When Thanksgiving Ends

Holidays…are weird.

They are times of excitement and joy. They are times filled with busy-ness. They are times that bring stress and anxiety. On some holidays, there is even a little bit of a type of historical-multiple-personality-disorder going on.

Thanksgiving is no exception:

Lots of food. But someone has to cook it.

Lots of family and friend get-togethers. But a lot of miles have to be travled.

Lots of pageants chronicling the tale of the Pilgrims and the Native Americans. But the knowledge of imperialism and colonialism that almost wiped out a race of people.

Thanksgiving is at the same time a day to be thankful for all that we have while gluttonously devouring way too much food. And that is followed by Black Friday.

Although Thanksgiving is indeed a call to be grateful, that thanks-giving often ends way too soon.

For some, Thanksgiving ends when the last bite of the meal is taken. At that point, it is time to move away from the table and go sit in front of the television while slipping into a food-induced coma.

For some, Thanksgiving ends when Black Friday shopping begins. It is no longer time to be content when there are door busters to be had.

For some, Thanksgiving ends when the Christmas decorations come out. We have so segmented each holiday that we fail to see any overlap. So we put one away to make room for Nativity scenes and the Santas.

For some, Thanksgiving never really begins. For some people, holidays are just a reminder of what all they do not have. For some people, Thanksgiving is another day to watch other people be happy. For some people, the despair felt every day becomes even more heightened on Thanksgiving Day.

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The holiday season is a scary season for recovering addicts. There are several reasons for this. First, a lot of drinking takes place during the holidays. For those who are addicted, holiday memories include intoxication. Some habits are hard to break.

Second, holidays create a lot of stress. Drugs and alcohol, in addition to being unhealthy and destructive, are really good stress relievers. Other anxiety reducing activities need to be identified and practiced.

Third, when holidays create joy for some people, they intensify despair for others. Holidays are a reminder of relationships lost—both family and friends. Holidays are sometimes overwhelming evidence of “what could have been.”

When people are depressed, the solution is not watching others be happy. So when holidays come around, it often creates more feelings of dis-ease and lack of stability and longing and misery.

So for a lot of people, their Thanksgiving ends before it ever really begins.

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How do we become a people for whom Thanksgiving never ends?

Obviously, the day on the calendar is going to come and go. The season of the Thanksgiving holiday is here and then gone. And to be certain, there are many signs of thankfulness shown throughout the month leading up to the fourth Thursday of November. There are lists posted on walls in houses all across the country. Social media fills up with gratitude challenges as people post something new every day. Many families will share stories of thankfulness around the table as they share the meal. A lot of good-hearted people spend time cooking, serving, and sharing life and resources with people who are in need.

But too often, those activities of gratitude cycle out with the turn of the calendar. And for others, the ability to express gratitude just seems like too much to bear.

But we can change that. So today, I post a new Thanksgiving challenge. And you don’t have to write it on a paper and stick it to your wall. You don’t have to post it to social media with a hashtag. But if we all do this, it can help us either continue our thanksgiving or renew the gratitude that is missing in our lives.

First, every day when you wake up, think of one thing you are grateful for. It can be simple: the bed you are in, socks, toothpaste, alarm clocks, toast, coffee, anything. But each day think of one new thing (in other words, don’t just think “coffee” every morning. #confession).

Second, every day when you go to bed, think of one thing that happened that day that you are thankful for. A kind word. A meal. A job well done. Survival.

That’s it. That’s all. That’s how we keep thanksgiving going.

So whether you are the type of person who shoves off from Thanksgiving once the meal is done or you are the type of person who can never get into the holiday because life just sucks, try these two things. Be thankful for one thing in the morning and one thing in the evening.

Because when thanksgiving ends, life becomes tough. Let’s keep giving thanks.

I Am a Grateful Recovering Alcoholic–GAH!

When I started attending AA meetings, some people would introduce themselves as “grateful recovering alcoholics.”

I thought they were crazy.

It was hard for me to be grateful early in sobriety. It was hard for me to recognize anything to be thankful for.

But slowly, that awareness grew. Some things were simple: spouse, children, parents and siblings, church family, shelter. Others took more a little more work to recognize: a part-time overnight grocery store job, the care and concern of the people who fired me, those people at the meetings who kept saying the same thing every day.

And at some point along the way, I don’t even remember when, I started saying, “I am a grateful recovering alcoholic.”

Being grateful is not always easy. Sometimes, the circumstances of life can seemingly drown out the good that exists. Sometimes, our focus is so much on the present that we cannot step back to view the bigger picture.

Sometimes, we have to say, “I’m grateful,” through gritted teeth.

When my partner does not live up to my expectations in our relationship, I am still grateful to have her in my life.

When my child is undergoing several medical tests that may or may not reveal something serious, I am still grateful I am blessed with children.

When my job has several tough days in a row, I am still grateful for work.

When I think I might want a drink to drown out the noise in my head, I am still grateful that I am experiencing emotions.

When I am so busy and overwhelmed with life, I am still grateful to have life.

When my shoelaces break, I am still grateful to have shoes on my feet.

Every Sunday, my home church does a prayer time called Prayers of the People. Yesterday, the church wrote out prayers of thanksgiving in addition to the normal weekly prayers. On my prayer card, I listed some of the experiences I have endured this year. It has not been easy.

But I could still say I am grateful. I am grateful that hope exists in the midst of grief and despair. I am grateful that a church family could and would surround me and hold me up on my weakest days. I am grateful for a youth group at our church that exhibits a maturity and spirituality far beyond their years.

So yes: I am a grateful recovering alcoholic.

I am grateful because I am sober today.

I am grateful because I can recognize things to be thankful for. Even on the hard days.

Thanksgiving can be difficult. Let’s face it: all the holidays can be difficult. Trying to maintain sobriety on a regular day is hard enough, but trying to maintain sobriety when given time off of work, shopping amongst crazy throngs of people, and dealing with family drama reserved for this time of year can seem almost unbearable.

So let’s start being thankful right now. What are you thankful for? Start working on a list. Remember it when things get crazy at the end of this week.

No matter how tightly you have to grit your teeth, open your mouth, and grumble the words with me:

I am grateful.

How Not To Kill A Muslim, Book Review

This review was originally posted to my blog in May. I think it is even more important today for the message of this book to be consumed. I am grateful for Josh and his work in building relationships.

You can order the book here.

“The relationship between American Muslims and Christians is arguably one of the most pressing issues of our time.”

With this statement, a “simple, local church pastor” begins an exploration of how Christians can follow the command and example of Jesus to love our neighbors. And even more than loving, or maybe before loving begins, Josh Graves reminds us we must see our neighbors.

In our post-9/11 society, with our seemingly never-ending need to have an enemy and a 24 hour news cycle that breeds on fear and distrust, the relationship between Muslims and Christians is often tenuous, at best. With misinformation, conjecture, and a sensationalistic media, many people who claim Christ treat those who are Muslim as the “other.”

Graves calls us to get past that.

The book begins by laying a foundation of understanding story. Additionally, Graves provides a brief overview of how immigration policies have changed over the past 100+ years and how that has led to a growth in the Muslim population in our country. He starts with 4 assumptions that explain how we (American Christians) arrived at a point of distrust. Essentially, it has a lot to do with relationship, or lack thereof.

Using the parable of the Good Samaritan as his backdrop, Graves leads to a call to become passionate and engaged. We need to see, know, and love our neighbors. All of them. He quotes N. T. Wright who said, “The church doesn’t need to provide nineteenth-century answers to sixteenth-century questions. The church should offer twenty-first century answers to first century questions.”

Graves is providing the groundwork for churches to have the necessary conversations regarding the way we treat our Muslim neighbors. He details the specific work his church went through. One of the greatest conclusions to come out of the class the church participated in was that although information is vital, relationship is even more important.

As far as information goes, Graves provides a lot, even in such a short book that is extremely accessible to all readers. His three appendices include an Islam for Dummies (Like Me) guide (jihad is NOT one of the five pillars of Islam), a blog post Graves wrote regarding a mosque being built near ground zero of the 9/11 attacks in NYC, and the results of a stereotype study. In other words, there is a great deal of information. It is vital for all Christians to read and deepen their understanding.

But beyond information, Graves writes from a deep place of love and concern for God’s children. It is apparent reading the book that he has built relationships with people whom he views as just that—people. He talks about the fire in his belly that compelled him to write this book. That fire is visible on every page. Although he calls himself a simple pastor, there is nothing simple about his love for God and God’s creation.

At the end of this book, I felt a great sense of hope. (Which is part of the subtitle of the book: A Manifesto of Hope for Christianity and Islam in North America.) As long as there are people like Josh, who are willing to practice the radical hospitality they write about, relationships can be built and restored.

I also felt a sense to study even deeper. I want to go back and review what I learned in my church history classes; to try and discern why Christian culture attacked Islam from the start with no attempt at building relationship, or even evangelizing. I want to study more about how the end of the Cold War affected our relationship with Muslims. It is as if our need to have an enemy worthy of a Tom Clancy novel or a James Bond movie necessitates that we demonize some group of people.

Those are two things Graves does not address in his book, but he did not need to. He provides us with a conversation starter. He provides us with his heart to love our neighbors. He provides us with an example of how to do that.

And he tells us to go and do.

This book is definitely written to a Christian audience, and I would encourage all who claim the name of Jesus to read this book. I would also hope that Muslims read and add their insight, as well. And for people who have no specific religious or spiritual identification, I would ask that you read it so that you can see one person’s story of what it means to love like Jesus.

Give Me Your Tired, Your Poor, Your Huddled Masses…Really

The New Colossus

Emma Lazarus

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,

With conquering limbs astride from land to land;

Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand

A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame

Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name

Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand

Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command

The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.

“Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she

With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,

I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

We are all familiar with the end of this poem. We all know this the message of the Statue of Liberty greeting immigrants as they once approached our shores.

But the whole poem is amazing. “Mother of Exiles.” “World-wide welcome.” “Tired, poor, huddled masses, wretched refuse, homeless, tempest-tost.”

All of these people are welcome at our shores.

Or at least, they once were.

Let me be the first to admit: ISIS scares me. This is an enemy that does not fight the way enemies fought in the past. This is not as simple as Germany and Japan forming the Axis while the Allies show up and fight. Some wars have had some well-defined boundaries and well-defined combatants.

This enemy does not.

But if I am afraid from half a world away, what must it be like to live in the presence of such evil day after day? There are hundreds of thousands displaced people running from daily atrocities like we witnessed over social media and news broadcasts in Paris and Beirut last week. Hundreds of thousands Exiles, homeless, tempest-tost human beings running for their lives.

And in America we have governors responding in the most Hitler-esque fashion possible: “Your kind is not welcome here.”

In America we have people who cry out with one breath “all lives matter” and with the next “bomb all Muslims off the face of the earth.”

In the church we say the risk is too great.

I am scared. The world we live in is the not world we are used to. The enemy does not fight the same way they used to.

But one thing remains the same: God is the God of the immigrant. God is the God of the homeless, the poor, and the frightened. God is the God of people who are running for their lives.

And the people of God need to be about the business of God.

So let me say this: if you are an immigrant, if you are a Muslim, if you are a refugee you are welcome in my home. I want to have a meal with you. I want to invite you into my life.

I welcome the huddled masses yearning to breathe free. I welcome the ones who have no place to call home.

This may not matter. After all, I doubt this is going to reach too many people for whom the invitation is offered. But if you happen to come across it, let me know.

Emma Lazarus did not just write a cool sounding poem. Lazarus wrote prophetic words that should be true of all God’s people.

So give me the tired, the poor, the immigrant, the refugee. Come to my doorstep.

You are invited.

You are welcome.

Please, Complain Some More

A funny thing happened over on facebook the other day.

I posted a status that was somewhat serious, but also a little playful.

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I ended with, “Asking for a friend,” because I was wanting to use humor as an outlet for the stress and anxiety I was experiencing.

Because life is funny. I know I am not in control. I know I have a large group of people to go to when I am feeling afraid or sad or stressed. I have a good prayer life. My wife and I (usually) talk about things when we are feeling overwhelmed.

Yet in spite of all of that, I still feel the stress and fear that everyday life can bring. And although one facebook post to my friends does not qualify as a scientific study, I think I can safely say you do, too.

I was blown away at the response my status received. Not because I was surprised at the number of people who were encouraging me and praying for me. But I was mostly surprised at how many people acknowledged feeling the same way.

Added to that was the wide variety of people commenting on my status. We have lived in three states over the past 10 years. People from all of those places commented. Some are friends from childhood. Some are past co-workers of my wife. Some are my past co-workers. Some are friends I was in college with. Some are family members. Some are friends I have known for less than a year. Some attend the same church we do. Some are shepherds (elders) of that church. Some have had similar experiences. Some have had similar emotional experiences but triggered by different life circumstances.

We all know what it is like to deal with difficulty. With stress. With anxiety. With fear. We all know the inner turmoil of wanting to give up completely while at the same time wanting to fix every single problem.

Yet still I was astounded at the response my simple little facebook status received.

And then my friend, Sean (read his great blog here), posted a facebook status: “Many churches I know have a praise band. No church I know has a lament band…and the world is worse for it.”

And then it clicked. Most people have the experience that I described in my post. But most people have been trained to suck it up. We have been told not to complain. We believe we need to get over it.

We think lamenting is wrong.

But it’s not. I lamented and received strength. I cried out and was heard. I groaned and others groaned with me; and gave me the opportunity to groan with them.

So today, I give you permission:

Complain. Groan. Whine. Bitch. Moan. Let it out. Do not get over it. Do not keep it to yourself until you feel better.

Let’s hear it. What’s going on? What do you need to lament about?

You can even tell me you’re asking for a friend.