Holidays and homesickness. For many, the two go hand in hand. Anyone who has spent a significant amount of time away from home or in a foreign country knows the feeling.
I found that when I was living in Romania, as long as I stayed heavily involved in ministry, I didn’t have the time or emotional energy to dwell on my family and friends at home. Daily access to email at the university computer lab also eased the pain of distance.
Holidays and Homesickness
Though my schedule prevented me from thinking constantly of the people I missed back home, homesickness had its chance to creep up on me during certain holidays. Christmas was never easy, for I was accustomed to spending time with close family and friends around the holidays. But my three Christmas celebrations in Romania came after I was married, so time spent with my in-laws as well as the Christmas church services helped alleviate the pain of being away from my family back home.
Thanksgiving in Romania
Believe it or not, the hardest day of the year for me was Thanksgiving! In Romania, Thanksgiving celebrations take place sporadically among evangelical churches. No established date exists for the celebration. Churches choose a Sunday during October or November in which to give thanks for the harvest.
Of course, this means that the last Thursday of November is just a regular day with normal activities. And that made me more homesick than ever! As I went through the motions of my regular routine on Thanksgiving, I could not help but think about what was taking place back at home.
The Day I Had Beans
The cafeteria menu on a typical Thursday was a plate of tasteless beans with some bread. It was the one day I sometimes skipped a meal (one of the reasons I was anemic and weighed in at 128 pounds by the end of the year). Sure enough, on Thanksgiving 2001, we had beans again.
When I saw what we were having that day, I grew bitter. Here it was, Thanksgiving, and I had to settle for beans in the cafeteria instead of savoring a delicious meal of turkey and dressing!
When I bowed my head to pray before the meal, I found that I could not bring myself to utter a sincere “thank you” to God. But as I began to dig my fork into the pile of beans, an overwhelming sense of conviction over my ingratitude flooded my heart. My mind raced to all the needs that God had met in the previous year. I had a room on campus, good roommates, great friends, and enough money to get by on. I remembered the help God had provided during the past year, my education at Emanuel, and the lessons I had learned in the village. I thought of my supportive family back home, my dear church, and the friends who encouraged me through letters and phone calls.
Reasons to offer thanks began to flow through my mind and heart until I realized that I must thank God even for the flavorless beans staring up at me from the tin plate.
As these thoughts flitted to and fro in my mind, out of the corner of my eye, I spotted one of the on-campus construction workers carrying his empty tray towards the kitchen. As students who had finished eating were taking their trays to the kitchen window, he tread softly behind them. Once the students put down their trays, he pulled out a small white bucket and with his hand began shoveling any leftover food from their plates into his pail. His hunger took precedence over his manners. This would be his meal for the evening.
Once I noticed the actions of the construction worker, I could do nothing else but bow my head again and truly thank God, even for the measly meal in front of me. Perhaps God had purposefully planned that this meal would be offered on Thanksgiving in order to see if I were truly thankful or if my gratitude depended only on outward circumstances.
It’s true that I was not enjoying a Thanksgiving feast with family and friends. But, despite the absence of the usual holiday traditions, I learned one of the greatest Thanksgiving truths of all by being confronted with some tough questions:
- Am I really thankful?
- Can I be thankful even for what I don’t have?
- Can I be thankful even when it’s not what I asked for?
- Can I be thankful in all circumstances, as the Apostle Paul commanded us?
Unfortunately, that Thanksgiving morning before lunch, the answer for me would have been “no.” After lunch, however, I could answer “yes.”