style house in a blue collar neighborhood. My dad often worked sixty hour weeks, and sometimes, because of his work schedule and our sleep schedules, my sister and me would only see him on the weekends duringthe school year. Some years I suspect we were probably pretty close to the edge financially. Of course, my sister and I weren’t necessarily aware of the economics at the time, and I don’t remember feeling in any way “deprived.” I understand now, though, this in itself was a blessing not everyone who lived around us enjoyed.
By the time my sister and me were in late elementary school, my mom instituted an annual tradition — she called it “Shopping For Fun” Day. It usually happened on the Friday before Christmas. She would give both my sister and me a ten dollar bill, and then she would take us shopping — usually to a couple of popular variety stores (back in the day we called them “Five and Dimes”). The goal of the shopping trip was for each of us to buy something for ourselves to enjoy in the days before Christmas Day, and hopefully beyond. While a ten dollar bill went farther then than it does now, we still had to be judicious and creative about how we invested the cash. My sister would often wind up with a new paper doll book or arts and craft supplies. I’d usually get a model plane or car to build. Sometimes we’d find just the right, crazy, cheap toy to buy, or other times we’d pool the money to buy something to share. And then, after the shopping trip, there would be lunch with my mom at the snackcounter in the store.
Given what I know now, that $35.00 outing with us probably represented a few weeks worth of my mom saving a couple of bucks here and there to make sure the day didn’t impinge upon the family budget. And as I look back on those Shopping For Fun Days, I can honestly say, I believe those were some of the few days I remember seeing my mom genuinely relaxed. Each of those outings probably lasted a total of four hours. And the memory of those days are some of the happiest memories of my childhood. And for whatever reason, every time I prayed the General Thanksgiving last week, I thought of these little trips.
Sometimes, loving care doesn’t look very dramatic. Sometimes it’s doing the laundry and dishes. Sometimes it’s repairing a faucet or hanging a picture. Sometimes it’s paying the electric bill or mowing the lawn. Sometimes it’s patching a coat or helping with chores. Love gets incarnated in the ways we speak to each other, the tasks we do for one another, and the care we extend beyond ourselves — even when such care is inconvenient. And sometimes, loving care looks like a ten dollar bill and a dime store hamburger. Thanks be to God.