I recently defended my dissertation and passed with a few edits to make. This means I graduate on December 13, 2019. A three year journey comes to an end. I went to a Pentecostal Seminary on purpose. I wanted to 1) be taught by professors who believe in the power of God's Spirit and 2) I wanted to experience the Spirit of God in my education. I do not regret my decision.
Now as I realize that I am getting my life back, I am purposely taking time to rest and reflect before jumping in to an already developing busy schedule in 2020. One of the first reflections I had post defense was that I end this educational journey in a posture of humility. I realize that I had and will always have so much to learn and more importantly, I know nothing. Sure, I have information in my brain. I can dialogue on a number of topics but when it comes to La Vida/Life with its twists and turns and roller coaster thrill rides, I graduate with questions not answers. I graduate with uncertainty not certainty but I also graduate being ok with that.
I think whether you end up going through formal education or not, life intends on giving us lessons that will eventually take us to that point of being ok with not knowing anything with certainty. I was first thrust into that journey when my second son, Daniel Jeremiah was born at 26 weeks of gestation. I was doing all the "right" things and still something I would have never dreamed of happened. Even though hundreds of folks joined us in prayer for healing over my son, he is twenty and still has a boatload of medical issues that we have learned to live with and thrive in as a family. DJ was my first teacher that $#it happens even when you love God, serve others and have checked off the 'to do list' of things Christians do.
After that I had a series of things happen that continued to remind me that life is what it is and if I was going to be at all at peace in life and carry some kind of joy, I had better learn to embrace it as it was instead of keep dreaming about how it should be "that way" and bitter about how it was "this way." Yeah, if you know me personally you have probably already seen big changes in me. I for one love who I have become and am so excited about the person I am still becoming. But today, as I glance over what has been my life up until this point, one thing I know for sure is that I know nothing and I'm okay with that.
Celebrating with your family of choice is just as important or maybe even more important as celebrating with DNA family. Yes, that distinction needs to be made.
In 2015, the Pew Research Center did a study that documented the reality that most of us already knew. The American family is changing. Divorces are up, two-parent households are down, single parent households are up and family dynamics are as complicated as ever. Another study stated that there is alot of family dysfunction in America and more and more articles like this one are being written because there is a chance that you or someone you know has had to learn how to deal with toxic family members.
But I don't want to waste time talking about all that. I simply want to point out the fact that all families do not look like the Hallmark movie you just watched yesterday. This is the time of year, the beginning of the holiday season, when many of us long for that ideal family gathering. Yeah, but uh no. Not everyone has a family to gather with and some rather not gather with the family they do have for a variety of reasons. Families are complicated. And that's why Friendsgiving matters so much.
Gathering with people who actually like you maybe even love you is always better than just gathering with people just because you share DNA but don't like or love you as shown by behaviors, attitudes, etc. For me, this is not about the Christian forgiveness "talk" it is about mental health. Many people I know have forgiven or have asked to be forgiven. But they still don't feel like they can even tolerate one night together without a fight or without having to fake a smile. Who wants to spend holidays like that?
Friendsgiving with people who either already like and love you or people who you are interested in getting to know deeper is a way of having a community that everyone needs. Everyone wants to be known and accepted for who they are, baggage and all.
Friendsgiving celebrations have become more popular as of late and they are all done very differently but they are all done with the hope of not only sharing a meal but sharing our heart.
My friend Silvia started a tradition last year of hosting Friendsgiving for her friends. I actually look forward to it as it starts my holiday season festivities but more importantly, like family we have seen many sides of each other and we have CHOSEN to work things out, forgive, start again, believe in the gift of friendship and stay connected because we each mattered to the other.
Choosing a person and working on relationship is not easy and many family members simply do not know how to do it and won't put in the work on themselves to learn. Many family members do not know how to start over. They only know how to tear down perhaps because that's all that they have seen in a family that is used to talking about each other or whatever drama that particular family is good for. And you see, to be a healthy family or have healthy friendships and relationships in general, you are going to need to learn how to start over.
Friendsgiving is sometimes a person's way to start over. With a new set of family and friends or a way to dig deeper in building those relationships. Silvia always does an amazing job of setting the environment and even giving her guests a gift as they leave to remind them just how special she thinks they are. Friendsgiving with Silvia reminds me that I am not unloveable, that I am valued and celebrated for whatever it is I bring to her life. Sometimes gathering with DNA family reminds you of the opposite - all the mistakes you've made, how unforgivable you are, how you no longer fit the picture they want to see of you. No one who values their mental health would willingly put themselves in that kind of toxic environment.
Soooooo, Friendsgiving matters to some of us because those friends are our chosen family. For some, their chosen family is people from church. That's actually how many of these folks became fam to me. Some I knew from my home church in NYC and we go way back to teen years and others I met here in my pastoring days and we are still connected. Thrilled about that.
As I go into the last few weeks of the year, I am settling in on what is and not on what is not in my life. So every opportunity I feel driven to connect with folks, I'm doing it. Do you host a Friendsgiving? How do you go out of your way to connect with those you love or look forward to getting to know?
This Sunday, I'm coordinating a Friendsgiving through the church I attend in this season of my life. It's open to anyone who is seeking community and/or is part of the church and wants to connect outside of just a wave on Sunday. If any of this reasonates with you, I hope you'll consider attending. Regardless of your story and your 'family' story, regardless of whether you have tons of friends or not, if you know another friend or two would make your life even sweeter, come on out. Register here. Maybe you will see why a yearly Friendsgiving will matter to you too! Hoping to meet you and make sure you come up to me!