Sarah Alexander: Thanksgiving, the Best Jell-O Ever, and the Promise of Home

Our first Thanksgiving in Central Asia was like a treasure hunt.

One teammate stood in a long line to buy bread; another bought and baked an underfed chicken. Potatoes — the one food we had in abundance — were mashed and salted.

But the real prize? A bowl of green Jell-O.

Someone traveled 6,000 miles with a box of Jell-O in his suitcase and decided to share it with the rest of us. It was the best Jell-O ever.

But even more than the food, I remember the laughter. We were in a dark place and we felt significant spiritual oppression, but the shared suffering created a unique camaraderie. We laughed together at our language mistakes and cultural missteps. We thanked God that we’d made it just one more day.

We were each living our own pilgrim story: far from home, sustained by grace, learning to love and adapt within another culture.

On our first Thanksgiving overseas, and for many since, I’ve been awed at the ways God has tenderly nurtured us as sojourners in a strange land, giving us joy and family and a new understanding of home. Indeed, over the years, the Thanksgiving holiday has reminded me less and less of the home we’ve left behind and more and more of the home that Jesus promises us ahead.

Longing for home

My husband tells the story of his first trip to the U.S. after living in Central Asia for a year. He sat in his childhood bedroom, finally home, and he was surprised to still feel homesick. In that moment he understood that he was longing for something beyond the tangible — beyond the warmth of his familiar bed cover or his mom’s cooking.

This place he ached for — that all of us long for no matter where we live — is the Kingdom of God. Writer and preacher Frederick Buechner explains: “The Kingdom of God is where we belong. It is home, and whether we realize it or not, I think we are all of us homesick for it.”

This realization is one gift of living overseas. Of all of our American holidays, Thanksgiving encapsulates the joys of home — family, feasting, fellowship. To be far from home gives us the opportunity to peel away the layers of meaning, to ask the question: What am I missing? And if we sit with our homesickness long enough, we get to make a choice, just like Sarah and Abraham did, to fix our hope elsewhere.

“If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return,” we read in Hebrews 11:15–16 (NIV). “Instead, they were longing for a better country — a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.”

Thanksgiving reminds me that we are all pilgrims, and we aren’t yet home.

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Source: Baptist Press