Updated: Nov 30, 2021
It’s Thanksgiving week for my friends in the US or those abroad observing the American holiday calendar, and it only seems appropriate to take an opportunity to take a short break on archiving the VO journey to answer the oft-asked question this time of year: What are you thankful for?
For those who have been following my posts and updates over the past several months—thank you for that, by the way—you may have noticed that I haven’t been quite as active the last couple of weeks. I’ve had the privilege of taking some much-needed time off from my usual day-to-day to spend some time celebrating with family. For several years now, my wife and I have called Lesotho, Africa home, where we have served in a volunteer capacity at a non-profit organization that serves vulnerable children in our community. Like most folks around the world, our lives were significantly impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, making our already infrequent in-person interactions with US-based friends and family even more so. Until two weeks ago, I hadn’t set foot in the US or seen my extended family outside of a Zoom call in over two years. It’s hard to believe it had really been that long, but time is weird like that.
Last Saturday, my younger—and only—sister got married. After a year in which I lost four grandmothers (no, they weren’t all biologically related, but they were my grandmothers all the same) and was 9,000 miles away when friends and family got together to mourn their losses and celebrate their lives, my heart was sore at the prospect of missing out on such a momentous and happy family occasion. Our attempts to secure a visitor visa for our daughter had come up empty handed (we adopted our sweet girl last year, so she’s not yet a US citizen) and we weren’t comfortable with her and my wife staying behind alone. I had resigned myself to the notion that my baby sister’s wedding would be another sacrifice we’d have to make for the life we’d chosen.
But I’m writing this post from my parents’ basement in Michigan at the end of an incredible two-week trip back to the States, so that’s not how this story goes.
A few months before the wedding, my wife and I decided we needed to invest in some further home security. We’d recently walked through some challenging and scary experiences, and we decided the peace of mind, if nothing else, was worth it. So, we reached out to our donor base, explained our situation and our need, and invited anyone who wanted to help us to give. And our community responded. Big time. Not only was our financial need met, it was done so two times over! Our supporters are amazing. The funds we raised enabled us to hire a night guard, giving us the ability to sleep soundly at night, knowing that we are being watched over and cared for in a very direct way.
That gift of peace and added measure of safety turned out to be one that kept on giving. We quickly realized that, with the night guard on duty, it would be safe enough for my wife and daughter if I went to my sister’s wedding on my own. Suddenly, what I thought was impossible became a feasible reality. With further help and generosity from my parents, sister, and (now) brother-in-law, I was able to purchase tickets and fly back to the US and be there for my sister as she walked down the aisle.
All I can say is that the past two weeks have been a gift beyond anything I could’ve possibly hoped for. I was able to hug my sister before her wedding and whisper into her ear what an incredible person I think she is. I was able to reconnect with extended family who I haven’t seen in the better part of five years. I was able to play board games with my uncle and cousin. I was able to catch up on the newest Marvel movies and nerd out about them with one of my best friends. I was able to spend a few days at one of my favorite places on the planet. I was able to tell our support community firsthand how grateful we are for their incredible generosity. And I was able to spend quality time with my one remaining grandmother and be with her as she was told that she likely has cancer again after winning her initial battle with this bastard-of-a-disease about 15 years ago.
I was reminded how precious and important family is—both in spending time with my sister, parents, grandmother, aunts, uncles, cousins, etc. and in desperately missing my wife and daughter. Life is too short and, if the last two years have taught me anything, it’s that a lot can change in a very short amount of time.
As I prepare to head back to Lesotho today (I’m likely up in the air if you’re reading this upon publication), it is with a heart heavy-laden with quite a concoction of emotions. I yearn to be with my girls, and I cannot wait for them to run into my arms when I get home. But I also cannot hold back the tears as I anticipate saying more goodbyes at the airport. I’ve been in this position many times over the course of the past decade, but it just seems to get harder each time.
So, as I look forward to celebrating Thanksgiving later this week, I keep asking myself what I’m thankful for. The answer that comes to mind over and over is simply this: my family. Perhaps it’s cliché, but never has it rung so true in my heart as it does right now.
Friends, regardless of whether you celebrate Thanksgiving as a holiday or not, the practice of gratitude is an indispensable life skill to nurture. Whatever you’re most grateful for in life right now, treasure it. Recognize its value to you and don’t take it for granted. Time is short and you just never know what life has in store.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got some serious hugs to distribute and prepare for!
Until next time, friends, keep telling stories.
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