Thanksgiving as a Cross-Cultural Shared Meal

In undergrad, I typically posted a semester summary following each semester. Well grad school is different, and I’ve already learned a lot at this point. So here’s my semester summary.

More than my ligaments and tendons have been stretched this semester. I have had some dislocations and subluxations, but thankfully they have occurred in multiple joints. I say thankfully because if I injured the same joint repeatedly, that might make me consider another surgery. Since I’ve had fairly common injuries for my condition about once per injured joint this semester, I’m happy to announce that–unless something goes horribly wrong in the next month–I will NOT be having surgery over Christmas break.  And so I proclaim,

Praise the Lord!
For it is good to sing praises to our God;
for it is pleasant, and a song of praise is fitting.

Psalm 147:1

Overall, I have done much better than I expected, health-wise. I have been able to attend all but one of my three-hour lectures. I have also been able to divide my time between my part-time job and my internship–both at different nonprofit ministries. This is how I have been stretched.

Both ministries I have worked with this semester offer services to adults with low socioeconomic status. I have been exposed to the complexities of life below the poverty line in the United States. I’ve also had the privilege to get to know the individuals to whom we offer services.

My favorite memory of this semester occurred while I was sitting in my car by myself. I was parked in front of the ministry where I intern, which is just a block away from where I work. Context: This is not the nicest neighborhood. As I was waiting for my supervisor to arrive, I watched two men walk by on opposite sides of the road. It turned out that I knew both of them; each was from one of the nonprofits I work with.

A year ago, if I had been parked in this neighborhood by myself and I watched two men walk by, I would not have been tempted to wave them down and yell out their names. But I know their names. I know them. I know that one likes to listen to Mariah Carey, and the other one likes anything chocolate. I know some of the health challenges of each. I know the source of community for each.

People who I previously would have avoided are now people whom I love in Christ dearly.  I’ve also grown in my understanding of God’s character, in relation to the oppressed: The LORD has loved them all along.

The Lord builds up Jerusalem;
he gathers the outcasts of Israel.

Psalm 147:2

At times, empathy for those whom I know in poverty has been overwhelming. The suffering that others endure makes me angry for their sake.

Perhaps the situation that caused me the most distress this semester was witnessing others’ suffering that resulted from poor decisions. I questioned how God could allow people to make poor decisions that drastically affect their lives and the lives of others. In response, He showed me the emptiness and brokenness they experienced that led to the decision to seek fulfillment apart from Him.

Whether we seek fulfillment in Him or not, God still cares. Whether self-inflicting wounds or not, the LORD heals.

He heals the brokenhearted
and binds up their wounds.

Psalm 147:3

Another common attitude I’ve observed is the desire to be known through altering one’s identity. Succumbing to the expectations of others or of oneself suggests the need to be seen and understood.

I’ve started reading the book God and the Transgender Debate by Andrew T. Walker. At the beginning of this book, Walker explains that human beings are worth more than the sum of our parts. While we might view ourselves, or others might view us, in a critical light that exposes our imperfections, the LORD knows who we truly are and does not compartmentalize our imperfections; if the LORD knows the name of each star He created, He must know us and value us fully, completely, and perfectly.

He determines the number of the stars;
he gives to all of them their names.

Psalm 147:4

A number of the adults I have had the privilege of working with have tested at a level that identifies them as functionally illiterate. This makes filling out job applications, filling out medical paperwork, and participating in elections extremely difficult and, undoubtedly, discouraging. Part of my job requires providing guidance and encouragement to adults who have higher literacy scores and are preparing to take the GED test. For many of them, I know that this process of preparation is frustrating. Learning disabilities provide obstacles to understanding or retaining material. Yet with diligence, these students persist.

When I can’t understand why the LORD would inhibit someone’s ability to comprehend through learning disabilities, He is able to understand our needs better than we can.

Great is our Lord, and abundant in power;
his understanding is beyond measure.

Psalm 147:5

As I’ve studied Social Work Policy this semester, I’ve realized that, in many cases, an outside source of authority is the root of oppression that groups experience. I am angry that much oppression that is experienced today is the result of past oppression; poverty is a cycle that cannot easily be broken. I imagine that those who are caught in the cycle of poverty at times feel hopeless in the effort to break the cycle.

Those who are oppressed by authoritative individuals, institutions, or even ideologies experience humility, with which our Savior is very familiar. Due to Jesus’ experience with unfair trials, the LORD knows the pain of unjust government decisions more than anyone else; therefore, the LORD will take action to restore the oppressed and remind them of their innate dignity.

The Lord lifts up the humble;
he casts the wicked to the ground.

Psalm 147:6

Listed in brackets are fairly common characteristics I have observed in the people I have encountered in the past few months. These are the promises my God offers those who accept His free gift of grace. I am praying that, if these people have not already, they would receive Jesus’ gift of salvation and partake of these blessings:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit,

[those who are depressed because of the hopelessness they feel when their Social Security benefits aren’t enough]

for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

“Blessed are those who mourn,

[those who have become disabled and mourn their able-bodied past]

for they shall be comforted.

“Blessed are the meek,

[those who have experienced so much trauma that they refuse to speak to new people]

for they shall inherit the earth.

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,

[those with food insecurity who declare the LORD’s praises amidst their suffering]

for they shall be satisfied.

“Blessed are the merciful,

[those who reconcile their relationships with their abusive parents upon being released from jail]

for they shall receive mercy.

“Blessed are the pure in heart,

[those with intellectual disabilities who bring joy to everyone they encounter]

for they shall see God.

“Blessed are the peacemakers,

[those who are grandparents raising their grandchildren, in order to keep peace with their children]

for they shall be called sons of God.

10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake,

[those whose family members will not speak with them because they do not want to hear the gospel declared]

for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Matthew 5:3-10

In 1 Thessalonians 5:18, Paul instructs believers to “give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” While it is difficult to be thankful for the extent of suffering I have witnessed in the lives of others, I am thankful for the hope that is offered to the oppressed through Jesus’ death on the cross.

Sing to the Lord with thanksgiving;
    make melody to our God on the lyre!

Psalm 147:7

This past Sunday, I heard a sermon that included a refresher on the history of Thanksgiving. This was the first occasion that I realized that Thanksgiving was a meal shared by the oppressed and the oppressors; each year, we celebrate an event of unity between different races, religions, ways of life.
Takeaway: Get to know those who feel oppressed by society. (Side note: You don’t get to determine whether someone has or has not experienced oppression.) Listen to their stories. Share a meal! Individuals with different backgrounds than you have a lot to bring to the table.

Daily New Mercies

This morning, I started my day by doing the Charleston to swing music with a group of old ladies. It was fantastic.

Especially after the long process that it took to get there. I wish I was cool enough to have friends that just so happen to be elderly and just so happen to invite me to their dance party. But this is actually for a class. One drawback to my school is the physical activity requirement that I kinda need to graduate. And if you’ve read any of my other posts, you know how much of a challenge physical activity is for me.

Lord bless the disability services at my school. I am extremely grateful for their willingness to provide me with the opportunity to take a PE class with people who are not healthy 20 year-olds, like most people assume I am. I’m very excited for the opportunity to take a class at a facility that specializes in physical activity for those with disabilities.

I haven’t talked much on this blog about my experience with various disability services in the past year. I have actually registered with three different disability services in the past year. But this is my first school year to begin the year with my accommodations in place. You would think it would make the process easier.

It’s not.

As a matter of fact, I’ve been more overwhelmed this semester by my meetings with professors, which isn’t normally the case. Not because they don’t care. They certainly do. But this time I had to repeat the phrase “I can’t” more than usual (mostly related to my PE class). I’m not gonna lie–it got very discouraging. Most of the time, I just have to get over it if people don’t understand what I’m going through. This is not the case when academic credits and graduation are on the line.

On Wednesday I went to the library. I went to the library to get my mind off of the “I can’t”s that echoed in my mind. As I was walking back from the library, the Lord pointed out an “I can”: I was wearing a normal backpack. The one that I couldn’t use all last year, due to my shoulder instability. I was able to exhale and felt an overwhelming sensation of peace. You know, one that surpasses understanding (Philippians 4:7). For the rest of my walk, I talked to God about my gratitude over my overall physical improvement. I praised Him for my normal backpack.

The small things in life are big enough reasons to praise Him.

This semester I’m taking a class on the Psalms. It’s already been as incredible as I’d hoped. I haven’t yet written my assignment on one of our textbooks (The Message of the Psalms: A Theological Commentary by Walter Brueggemann), but I did take pictures of multiple passages and send them to friends. (So that counts, right?) Here’s my favorite quote from what I’ve read so far: Human life consists in turns of surprise when we are overwhelmed with the new gifts of God, when joy breaks through the despair. Where there has only been darkness, there is light.” Brueggemann describes this phenomenon as the “surprise of the gospel.”

After reading this, I was reminded of how good the good news is. I am nothing but bad news; Jesus is the complete opposite. In the despair and hopelessness of my sinful nature, Jesus grants me with eternal life through His own righteousness. I do nothing to deserve His love, and yet He gives abundantly more than I could ever fathom.

Even on my worst day, the good news of the gospel is still good.

Today has not been perfect. In fact, it’s possible that I strained my bicep again on my dominant arm. But through my disappointments and disability and disorientation, I can still be “surprised” today by the hope that the gospel brings to my life. The Lord’s daily new mercies (Lamentations 3:23) can be a pleasant surprise when everything seems to be going wrong.

May I never lose the wonder of His mercy.