FAMILY MATTERS

Protect me, O God, for in you I take refuge.
I say to the Lord, ‘You are my Lord;
   I have no good apart from you.’
You show me the path of life.
   In your presence there is fullness of joy;
   in your right hand are pleasures for evermore.

[Psalm 16:1, 16 NRSV]

I’ve been struggling with a decision for the past few weeks concerning the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday. 

For years, we have gathered at my sister’s house in Columbus for our Thanksgiving dinner. It has been, for my wife, son, and me, and extended weekend.  The schedule was predictable. We would drive down on Wednesday, spend Thanksgiving Day eating. Friday and Saturday the women shopped and the youngsters enjoyed some sort of entertainment. We returned home either late Saturday or Sunday.   

Before that, when my mother still lived in Pennsylvania, hers was the location of the family feast.  

I can’t remember a holiday when we were not together.

The Coronavirus pandemic last year brought that unbroken streak to an abrupt end.  It was weird ordering takeout from Boston Market and heating up a meal at home for just my wife and me.

I don’t know how it is in other households, but historically, my sister’s house is usually packed.  It’s not just relatives, but just about anyone who is hungry. Everyone who came through the door got fed.  We have never been anything but generous with our invitations and we never run out of food.

Historically, this has been our legacy, going all the way back to my grandparents’ home in Puerto Rico.  And there, every day was Thanksgiving, or so it seemed.  We actually didn’t celebrate the holiday on the island, but mealtime was a vivid memory of my childhood, because of its centrality to our identity as a family.

That’s why last year was so hard.  No Thanksgiving, no Christmas, no time together.  Phone calls or Zoom meetings are a poor substitute of being in each other’s presence.

We are all aware, however, of the horror stories last year of families that threw caution to the wind and risked being together, only to end up dead or infected. 

This year, the vaccines have made us less fearful as a society, and many are already making plans for the celebration. 

Therein lies my struggle.

My wife and I have both been eating out publicly with each other as well as with friends since sometime around mid-June. So far, we have had no adverse incident.

All of the adults in our family have been vaccinated.  But several of the youngsters are still waiting their first shots.  Public health officials continue to urge caution, suggesting people take all the necessary precautions, such as social distancing, to stay safe.  A Google search will come up with over 43-million articles on how to celebrate Thanksgiving safely in 2021. 

Yet, the question this year is not so much risking exposure to the virus, as to whether it’s worth the risk to be physically together with those we love.

Family is the embodiment of God’s grace.  Family is our chief support system. It is in family where we hold each other up when one of us needs comfort or encouragement.  When something good happens in our life, the first person with whom we share the news is a family member. Likewise, when life hands us some setback, it is a family member who is there to share in our disappointment. 

When two family members disagree, they may not speak to each other for a while, but eventually and in most cases, they make peace.  Family divisions do happen, but they don’t change the relationship status.

Oh sure, Thanksgiving has its moments.  There will be a time that you want to strangle a loud-mouthed brother-in-law who likes to talk politics, or make fun of your church, or bad mouth your team. That’s not a stressful moment, but rather just the joy of having siblings who like to have a good time at your expense.

That’s why not being together with family is agonizing. Living with uncertainty is hard. Living without loved ones is harder. Yet our faith does not offer an end to uncertainty.  

However, it is from our faith that we draw the strength to go through this ordeal.  Our faith give us our identity as beloved children of God.  It is God who created and sustains all things and loves us unconditionally.  No matter how bad times are, our faith gives us the confidence to face the future with hope.

So I think I’ve talked myself into going, with an abundance of caution. The best response to uncertainty is the confidence that comes from knowing that God considers us worthy of dignity, honor, and love.  Rooted in these promises, we are better equipped to go forward, knowing that the God who created us is faithful and walks alongside of us on the journey.

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Published by pastorallende

Retired Bishop of the Northeastern Ohio Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA). Social justice and immigration reform advocate. Micah 6:8. Fluent in English and Spanish. I enjoy music and sports.

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