In less than two days, my family will join the more than 46 million Americans traveling farther than 50 miles from home, according to AAA. Why do we feel the need to manage traffic, luggage, children, and long lines at the gas stations? Of course there is fried turkey, stuffing, and pies galore, but the overabundance of calories and football is not typically the reason behind the decision to suffer through road trip chaos. The main reason people choose to deal with the tough parts of a trip is because of the destination—and the destination is family.
When I was growing up, my dad would say, “We put the ‘fun’ in ‘dysfunctional.'” I’ve heard this phrase used a handful of times by others since, but if I didn’t know better, I’d give him full credit for coining this line. Was there truth in my dad’s statement? More than words could express. What makes me chuckle at his joke is the reality that every family is dysfunctional in their own way—some are just more readily able to admit the crazy, where others struggle with wearing a mask to hide their imperfections. And let’s get real—we all have imperfections. We are people, for crying out loud!
God has graciously allowed me to have many colorful Thanksgiving celebrations over the years, and I love how different the people and places are that fill my memory bank. When I was young, there was consistency, and I knew every face around the table. We didn’t have a large family—no grandparents, local cousins, etc. But we had small town friends who were closer than family, and those friends celebrated every holiday, big and small, together. During my college and seminary years, there were many Thanksgivings spent with new friends and many strangers laughing together. There was the Thanksgiving we ate donuts because the turkey never thawed, and the one where we sang songs around campfires with s’mores instead of pumpkin pie. Those Thanksgiving memories remain some of the dearest moments of my life. None of us had “family” around, yet we had what mattered—we had love for our neighbors, and we allowed the Lord to bring us together as He saw fit.
Strangers make things easy—they are there and they are gone. We pour into them, share truth with them, and never hesitate because most of the time we know our sweet conversations will end at the dinner table, and there’s a good chance we may never see them again. But with family, we bring our dysfunctions and differences, and all too often get blinded by assumptions. We assume that, since we’ve known these people most of our lives, we know them and they know us. Yet, who you were ten years ago is not who you are today. Half the time something we thought yesterday is no longer the case today. So let’s stop assuming we truly know one another.
We bear witness to the world around us, but we often fail to be a witness to those in our family. This year, let’s desire to know one another more, pouring purpose into the conversations within our own families. Embrace the dysfunction, take off the mask, and make the most of the time with whomever walks through the door. Example: if your family does not recognize Santa Claus, but grandma tries to make certain your kids know he will bring lavish gifts if they are good and eat all their food, don’t cringe or let it get under your skin. Just smile and share honestly about your family and what you do (or don’t do) to celebrate Jesus at Christmas. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter what any of us think—what matters is what Jesus thinks and whether or not He is glorified in our conversations. When we love one another authentically, we leave knowing more and being known more. And that is how genuine relationships are birthed.
So, whether you are staying home and feeding a few, or going away and joining an army for a feast, open the door with excitement. You have the opportunity to give thanks with those who put “fun” in “dysfunctional.” Let’s go to the table ready to share ourselves and allow others to do the same. It’s time to celebrate the beauty in our differences and allow the Maker of all to fit the pieces of the puzzle together. What a creative Creator we serve—He is always worthy of our thanks!
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