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Uncomfortable Thanksgivings have taught me to set the table with love

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Thanksgiving is the annual opportunity to gather with family and friends. Food. Football. Fun. But before the day comes, may I suggest a pause to ponder those who are coming? Everyone brings something in their heart and mind to the dinner table.

I remember the feeling.

As a teen, I was anorexic. Thanksgiving meant people staring at my plate — or so I thought. It meant wondering what, if anything, I could eat. My mind wasn’t healthy, and neither was my body. Yet, there I was sitting at the table.

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Then, there was my dad, an alcoholic. Meals meant extra drinks were served. Sobriety wasn’t invited.

My sister dealt with obesity, and Thanksgiving brought even more food choices that weren’t healthy.

Mom was a culinary perfectionist. She resented having less money than she needed to serve a meal worthy of a magazine photo.

Because of my folk’s eventual divorce, Thanksgiving became divided too. It meant battling over who got the prime time for the big meal, and who got stuck with the alternate time. Bitterness was invited to the table.

Blended families meant extra plates at the table, but sometimes there wasn’t room in the hearts gathered around to allow them in. Who was valued more? Jealousy.

Arguments over politics could have been avoided, but seldom were. Anger simmered because others didn’t toe the party line.

Religion wasn’t invited either — there was a total disregard for how God works in our lives and in our world. But faith made a token appearance when I was asked to say “grace” before we could eat. My childhood prayer was short, but largely ignored.

So, that’s my Thanksgiving story — a bit of a mess — but aren’t we all just a bit of a mess? What I’ve learned from many Thanksgiving celebrations, is to open the door to my heart well ahead of setting the table for dinner.

For the one who is trying to stay sober — I will not be your temptation. When anyone is mentally struggling, I’ll make space at the table and let my smile welcome you. If you want to be quiet and observe, I won’t force conversation. To the couple that are sharing a home but not a marriage certificate, I welcome you and hope to shine a light on the beauty of marriage.

I will have a variety of low-calorie foods that appeal to those watching their diets.

Here are some other suggestions:

For the blended families and all the challenges that come with where everyone goes and when, be flexible. Realize that when dinner is served and what is served, is never as important as loving those who come. And loving those who can’t come — no condemnation for not being able to show up.

For multi-generational gatherings, I suggest allowing an elder to share a story from their past. Someone should record it. All my elders are now gone, and this was a tradition I wish would have happened. One day it will matter more than it does now.

Thanksgiving is a special opportunity to share our faith in ways that are demonstrated by the faces gathered around a table, the bounty of food that has been provided, and the welcoming love that everyone can feel. I make name cards for the table with Bible verses that have thankfulness in them. It’s a reminder of the One in Whom all blessings flow.

Before the meal begins, I still say grace, only now it’s my senior citizen version, where I begin by thanking God and then speaking everyone’s name with a special attribute that blesses them and others. It doesn’t take long, but it’s a way to set the tone for a peaceful meal and a memorable Thanksgiving.

Karen Farris saw the need to help underserved kids while serving in a youth ministry that gave her the opportunity to visit rural schools on the Olympic Peninsula. She now volunteers her time grant writing to bring resources to kids in need. She also shares stories of faith in action for those needing a dose of hope on her weekly blog, Friday

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