A lot of things have changed over the years for me, but one of the things that hasn’t is my great love of Thanksgiving. There’s something about this holiday that makes me really happy.
Oh, sure, we have mishaps sometimes. Some years ago I threw my back so bad putting the turkey in the oven that I incapacitated myself for most of the day. One year I totally forgot to buy cranberries so my then-boyfriend had to nip out to a gas station in the freezing cold to find some (and yes, he did!–smart gas station owners, one must say). And last year my signature showstopper dessert, cornmeal apple cake, exploded in the oven. Oops!
But there are some big differences between how I approach this holiday now and how I did when I was Christian, and what they mean for me now versus what they meant then. Deconverting led me to a few life lessons that made this holiday a lot easier to wrangle and a lot less stressful.
Adapting to Imperfection.
I used to be really scared of being imperfect.
One could hardly blame me; in the religion I’d belonged to for most of my life, being wrong is scary as hell. The god of that religion, after all, never made mistakes or was wrong. So making mistakes could mean anything from having a rebellious spirit to having “read” the will of that god incorrectly. Imperfection–for any reason, whoever’s fault it might be–was “missing the mark,” and y’all know there’s just one penalty for that in Christianity!
Imperfections also seemed like a black mark on our religion as a whole. Our sales pitch was that Christianity made people better, which meant in turn that we made fewer mistakes and that our lives ran more smoothly than did those of the unwashed heathens (I know, I know… if called on it, the party line was that nobody was promised an easier time, but it was still 100% part of the sales pitch). If we made the same mistakes that everyone else made and we suffered the same sorts of misfortunes, then our product didn’t seem quite as necessary, now did it?
So I tended to short-circuit whenever I did something demonstrably incorrectly or something totally disastrous happened to me. I’d freeze, sometimes literally like a deer in headlights.
(Ironically, it was tabletop roleplaying games–long decried by fundagelicals as morally suspicious on every single level–that began the long process of breaking me of my deep fear of imperfection. In the world of dice, failures and botches are absolutely inevitable, and it was easier to learn to deal with them when they weren’t happening to me personally–just to a character. Even so, I know a lot of gamers who are still totally scared of imperfection.)
Little wonder so many Christians are so dishonest! Between puffing-up their own accomplishments (both real and imaginary) and playing down their imperfections, they don’t get a chance to just be.
It does get easier over time for most of us to deal with imperfections. That rigidity fades as we cultivate adaptability.
There was a time when exploded apple cake would have ended my entire day. But something about these big productions of feasts makes one learn to improvise. Sometimes things aren’t perfect, and we do the best we can with what we’ve got, and that’s okay–better than okay sometimes.
Preparing is 9/10 of a Plan’s Success.
I’ve never been one for dashing around frantically at the last second. It stresses me out. Instead, I’ve learned to block time way ahead of the main event to prepare what I can ahead of time.
I like Tuscan-style bread cubes for my turkey stuffing. But that’s pretty spendy to buy. So I began preparing loaves days ago. It’s a bit of a pain, but better than having to spend a whole day just baking. I’ve got them ready to cut in the morning.
I’ve been chopping herbs and mincing garlic and juicing lemons and making cranberry sauce. These small tasks all add up. Theoretically, by the time Thursday morning rolls around, all I’ve got to do is roll out of bed, make the actual stuffing, and muscle the turkey into the oven. It’s never that idyllic, but at least it’s usually pretty relaxed.
It’s not that I couldn’t plan while I was Christian. There are Christian women who are right now orchestrating feasts three times the size of mine. There are tables being muscled apart to fit in expanding leaves, chairs being lugged down from attics and up from basements, and boxes and boxes of plates brought in from storage.
Rather, it’s that I had a “wait till the last minute” mentality when I was Christian that made it very hard to plan ahead for the future. If I could put off a task, then I usually did so. Then there’d be a whirl of frantic activity to reach the goal and everyone would sit down at the table frazzled. I had next to no way to regulate myself or handle big projects on my own. If anything even vaguely interesting was happening, I’d go do that instead; it was hard to resist those kinds of temptations and delay my gratification, so to speak.
I’ve gotten a lot better at doing what I can to prepare ahead of time since leaving the religion, and it makes Thanksgiving feasts a lot easier to produce.
The Meaning of the Day.
The one thing I don’t want to do is lose sight of the reason we’re all doing all this stuff. It’s not about the food. It’s not even about the day off. It’s about our families and friends, those we love and cherish, who we’ve chosen to spend time with. All this stuff I do, it’s about showing my devotion in a way that is meaningful to everyone sitting at the table. I pick foods that my diners will like; I arrange the table and dining area in a way that is relaxing and will be most conducive to long conversations as the sunlight flits in past the blinds; I add all those little touches that say that I care.
There was a time when my insistence of having to “do” Thanksgiving a particular way meant a lot of trouble for myself and everyone around me, all for an experience that wasn’t actually that enjoyable. I’m not willing to go through that anymore. The way I do Thanksgiving now is the way that seems to make the best results and make me and my family the happiest, and I wouldn’t do things any other way–unless of course it was more sensible to do so! And if someone else has some other way of doing it that they prefer, then that’s perfectly okay with me too. In the past Mr. Captain and I have had vegetarian Thanksgivings, done them a week early or late, or didn’t do them at all if we were really strapped for time or money. The day was made for us, friends, not us for the day.
I’m very thankful that despite all the terrible things that have happened this past year, both to me and to my friends and to my country, that there’s a day when we can pull back and reflect on what we still have: each other.
Even if our families are full of horrible people (and a shocking number of them are–so much for Jesus making people better!), we’ve still got our handpicked families who understand us and are happy to sit at our tables. When it’s not emotionally safe to be around someone, I don’t feel compelled to endure their presence just because of a magical day on the calendar. If the stress of being around them gets too bad, then it’s okay to pull back and find some other way to celebrate the day.
Here’s to you, friends. Thank you for making this blog and community what it is. Whoever you’re spending today with, I hope they love you and are good company… and if not, then well, you know where the comments are!
Happy Thanksgiving, friends.