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A LOUSY MEAL Far From Home — But the Greatest Thanksgiving Day Ever

It was the worst Thanksgiving Day meal I’d ever eaten, but the most wonderful Thanksgiving Day I could imagine.

My wife and I were sitting in an American-style restaurant in Guatemala City. We’d arrived in El pais de la primavera eterna (“the land of the eternal spring”) approximately one week previously, out-of-our-minds excited about meeting little Samuel, the soon-to-be-adopted infant who would become our son.

Over the past several years of our then relatively young marriage, my beautiful wife had suffered five miscarriages; (actually four of them and one very premature still-birth.) Wanna know heartache? Be pastor of a church in an intensely pro-family, evangelical culture, surrounded by families that effortlessly pop out offspring like rutting rabbits, all the while agonizingly struggling to begin a family yourself. Everywhere we looked, my wife (perhaps one of the most maternally oriented women I’d ever known) and I were constantly taunted with what we seemingly could not experience: parenthood.

After long months of prayer (and tears), and through a rather extraordinary chain of events, we learned of a Christian orphanage located in the mountains right outside of Guatemala’s capital. We contacted them about any children which might be available for adoption. The result? A mid-winter 1989 phone call informing us a male infant had just been born, and he was ours if we were interested.

Whereupon followed a nightmarish cycle of paperwork and hopping through legal hoops — in two languages and between two nations, no less; and in November of that year, nine-months to the day of our son’s birth, our Boston-originating flight set down at La Aurora International Airport. Please don’t overlook that detail: nine months. Kind of a cool coincidence, I thought: as if the day we arrived in our boy’s native land became a virtual second birth for him — this time into our lives.

The next morning, we motored across a vast, bustling metropolis and out into the Central American hinterlands, eventually rolling to a stop in front of the Casa Bernabe (“House of Barnabas”) orphanage. There we had our first flesh-and-blood encounter with a squirming bundle of Latino joy who was a bit chary of us at first, but quickly warmed up after spending some time in or presence. The godly, wonderful folks at the huerfanatorio sent off Samuel with us, back to the place we were staying — and where we stayed for nearly two more weeks as we tediously groped our way through more official forms, interviews with government officials, and assorted, dizzying bureaucratic processes. We definitely felt sort of stranded; trapped in a foreign country until we got the authoritative go-ahead to depart Guatemala.

Thus, the three of us — my wife and I and our brand new little boy — ended up, the fourth Thursday of that November, at an establishment reputed to offer a genuine, USA-worthy meal of turkey and stuffing. I suppose it was, technically, turkey and stuffing, but it sure didn’t taste like Mom’s. I recall standing at the bar and staring deliriously at the television. CNN International beamed from the screen (no Fox News in 1989). Hey, it was TV, which I hadn’t seen in what seemed like forever, and it was broadcasting in English, which I hadn’t been hearing much of late, and so I drank it in greedily. No denying, my wife and I were eager to get back, with our child, to our homeland. We were American to-the-marrow, after all, and as interesting as a foray to a colorful, faraway country could be, we nonetheless missed our American way of life; and I recall feeling that keenly, as well. Additionally, I recall deciding the comestibles were pretty awful. And bowing our heads in prayerful gratitude before digging into our oddly flavored holiday repast, I recall being overcome with joy, euphoric beyond words. Who cared about the meal? About the longed-for accouterments of our distant “yanqui” homeland? Despite all these issues, after our grueling wait, we finally had our baby.

The apostle James reiterated two millennia ago: “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights” (James 1:17). Each Thanksgiving Day — and regularly in the periods before and after the annual feast — I make an intentional effort to remember and appreciate there’s not one blessing in my life that is not directly from the hand of a gracious Creator. The glaring ones? The more pedestrian ones? They’re all magnanimously courtesy of Him.

As Thomas Ken’s familiar, eighteenth-century doxology admonishes, “Praise God from Whom all blessings flow…” (emphasis added).

We adopted a second son, Michael, also from Casa Barnabe, in 1993; and in May of ’95, my wife was blessedly able to complete a pregnancy: Voilà! Boy number three, Jacob. Then there’s our health, our lovely house, electricity, heat, food, friends … Jesus! Blessings innumerable. It’s a mind-bogglingly unflattering reflection on me that I sometimes forget to be explosively appreciative all the time for all these heaven-granted gifts poured into my life. Indeed, I DO benefit from an annual day specifically devoted to encourage gratefulness to God; I admit, I need that nudge.

However, that Thanksgiving Day in Guatemala twenty-seven years ago? Slim effort was required for me to express my gratitude to God. As I looked upon the tiny, smiling, wide-eyed figure in the height-chair between my wife and me, thankfulness uncontained flooded from my heart; overflowing irresistibly, unrestrainedly. effusively.

We returned to Boston Saturday evening, December 2. It had evidently snowed shortly before our homecoming; in fact, I believe the white stuff was still playfully swirling down as we bundled up “Sammy” and shuttled him to his new house. I noticed the Christmas lights had gone up around town while we’d been away. I distinctly remember It’s a Wonderful Life showed that night on television.

And we had our little boy.

Do I need to mention that year’s Christmas was also the best one ever?

Image: Shutterstock; ID:517157329; Copyright: Studio_G

Share if you agree that even if the Thanksgiving Day meal is deficient, the Day can still be wonderful.

Steve Pauwels

Steve Pauwels is pastor of Church of the King, Londonderry, NH and host of Striker Radio with Steve Pauwels on the Red State Talk Radio Network. He's also husband to the lovely Maureen and proud father of three fine sons: Mike, Sam and Jake.

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