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My Expatriate Thanksgiving: 10 Things for Which I Am Thankful

In a few short hours, my mom’s kitchen will fill with the smell to which I look forward all year long.  Just the thought of mom’s stuffing is making my mouth fill up with drool.

It only comes once a year, and this year, I’m missing it.

As I sit in the quiet of the middle of the night halfway around the world from that pan of soon-to-be fragrant, dripping juices on cornbread, and all the lovely family grouped around it, my jet-lagged body invites me to awaken early and I can’t seem to settle my thankful heart back to sleep.

Even though I cringe at missing family, tradition, and stuffing, I’m grateful for the blessings bursting out of my overflowing cornucopia.  As a temporary expat celebrating Thanksgiving with new family and friends, I’m taking the day to give thanks.  So here’s my list on my expatriate Thanksgiving: 10 Things for Which I Am Thankful.

1. My passport and the freedom it brings to develop relationships around the world.

I love new sights and cultures and more than that I love people.  My little blue book brings me to their doorstep and allows me to cross borders and respectfully enter into the lives of others.

2. My new little one who snuggles up with me and teaches me to savor everything,

from a new pair of gloves to the way our apartment smells when her leftover pizza warms in the oven, from the satisfaction of lowering the blinds in her room all by herself to the silly faces caught on camera.  The world through her eyes is magic and breathless and filled with wonder.

3. Friends around the world who love Jesus, who love well, who do their faith

out on the streets inviting prostitutes to a warm meal, slipping shoes onto the feet of barefoot children, and asking “better, worse, or the same?” to give sight to the blind and Jesus to thirsty souls.  Friends serving meals to hundreds of orphans and telling the unloved that they are lovely and precious.  These global Jesus-lovers, the ones outside of my cultural context and putting into practice the same words from the Word that I love and live.  We are connected, not by the building into which we walk on Sunday mornings, but by the good news of the hope of the world.

4. For wifi and seeing my E and E every day across the miles.

Evie, captivated with herself on camera and filling every moment with her animated chatter, and Elliott, shyly smiling and saying hi to his best friend turned new sister across the ocean.  From our quiet apartment around the world, our computer is a portal into the menagerie of the reunion of cousins and four generations bursting out of a home.  We hold dogs and cats and photos up to the screen and we hug with words across the world.

5. The simplicity of life condensed to three small rooms, without the collected clutter of my entire life.

Four sweaters, rotated throughout the weeks, my French press coffee maker, and a handful of dishes for eggs and apples.  I wonder how I let life get so complicated at home, and why I need a pantry filled with ten different kinds of flour and drawers stuffed with a decade’s worth of old teeshirts.

6. Language.

For the privilege of stringing words together and reading the stories of others’ lives splashed across pages.  For understanding and developing a shared vocabulary, and the hilarity that A– is already beginning to converse in my language and I can’t even get my tongue to wrap around a few words in hers.

7. The cozy feel of the dark days so near the arctic.

The world up here is dusky and dim and the days are short, but I’m a nighttime girl and the blackness feels filled with wonder and the hush of dreaming.

8. The humility that comes with being an outsider.

No entitlement, no expectation, just gratitude for strangers willing to provide directions, able to take a few moments to answer questions.  Gratefulness that even though I don’t know their language, so often they know mine, and they could judge me harshly for that but instead offer my language to me with grace.  I feel so humble, so thankful for the patience and grace of strangers to this visitor.

9. Answered prayer.

Sixteen years ago I spent a summer in Eastern Europe and fell in love.  As I reluctantly prepared to go home, I asked God to bring me back and trusted that He would.  I never saw this coming.  The prayer of a college freshman answered by a loving God with motherhood.

10. For the dear friend who invited us for a feast in her home.

She knows all about living as an expat, having spent the summer at my house, and now that the tables are turned, her family is our family abroad and we will feast together, not on turkey, but on her delectable national dishes.  She doesn’t know it yet, but I’m still going to make everyone go around the table and say three things for which they’re thankful.  This year, she definitely makes my list.

Even though I miss the family and traditions of home, I welcome my expatriate Thanksgiving and the out-of-country perspective these weeks abroad can give me on my brimming-with-gratitude life.  Today, wherever you are, whether you’re on your mom’s old couch or in uncharted territory after the loss of a family member, a move to a new city, or a monumental curveball of God, if you were sitting at my expat Thanksgiving table, what are the three things you’d share?


image from BetsyGrace on