If you are American, you are likely in the midst of celebrating the Thanksgiving holiday.
Where I used to live in Kijabe, Kenya, we had a fairly large contingent of American ex-pats, and so a butcher used to deliver turkeys every November.
Somehow, every Thanksgiving I would find myself hosting a 12.6 kg turkey in my freezer!
I remember one year in particular when we were nearing the homestretch of our first school term, which had been, as always, a mix of encouraging and exhausting.
As a counselor, I’d helped many students address the stressors that many adolescents face – anxiety, grief, and loneliness. I’d seen students find new hope and health. But I’d also seen people struggling deeply.
And all of this made me realize, again, that the growth I wanted for these students really only came as they, day to day, learned to work for hope and change. I was privileged to witness the work those students did and yet I often just wanted them to get to the joy.
But God would continue to remind me that it isn’t my work but His grace that accomplishes that change.
It’s only when I remember that He is the one working that I work well. Otherwise, I just feel hurried and harried.
It didn’t help that this was also during a time of political upheaval in Kenya.
The recent presidential election had been declared invalid and a second election was scheduled for the end of October.
The timing of the second election correlated with an exam I needed to take as a part of my continuing education as a counselor and the only place I could take the exam was in the heart of Nairobi.
Days before the exam, we were given a travel warning that strongly recommended avoiding central Nairobi. And yet, I had to take the exam there.
I found myself in a taxi with my friend Jennifer, heading into Nairobi when it appeared everyone else was driving away.
Sitting through the exam, I tried to ignore the loud call to prayer from the mosque next door. Tried to keep anxiety at bay when I heard loud noises on the street. Sat wondering what was happening outside while I wrote essays and answered obscure questions.
After the exam, I arrived back at my hotel in time for a late afternoon swim, a lovely Thai dinner, and a news story showing that police had been using tear gas to disperse political protestors just a few blocks from the building where I had taken the exam.
This was often the paradox of my days in Kenya — a day could involve tests, tear gas, and police in riot gear while at the same time – a rooftop pool and lovely Thai food.
It involved stepping into risky and uncertain situations.
And also, feeling the privilege of my life that allows for safe hotels, early morning taxi rides, and friends and colleagues who help me figure out which risks are worth taking.
In Kenya, I always felt like both an insider and an outsider, never really knowing where I belonged. But the longer I’m was there, the less I felt the pressure to reconcile all these things.
I was weary of life in a place of struggle and injustice. But, at the same time, I am so grateful to have witnessed God’s work in this particular part of the world.
As Wendell Berry says, “Whatever is foreseen in joy, must be lived out from day to day.”
I do foresee a day of political peace for Kenya, a day of hope and healing for the clients I counsel, a day of equity and equality in this world of privilege and disparity. And yet, to get to the hopeful harvest, “the hand must ache, the face must sweat.”
If this world has taught me anything, it’s that sweating it out is not enough. We can work hard and not always see the change we long for. But then, sometimes, when we’ve all but given up, “great work is done while we’re asleep.”
For what we plant and nurture, God is growing into something beautiful and new.
I hope that during this Thanksgiving week, a “Sabbath mood rests on our day, and finds it good.” I hope you can pause from the busyness, and walk for a moment down paths of gratefulness.
May your work and your rest, your fasting and your feasting, your grief and your joy all be a part of God’s Kingdom coming to this broken and needy world.