Thanksgiving for the Broken-hearted

Robynn and I were recently texting about Thanksgiving. This year both of us will fill our houses and hearts with people who are hurting. These will be the tables of the broken-hearted, chairs of the grieving, glasses of the bewildered, and dessert plates of the deserted.

What do we do when our tables are filled with the broken-hearted?When comfort feels as elusive as sunshine in winter?

We raise glasses of gratitude, because gratitude precedes the miracle. And God knows, we need miracles.

As we texted back and forth, comfort and friendship were in every word. Though miles away, we were walking beside each other.

Robynn’s last text to me that day is the one I have posted below. May you who fellowship with the broken-hearted know that we are with you through this Thanksgiving weekend. We pray that your tables will be ones of grace and the deepest of peace.


Broken tables and backless chairs—- we gather with pain and imperfections and pray for the great grace of gratitude to accompany our mashed potatoes and gravy.

The whole world is grey. Even the geese have flown south. We sit abandoned and isolated surrounded by noise and green bean casserole.

Jesus come. Be our healing. Be our holy guest. Make house calls to the weary and worn down. Sit with us a spell. Turn our water into wine and our emptiness into something that can hold second helpings of hope. With whip cream perhaps… wouldn’t that be all kinds of yummy?!

With love,

Marilyn and Robynn

Some Thoughts on Gratitude

winnie-the-pooh-quote

 

There’s this wonderful tradition built into the tapestry of American culture: Thanksgiving. Every year on the last Thursday in November, Americans gather in families, in groups, with friends, in communities for the sole purpose of expressing thanks. Granted a lot of the gratitude is buried under the gravy and the goodness of green bean casserole and the great mountain ranges of mashed potatoes but still the heart of it remains. This is a country determined to mark their thankfulness with an official holiday to underscore it. I love that!

I’ve spent some time thinking about gratitude recently. What does it look like to be truly grateful? Where does thankfulness come from? How can I cultivate it? Yesterday’s turkey dinner and the joys of family reunited still distract me a little but here are some of my scattered thoughts on thankfulness—

  • Each of us has the capacity to be grumblers. It’s easy to complain. It’s easy to commiserate and spiral downward into self-pity. We all have struggles and things we’re up against. Each of us face circumstances we’d like to skirt around. But even as all those things are true, the opposite is also true. We all have so much to be thankful for.
  • Being thankful is a choice. We were created with the amazing ability to choose. It was perhaps the most dangerous of decisions our Creator made. Giving us freedom to choose meant we might choose badly, we might choose against our Creator, we might choose self-destruction. But He still chose to give us that gift. And because we have that, we can now choose to be thankful.
  • It takes intentionality, effort and practice. Being thankful doesn’t come easily to us. Sometimes I think it’s the hardest work we’re given to do. The Psalmist admits as much when he says, “Make thankfulness your sacrifice to God…” (Psalm 50:14) It’s a sacrifice. It demonstrates our surrender. It takes work.
  • Meaningful memes or clever quotes on thanksgiving, while inspiring for two or three minutes, don’t necessarily result in a grateful heart. You have to actually be thankful. And for that to happen you have to stop and consider the gifts you’ve been given and then say that powerful pair of words: thank you!
  • One of our core needs as human beings is the longing to be known. Often it translates initially into wanting to be seen. William James says, “The deepest craving of human nature is the need to be appreciated.” There is nothing worse than feeling invisible, unacknowledged, unappreciated. In a strange way, gratitude is the antidote to this. When someone stops and says thank you to you it affirms that you exist. You have been seen. You matter. One of your longings has been met and there is some healing in that.

”Piglet noticed that even though he had a Very Small Heart, it could hold a rather large amount of Gratitude.”*  Like Piglet, we all have the capacity to contain a lot of thankfulness.

My husband Lowell described faith recently as our ‘thank you’ when we receive the grace that God extends to us. If we believe that we are rescued by grace through faith (Eph 2:8)—then grace is the undeserved gift Jesus gives and faith is our heart’s response, our ‘thank you’. Unless we receive the gift of God, unless we respond, unless we say thank you we’ll be stuck in our own befuddlement. Receiving the gift, given freely, ‘just because’, certainly not because of anything we’ve done to deserve it is the humblest most life-changing moment of thankfulness we’ll ever know.

The Apostle Paul exhorts readers in his letter to the Philippians: ”Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.” (Phil 4:6-7) Honestly laying our hearts out to God, telling him thank you for all that he’s up to allows us to experience a profound peace that’s difficult to understand!

The world is in an abysmal way. The refugee situation in Europe, the ongoing conflict in Syria, the after-effects of Paris and man-hunt in Brussels, the horrendous situation in Mali, the helicopter crash in Kasmir…all of it weighs on the world’s shoulders. It’s too much. The unequal distribution of the world’s resources seems cruel and unjust in times like this. The “why” questions stammer in my soul when they’re not tripping over my tongue. I can’t understand it. I don’t imagine that I ever will.

What I do know is that for whatever undeserved reason I have been tremendously blessed! I am among the lucky few. I have so much: peace and stability, leftovers from yesterday, Netflix and a public library. I will be thankful. I’m determined to approach God with gratitude this holiday season. I want to “Enter his gates with thanksgiving; (and) go into his courts with praise.” (Psalm 100:4) Want to come?

*A.A. Milne

Ten Things You Can Do on Friday (Instead of Going Shopping)

I can never let Black Friday go by without saying something…so here is a repost of a piece I wrote a year ago! Enjoy a Friday at home today!

Marilyn R. Gardner

English: DC USA, Best Buy, Black Friday

For those who live in the United States, it’s that time of the year again — that time where one day we gather, thankful for all that has been given us, basking in the warmth of family, friends, and food. And the next, we beat down our fellow-man, mobbing our way into stores to earnestly shop for that which we don’t need.

For those from other parts of the world, the day after Thanksgiving is called ‘Black Friday’. It’s a day that begins the night of Thanksgiving as employees are called away from their celebrations to ready themselves and their stores for the onslaught of shoppers. These shoppers will begin their quest for more material goods right when Cinderella loses her shoe and turns back into a scullery maid – the stroke of midnight.

I’m harsh. Yes – I think ‘Black Friday’ deserves harsh. I don’t think there is…

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The Good Ole’ Days: Remembering Thanksgiving in the “old” country!

We (Robynn & I) wish you a Happy Thanksgiving from the United States! Enjoy this post by Robynn about the “Old Country.”

thank-you

Those were Thanksgivings where kimchee lay down next to the roast chicken and we celebrated with true gratitude the extraordinary community we got to be a part of.

One of my favourite days of the year when we lived in India was always Thanksgiving Day. I’m referring to American Thanksgiving with sincere apologies to Canada and other nations who have similarly marked days for thankfulness or to celebrate a successful harvest:  The Netherlands, Grenada, Australia’s Norfolk Island, Liberia, Germany’s Erntedankfest or Japan’s Labor Thanksgiving Day. Thanksgiving Day isn’t celebrated in India, except of course among expatriate communities of Americans tucked around the country. On the second Monday of October, Thankgiving in Canada, it was always far too hot to celebrate with any vigor! But by the end of November, the temperatures were favorable. The hot summer was over, the messy monsoons after-mud was all dried up and there was nearly, if you used your imagination, a Fall-like atmosphere in the air! It was time to party! We took that celebration to a whole new level in the way we honoured American Thanksgiving. In fact the day became affectionately known as, the International American Thanksgiving Hosted by a Canadian! (And I was that Canadian!)

Our house was perfectly situated for such an event. We lived in an ancient stone house built right next to the Ganges River. Our house was built around a central courtyard with a massive mango tree growing out of the center. There was a staircase up to the roof with a glorious view of the river on the eastern side, a view of the city from the other three sides. From the roof top you could also look down into the open courtyard in the center of our home. While the house was actually quite small, the courtyard was large and hospitable. The last year we were there 111 people attended our Thanksgiving day and all managed to find a place to sit down: on chairs , on mats, on cushions, on the roof, in the living room, in the tree house!

With no turkeys available and no pumpkins in the market we had to improvise. We hosted a potluck. People from all over the world find themselves living along the banks of the Ganges river in the vibrant little city of Varanasi. Those same people are often nostalgic for their favourite foods. Once a year, at our International American Thanksgiving, they’d give into their memories of home and food and family, creatively substituting ingredients where necessary, they’d bring amazing dishes to share at our table. Typically we’d have mountains of mashed potatoes and gravy with roasted chickens and stuffing piled high. But we’d also have kimchee salad and fruit platters and sushi and tandoori chicken. There was often rice pulau with chunks of lamb and oodles of raisins. There was cabbage salad and sweet glazed carrots and green beans cooked up with onions and garlic. If the season cooperated, and we were lucky, someone might have found sweet potatoes in the bazaar. Those were smothered in a syrup made from coarse sugar and raw molasses to make a tasty vegetable side dish. Often we had curried dishes next to more traditional thanksgiving fare. Aloo Gobi. Muttar Paneer. And one of my favourite eggplant dishes: Baingan Bharta. Usually someone’s mother had sent a tin or two of cranberry sauce to complete our meal. Those were shared with joy and rationed out by the teaspoon! The dessert table was always divine. It held squash and carrot pies, apple pies, banana cream pies, lemon or key lime pie without the key limes. There was milk tart, dumplings, spice cakes, lamington and Ute’s special tiramisu. It was an international feast of international treats lovingly prepared by international cooks with whatever ingredients they could find, or had saved especially for the day.

After everyone had eaten their full and the coffee and tea had been served, we cleared the plates and got ready for the afternoon’s entertainment. With no football game to distract us, we found our own fun! A stage was created to the west side of our courtyard. Everyone turned their chairs, or their cushions on the courtyard floor to face the stage. People sat on the roof and watched down below. Babies crawled through and around and over the legs and laps of aunties and uncles. Toddlers toppled and played with leaves fallen from the mango tree in the center of our courtyard. Every year we had a talent show as part of our unique Thanksgiving Day celebrations. There were classical Indian dances from our little girls in dance class, there were silly songs and sad songs, there were painful magic shows, my husband Lowell would demonstrate our dog, Koyla’s, ability to understand 5 or 6 languages, someone would tell a story, another would have a series of jokes. And then the afternoon would be over. We’d linger long over another piece of leftover pie, another cup of hot chai. Slowly people would trickle out, no one really wanting the day to be over.

Our first Thanksgiving back in the US was in 2007. As we were making plans for it, our kids asked what we were doing for the talent show. Lowell laughed gently and then told them that the talent show wasn’t really a part of a traditional Bliss family thanksgiving in Kansas. Our children were aghast. How could you have thanksgiving without the talent show?

Making plans for a different type of Thanksgiving this year, with Lowell’s mom now living with us, and Lowell’s brother’s family now out at the farm, I wonder what changes we’ll see. It makes me remember those other Thanksgivings, a world away, on the banks of the Ganges. Those were Thanksgivings where kimchee lay down next to the roast chicken and we celebrated with true gratitude the extraordinary community we got to be a part of. Those were, in my mind, the good ole days.

(Although, truth be told, I don’t miss the annual awkward moment in the talent show where Lowell played his tin whistle with his nose….!)

Picture Credit: http://pixabay.com/en/thank-you-gratitude-appreciation-490607/ adapted by Marilyn Gardner

On Acne Medicine and Hope

SirnakTomorrow is American Thanksgiving – a favorite holiday for many. I know that there is a history behind Thanksgiving that is sobering, that the day we remember in 1621 was not representative of the traumatic relationship between indigenous people and pilgrims. But I am grateful for a day that is, in my circles, celebrated with grateful hearts, homes that welcome the stranger, and tables that reflect good gifts.

There is a lot to be troubled at in our world. From horror in the mountains of Iraq to desperation and anger in a city in Missouri, our world is fraught with sadness, injustice, disparities, and fear. In all this it is easy to lose hope, easy to drown in anger, apathy, or despair. So for Thanksgiving this year I have a story on acne medicine and hope. Happy Thanksgiving to all of you – Thank you for being this beautiful part of my life, thank you for reading, commenting, sharing, and loving the world with me. Thank you above all for being people that want to communicate across the boundaries that divide us.

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She sat across from me, a beautiful teenager in a dark green short-sleeved shirt, long sleeves underneath to provide warmth through layers. We had an instant connection when we met the day before. She was 17 years old and lovely.

It was in the late afternoon when she came to the makeshift clinic we had set up. She sat down. “How can I help?” I said to her.

She pointed to her face. Until then I hadn’t noticed but she had acne on both sides of her face, not severe but she was a teen and this was her face, not mine.

“You are so beautiful” I said holding her hands. We laughed together as I talked to her about washing her face, first washing her hands to get rid of dirt and germs. Then washing with warm water, gently bathing her face, finishing off with cold water to close the pores. I talked to her about not touching her pimples, about trying to keep her hands away from her face. As I spoke with her I thought “Here is a holy moment. A moment that God cares about.”

It could have happened with any teenager, anywhere in the world. But the thing that made it significant is that this was in a refugee camp. This was a teenager who had lost everything that was familiar – her home, her school, her routine, even some family members had been lost. Stress manifests itself in many ways and one of them is through the skin — through rashes, itching, and acne. A six to eight day walk through the mountains to get to safety didn’t help. Who has water for washing when you need every drop to keep hydrated?

That she wanted help with her face was an amazing picture of hope. Help me with my face, help me deal with what is a struggle today, help me to look better.

Hope was so present in her voice and face. She was the first of many to come to see us about her face – perhaps her courage gave hope to other teens, teens who had also lost everything.

It seems so small – giving out acne advice and medicine. But in the upside down kingdom of God even this can be used, even acne medicine can bring hope.

Happy Thanksgiving

Ten Things You Can Do on Friday (Instead of Going Shopping)

English: DC USA, Best Buy, Black Friday

For those who live in the United States, it’s that time of the year again — that time where one day we gather, thankful for all that has been given us, basking in the warmth of family, friends, and food. And the next, we beat down our fellow-man, mobbing our way into stores to earnestly shop for that which we don’t need.

For those from other parts of the world, the day after Thanksgiving is called ‘Black Friday’. It’s a day that begins the night of Thanksgiving as employees are called away from their celebrations to ready themselves and their stores for the onslaught of shoppers. These shoppers will begin their quest for more material goods right when Cinderella loses her shoe and turns back into a scullery maid – the stroke of midnight.

I’m harsh. Yes – I think ‘Black Friday’ deserves harsh. I don’t think there is anything redeeming about this day and none of us are the better for it. And I can honestly say, I’ve never gone shopping on Black Friday. It just isn’t worth it.

So here are some thoughts on what we can do instead of going shopping. Please add your own to the list through the comments!

  1. Bring out that one thousand piece jigsaw puzzle that’s sitting in your closet and complete it while drinking hot cider and enjoying leftover turkey sandwiches.
  2. Write letters – yes, paper and pen letters – to three people you care about. Why three? It’s a random number but paper and pen letters are collectibles these days. Imagine the look on your friend’s or relative’s face as they go to the mail box and see a handwritten envelope. Pure shock and delight.
  3. Make homemade granola to give as gifts to people. Here are a couple of recipes you can try. Homemade granola is a great gift and the bonus is that you can keep some for yourself.
  4. Sort through a couple of closets. Christmas is coming and clutter needs to go. Get into those closets and sort, get rid of, throw away. The catharsis is unbelievable.
  5. Watch the Anne of Green Gables series on Netflix. Or Call the Midwife, or Downton Abbey. Something that will keep you immersed in stories and dreams.
  6. Go hiking – put on sensible shoes (I say this because I don’t always do that) and find some hiking trails or take a long walk in the woods. Perhaps you’re like me and you need to drive to find hiking trails- then drive and walk all that energy that would have been used getting more of what you don’t need. Take a thermous of hot cocoa with you and some sandwiches in case you get hungry.
  7. Clean – God knows our houses need it! We’ve just had Thanksgiving and food and stuff are everywhere. So take out dust pan, broom,and duster and channel your energy into creating a haven of clean.
  8. Call your mom. Call your Grandma. Call your Aunt. Use the time to reconnect with others who are escaping the frenetic pace of Black Friday. Then bake bread – Holy, life-giving bread.
  9. Play games: Boggle, Guesstures, Bananagrams, Taboo, Settlers of Catan. So many choices, perhaps some you’ve never opened. Take them out and play games.
  10. Use the day to just rest and read. Jhumpa Lahiri has a new book out: The Lowlands, a sad but good read. The Best Christmas Pageant Ever is a fabulous little book that will be a family favorite I guarantee. Curl up into a ball on the couch and read, read, read. Let the kids play on the floor beside you – Through a sheet over your dining room table and they have a ready-made tent where they can spend the day imagining. And you? You’ll sit and read and relax and bask in all things good, all things calm.

This is a simple list. But isn’t it time we changed this cultural norm and took back the Friday after Thanksgiving?

Readers from other countries – I’m curious! When you hear about our Black Friday, what do you think? How would you advise us to live on that day? And Readers from the U.S. – what about you? What would you add to the list? What do you plan to do on the Friday following Thanksgiving?

Beyond the Window at Fish’s Eddy

Those of you who are regular readers of Communicating Across Boundaries know that we go from provocative to poignant to profound quickly in any given week. This week is no exception — today we move away from TCK’s into a totally different arena with more glimpses of New York City in this post by Stef. 

I’ve now lived in New York City for two years. In urban settings beauty doesn’t always come naturally – you have to look for it. Sometimes it comes in the form of a building, other times through a shop window.

For months I passed by one of these shop windows. I would peek into the window on my way to Union Square and promise myself that one day, when I wasn’t in a hurry, I would stop in. That shop is Fish’s Eddy.

When my parents came to visit me for Thanksgiving, I finally got a real peek at the store I was so fond of.

I went beyond the window.

Fish’s Eddy is a gorgeous pottery store. Gorgeous doesn’t begin to describe it. Every inch is covered with jars, plates, bowls, cups, platters, etc. The shapes, colors, and textures are charming in every way. There are plates with crossword puzzles on them, platters with bridges spanning the length of the dish, coasters in the shape of artist’s palettes, and more. The pictures below don’t do the store justice, but let’s just say my future home will be full of Fish’s Eddy dishware.

It’s also a reminder that sometimes I need to slow down to see what’s beyond the window. 

Take a look at the wonder of Fish’s Eddy through these pictures.

Fish's Eddy - cups, teapots Fish's Eddy - Hands Fish's Eddy - hanging cups Fish's Eddy - Vintage China Fish's Eddy -Close up of cups