Thanksgiving Do-Over

This Thanksgiving I forgot to be thankful. I spent a lot of time cooking, prepping the table, planning logistics of when to put the rolls in the oven, take them out, and warm rest of the food before the rolls cooled. Hosting family and friends on Thanksgiving day, more than a typical get-together, is a hit-the-ground-running affair. But since I didn’t schedule actually pondering my own, and our communal, thankfulness, it didn’t happen. I forgot, and it made me sad.

Two years ago when we hosted Thanksgiving, I made an effort to recognize what exactly we were celebrating. Of pointing everyone’s attention toward gratitude and of listening to each person’s thankful heart. It was memorable. It was bonding. It was what Thanksgiving should be. This year I failed as the ring-leader of gratitude. I made some rockin’ brussels sprouts (yes, that’s possible) but I didn’t host the bigger idea of the occasion, which I think is even more important.

I’m certainly not saying I was actually in charge of others’ thankfulness or lack thereof. And I’m not saying anyone else at the table failed to spend time reflecting personally on their many blessings. But in my experience Thanksgiving tends to be more about food than about a celebration of bounty itself, and I’d like to change that when we’re celebrating in our home. I want to make it about stopping for a moment and truly considering the depth of goodness that surrounds us. As a group. I want my kids to absorb the overflow of thankful hearts and let it color their view of the world, to combat some of the yuck they face in the same world each day. And it was likely more important to do so this year than any in recent memory. Bummer.

I dropped my kids off with my in-laws the weekend before Thanksgiving, and on my drive home through the darkening Flint Hills I listened to a podcast. Krista Tippett from On Being interviewed Irish poet Michael Longley and focused on his penchant for writing beautifully about normal, regular things. His “quiet insistence on celebrating normalcy.” In one significant part of the interview he pointed to the Holocaust as an example of this type of gratitude. “In that kind of nightmare what kept people sane was thinking of the ordinary things back home. And what made things slightly less nightmarish would be securing a toothbrush…”

In contrast to all I have to be thankful for, no matter what is happening in the greater world, this stark reminder of what thankfulness can be whiddled down to was poignant. It seemed an appropriate train of thought before the holiday arrived. I thought about it then, even including the pleasure of listening to Michael Longley reading his own poetry among the list of small but significant delights in a time of disheartenment. But I forgot to think about it on actual Thanksgiving. Not that there’s some sort of magic in being thankful on a particular, set-aside day. And yes, thanksgiving should be an ongoing attitude of the heart. I just wish I would have brought this up on that day, to have createa more memorable occasion. A ceremony of thankfulness, almost.

We still had a lovely time. We somehow avoided discussion of the current political climate (and the younger set of us gained some welcome perspective about an even more contentious period of our nation’s history – the 1960s). It wasn’t void of warmth and kindness and community. I simply wish I would have marked the occasion more clearly. But wallowing gets me nowhere. I’m going to forgive my slip-up and keep this in mind for our next round of hosting. Often our mistakes are what teach us best, and this has shown me that I want to make that which we celebrate on the holiday more central than the way we celebrate it. I still want to eat yummy molasses and oat dinner rolls, but they shouldn’t be the biggest take-away (though the caloric take away from those rolls is pretty great). Forgiven, but not forgotten. Next time. And for this year, better late than never, a list of simple things I don’t want to take for granted…

my comfy bed

green tea

a warm scone

heat and air conditioning

a car that works

wool socks

birds singing

peanut butter

vitamin D


a washer and dryer in my house

the sound of Luke playing the piano

the view from my bedroom window

podcasts and long drives through the Flint Hills


Feel free to list of a few small-but-significant things you appreciate.

Happy Thanksgiving do-over.


The Wounds That Bind

I wanted to write about anything other than the election this week. Maybe my kids. My marriage. A fabulous song I want to share. The change of seasons. Anything but the elephant in the room.

But my heart still feels a bit raw more than a week after the election. I thought that once the actual voting was finished we would feel a collective, national release of tension, but obviously that was wishful thinking. It seems blaringly clear now that whoever won, it would have been a difficult transition for our country, since half of us feel one way and half feel another. A drastic split down the middle – at least according to those of us who voted. Sadly, we’ll never know what the rest of our countrymen/women wanted. We’re left with the reality of a jagged tear in the fabric of our country. Not a clean cut, even, but a fraying, ragged mess of threads that must somehow be patched together if we want it to be one nation again.

The first step to healing is what is always the first step: empathy. To see the humanity even in our enemies. To actually go so far as to imagine what it feels like to be another person. It takes work. It takes stopping for a moment and considering. Playing pretend – with more significant ramifications than it had in our back yards as kids. It’s crucial to knowing how to respond to others. Even in our anger, even if we believe it’s righteous anger, we must take care in our reactions.

I know some will find fault in this way of thinking. Fight power with power. Don’t back down. We can’t let the bad guys win. And there is certainly a place for self-defense. Super Man and Captain America are heroes for a reason: they fight for those who can’t fight for themselves. Against those wanting only to harm. But most people aren’t out to harm everyone, but rather, acting out of what they view as self-defense. If we can understand what they are defending, we can work toward changing their views. It takes longer than striking out, and sometimes there’s not time for time (i.e. the Holocaust).  But I believe that empathy is powerful. It changes hearts – yours and, like a benevolent virus, others’. It’s even logical – if you want to change something for the long haul, you make it attractive. Forcing others to agree never, ever works. Appealing to their interests and, eventually, their humanity does.

A song by the band The Brilliance says it like this…

When I look into the face

Of my enemy

I see my brother

I see my brother


Forgiveness is the garment

Of our courage

The power to make the peace

We long to know

Open up our eyes

To see the wounds that bind

All of humankind

May our shutter hearts

Greet the dawn of life

With charity and love

Being known for what you are for rather than what you are against will do wonders. On both sides. If you are for small government, get involved with or help support charities that solve the problems you don’t think the government should. Help your church house homeless people, or feed the poor, or support women with unwanted pregnancies. If you are for civil rights, get involved with or help support organizations that work toward them, or peacefully march in favor of something, or write on your blog to promote a way of thinking. We tend to think that little actions don’t matter. But the whole of history is built on small action upon small action – one moment plus one moment.

I’m starting here: writing this post. Then I’m going to write a meager-but-something check to Family Promise of Lawrence, KS. Then I’m calling my state representatives about a few things. Then I’m showing my son the movie Selma.

And most importantly, I’m going to try to remember that empathy rules the day. Each day. Even right now, when everything feels out of control and the us and them mentality is so rampant. Even if I’m not given the same respect and thoughtfulness. It’s a decision to act this way. It’s the harder route. But it can effect actual change-of-heart, which is the end goal. Jesus, Martin Luther King, Jr., Mother Theresa, my grandfather have all been examples of this. Love your enemies. Even pray for them. It’s so awfully hard, but so very worth the deep breaths it takes.

May we have this sort of empathy toward those with whom we disagree. Even those who seem the enemies of everything we are for. It’s a challenge – for me and for you. For all of us.

To see the wounds that bind

All of humankind.




Now watch this to get the song’s full effect…The Brilliance – Brother


A Nobler Task

I voted this morning after dropping my girls off at school, and it felt fabulous to tangibly help this election cycle be over. The long slog of this combative race has worn me out, along with the entire nation. Like the yellowed leaves outside my window today, we have withered. You can see it on the faces of anyone who doesn’t love arguing for the sake of arguing; everyone is ready to move on. We, as a collection of Republicans and Democrats, Green Party members, Libertarians and independents now have to start the harder process of getting along. Ranting about them is easy. Getting along with all the thems is a much harder, and nobler, task.

A giant chunk of our population will be upset tomorrow. And a giant chunk will be happy, or at least relieved. Either way things fall, this is true. And we will all still be living in the same country, with the need to plow ahead. Wounds will need binding. Not gloating poured over them like salt.

A friend just emailed me with an election story. She got a text last night from a friend whose husband just announced he was voting, unexpectedly, for a certain candidate. Both my friend and the wife were appalled, and it caused my friend to question how on earth this could happen. They had discussed politics together and he never let on that he was even thinking this way. In pondering this she came to realize, just today, why he might vote the way he did. And while it didn’t bring agreement, it brought understanding on her part. Some empathy. And that, my friends on both sides of the aisle, is exactly what we need.

Tomorrow, we start over. Bind up some wounds with empathy.

To encourage us as we plow ahead into whatever tomorrow brings, here are some fine words someone else (the band Gungor) wrote that say what I’m saying in a more poetic, more memorable way. Let’s put this into practice in the coming days…

Give and take

Snow or sand it’s all the same from far away

You and me

We’re the stuff of stars

With eyes to see


I can’t meet you eye to eye

But I can take your hand in mine


We are better together

We are the ocean tide

The freedom and the anchor

When we’re together


We are better together

We are the day and night

Together we are stronger

We are stronger


We are better together

There is no real divide

The winter and the summer

We are stronger

All together


Every black life matters

Every woman matters

Every soldier matters

All the unborn matter

Every gay life matters

Fundamentalists matter

Here’s to life and all it’s branches


And here’s where you can hear the song…



Them Becomes We


Seventeen people were shot and killed in Chicago over the weekend, making it the deadliest weekend of the year, in the deadliest year since the 1990s. I was there. But my experience was markedly different. I spent Friday night riding on the El to a concert by one of my favorite singer-songwriters and back again with hundreds of Cubs fans. Besides the mini-dream-come-true of seeing Foy Vance live, the night left me with some significant reminders about humanity, completely contrasting the record-breaking violence.

The World Series happened to be occurring in the same city as did the friends we were visiting.  In the same part of Chicago in which we attended the concert. And we just happened to miss our stop on the train. We got off next to Wrigley Field to wait for the return and saw the light flooding out of the baseball field, the dozens of police in yellow vests on the street below, and heard the crowd roar. That roaring crowd, the hordes of fans dressed in blue and red, the general excitement running through the air, all reminded me how in-this-together we are. It was electric, full of possibility. And I don’t even care about baseball.

During Foy’s set he played what is probably his best known song, Guiding Light (which has been covered many times by Ed Sheeran) and the crowd sang along. It’s a song about his father’s death, but lined with so much hope. It’s unclear what light is guiding Foy – his father was a Christian preacher, but it appears he has wrestled with his beliefs over the years. My faith colors my take on the song, and the experiences of those watching the show on Friday night color theirs. But everyone sang along. Which is fascinating. I looked around the room, people on the floor level and lining the balcony above, and smiled at the scene. Many people closed their eyes as they sang the lyrics…

When I need to get home

You’re my guiding light

You’re my guiding light

Voices raised in a common, human, calling out to something greater than themselves, echoing an innate sense that this isn’t it. That there’s something more beyond the limits of our lives in real time. To me it was a song of hope sung as a sign of hope. It didn’t hurt that I adore Foy’s music – I’m sure that also affected my optimistic mood. But singing with other people, with good lyrics, as the music faded out, and only our voices remained, was lovely and chilling and a glimmer of what’s good. Scientifically, it was simply sound bouncing around the room. But metaphysically, it was more.

We thought we would miss the post-game crowds since the concert ended much later than the Cubs lost, but not so. The first train that came was full-to-bursting with fans. Disappointed fans. It would have been mayhem had the team won, but since they’d be flying the L at the stadium the next day things were calm. When the next train arrived it looked much the same, but we decided to wade into the crowded waters. I was the very last person onboard, with the doors against my shoulder, nothing to hold onto but my friend. It reminded me of Japan during rush hour, but with fewer business suits and more baseball caps.

As we wobbled along with hundreds of others toward South Chicago – where that night two people were killed as they sat in their car outside a gas station – I assessed the scene again. A man with slicked back hair and red loafers to match his jersey jammed privately with his headset. A tiny woman with “Cubs” painted on her cheeks and bow-shaped earrings held onto the pole to my left. A Latino man with a box of pizza hopped on at the next stop. All sorts of people – colors, shapes, sizes – were crammed in together with no option of caring what anyone looked or smelled like. It was a perfect picture of in-this-together. As humans. Cubs fans and not.

The night left me with a distinct feeling of community and the importance of it. It reminded me how good it is for us to cheer with one another, to sing with one another, to be crammed together into small spaces (for a short time). They connect us in ways that being separated into different parts of town, in our own homes, away from the messy and confusing masses of people cannot. Privacy and alone time have their place. But so does being thrown together with humanity.

For a moment, it’s no longer them. It becomes we. And understanding, not violence, rears it’s lovely head.