As one of my favorite holidays rapidly approaches, I’m hit with frequent reminders that this year will be different than my most recent years. I won’t go to Thanksgiving dinner at my professor’s house with my peers; instead, I will go to a Thanksgiving retreat at the cabins at La Malinche with my fellow YAGMs. This isn’t a bad trade-off and I don’t want it to come off as though it is. I’m genuinely excited about the Thanksgiving retreat and spending time with my cohort. They have been a steady support system for me over the past few months and I am grateful to spend Thanksgiving with them.
But I get a little pang in my chest when I think about how for the past two years on Thanksgiving Day, my roommate Brittany and I would clean our dorm room so that her parents and grandmother could come visit us and bring us food to have for Thanksgiving dinner. We had Thanksgiving dinner in my dorm because I would spend the later hours of that evening finishing packing my suitcase for my I AM ART trip to Guatemala with Athentikos. Then, the following morning at an obnoxious hour, Brittany would wake up and drive me to the airport to catch my flight. Then, I’d spend the following week and a half with some of my favorite people creating art with girls in a group home in Guatemala and celebrating God’s gracious love for all of us.
But now I’m in Mexico, and for the first time in two years, I won’t be able to have dinner at my professor’s house or have reheated Thanksgiving food knowing that my favorite week of the year is about to start the next day. And it exasperates both my homesickness and also my feelings of gratitude to think about the things that haven’t changed and won’t change in my absence.
Brittany’s grandmother passed away this year and while I didn’t know her very well, I’m grateful for her willingness to come with her family to sit on our lousy dorm sofa and eat reheated food off plastic plates with us just so that her granddaughter could drive me to the airport the next day. That kind of generosity continues to live on this year through her family and her death hasn’t changed that.
My sweet professor and her family, who open their house every year to host an early Thanksgiving dinner, will continue to do so because they know that some students don’t have the means to go home and celebrate the day with their families. A new group of students will get to experience, possibly for the first time, the incredible feeling of home they can build with my school community.
The Athentikos IAA program will have another camp starting the day right after Thanksgiving. They’ll have new volunteers and also some of the old ones whom I have grown to love so dearly. They will hurt and heal just as I did. They will teach art as a physical example of God’s unconditional love for all, even those who feel broken; a love that, like all these other beautiful aspects of a blessed humanity I’ve mentioned, will continue to thrive regardless of where I’m living.
Being in Mexico is hard right now and will continue to be hard. From Thanksgiving, to not going to Guatemala, all the way through the holidays as I spend Christmas and my birthday away from home for the first time in my life. I’m about three months into my year of service and I miss things from home, whether they be luxuries like a dryer or an electric stove or comforts like grilled cheese with tomato bisque when I’m in bed sick with a cold or just being around my family and friends from the US.
But there is something comforting about the steadfastness of the life God has provided for me thus far. It’s a steadfastness that I will be explicitly thankful for on November 22nd this year and implicitly grateful for for the rest of my life. The people who have provided me with such great memories of this special holiday for the past few years, will continue to be the true spirit of the holiday this year too (since we really do need a day for gratitude and kindness and not so much about the taking over of native people’s land).
To be homesick is a gift because I have so much to miss and cherish. But I also have the opportunity to create a new memory, a special one-year only edition, where I will bundle up in the cold, hike La Malinche, and eat a Thanksgiving dinner with my 9 other YAGMs, Country Coordinator, and her family. I will play Bananagrams with Christine. I will offer to do the dishes after Renee blesses us all with her cooking abilities. I will get a lot of hugs from Leah. I will sit amongst the warmth and laughter of stories everyone has to share about their experiences in Mexico thus far. Every one of the YAGMs is going to bless me in some way this year, I’m sure of that. I am grateful to have this year with them and to share my favorite holiday with them. And next year, I will probably be homesick for my Mexico Thanksgiving, but I will also be grateful that there will be a new group here receiving all the love and grace that I experience daily.
So yeah, I feel a bit homesick, but I’m also feeling what it’s like to start to build a new home here. Because it’s at the intersection of homesickness and gratitude that I find God’s greatest blessings, and that’s something to be thankful for.