It is the afternoon before Thanksgiving and I’m sitting for a moment by my kitchen fire with my tea (and a wee drop of sherry, just to celebrate all that’s been accomplished thus far!). The cranberry conserve, with its aromas sacred to this day since time immemorial, is simmering away on the stove, and the basement refrigerator has been steadily filling with dishes the holiday simply wouldn’t be complete without: sweet potato casserole topped with sugared pecans, “Aunt Fanny’s” baked squash, mashed potatoes laced with rosemary and blue cheese, and a nice little turkey rubbed with butter and herbs. There will be just four of us tomorrow—plus the plate drop-off to a dear friend in quarantine—but I simply could not dispense with a single favorite. I don’t know about you—and I absolutely want to be sensitive towards those who don’t feel as I do right now—but I find myself wanting to celebrate more than ever. Fiercely, defiantly, with a love that longs to be incarnated to the three others at my table (and the friend in quarantine). I want the fragrances rising from my kitchen tomorrow to be like incense, wooing old memories and solidifying new ones, and I want each match touched to a waiting wick to affirm the Light the darkness can never extinguish. I want to see candlelight and firelight blooming on beloved faces. I want to welcome even the sorrow which summons the faces of those who are absent—temporarily or until all things are restored. I want to feast with intention and faith, and, of course, with a heart overflowing with thankfulness.
I’m not sure when my “Thanksgiving Eve” post became a tradition, even a very personal one, but it certainly originated in the years before I started hosting Thanksgiving Dinner at my house. Back then, I was only responsible for the conserve and the sweet potatoes and the pies—Mama did everything else, with my sister at home to help her. Further back, before I was married, this was a day of happy (albeit crowded) bustle as three females wove and interwove about my mother’s 50’s era kitchen, wielding mixing bowls and rolling pins and wooden spoons in a dance that seemed nothing short of choreographed. All my memories of such are fond—especially the funny ones. I remember once that Mama was measuring out sugar for a pie atop a tiny counter crowded with canisters and baking paraphernalia, and in all her abstraction over all she had to do next, she very carefully dumped the whole measure of sugar, not into the waiting bowl, but into the open utensil drawer at her side. It was a mess she scarcely had time for on the day before Thanksgiving, but she was such a good sport she told that story on herself for years.
I’ve been thinking of Mama’s good-natured abstraction today as I set up my laptop on the kitchen table amid the canisters and mixing bowls (fortunately I haven’t had any sugar misfires!) and how her faithful intention all those years laid the foundation for my own convictions about home and its sacred potential. So much so that I can’t resist tapping out a few words to that effect on one of the busiest days of the whole year, clearing a space–not only on my table but in my heart and mind–to acknowledge how very much it all matters. Every casserole, every candle, every last swipe of the dust cloth and straightening of a silver fork can be love embodied if I wish it to be–if I am willing to accept, that is, Love’s greater invitation to make myself at home in His goodness and to offer goodness to others in His name. It can be so easy to forget, even momentarily, when the canning lids don’t seal on the conserve or when a new recipe for pumpkin pie tells me to add all the ingredients and then whip the cream, but at the end of the day it’s as simple as that: loving God and loving others. Lifting the work of our hands with faithful intention so that God might make of it a work of grace.
I’ve also been thinking about sorrow today, not furtively or even casually, but–dare I say it?–kindly. It’s been a dark year for the whole world, unprecedented in my lifetime, but it has made the lights of my own home all the more precious to me. The patterns of sunlight wavering over old walls and patinaed floors; the warm, star-shaped glow from the gable vents when someone left the light on in the garret; the comforting gleam of my grandmother’s hurricane lamp in the dining room window. Without minimizing the collective grief and anxiety for which 2020 will live in infamy, or the very real and personal suffering it has wrought in countless lives, I cannot deny that my joy in my home has been buoyant this year, gathering to a pitch that is almost painful at times. Everything that has always mattered most matters more than ever in such a fraught and fearful time, and the mere facts of a warm, home-cooked meal on a dark night or the maternal consolation of a familiar room seem gifts too great for words.
This time three years ago I was absolutely suffocating with homesickness. I remember making my conserve out in the camper and choking back tears as the fragrance rose from the pot, bearing with it the memory of so many loved and lost things–lost days, lost dreams, lost people. The post-fire restoration was yet a long, dark road ahead, and I had no idea when we would sleep under our own roof again. But I realized today, as I stirred my conserve at what still feels like a new stove, and bustled about my newly restored kitchen, that the sorrow of then made the joy of now. The exile and the longing and the heartbreak of that whole situation left a permanent mark on me, and I would not have it any other way. I would not undo the goodness I have glimpsed or un-see the faithfulness of God. I would not trade my present joy for my past innocence of loss.
I can’t help but hope this Thanksgiving, in the year of our Lord 2020, that the same will be true for us all–personally and collectively. That the sorrow of now is making for us a joy our hearts will have to expand to contain. Take heart, dear ones. He has overcome the world.
A very happy Thanksgiving to each of you, and, wherever you find yourself this holiday, may your day break and your shadows flee away.
Under the Mercy,