Yesterday we celebrated Thanksgiving here in Montepuez. It's not your typical fall celebration (instead of pumpkins and cool temperatures, we've got falling mangoes and stifling heat!). And over the years we've developed some fun traditions of our own. This year we had 42 people celebrate together - our team, a couple other missionary families from the region, six Peace Corps workers and a few non-Americans who we've lured into the day's festivities.
First, there was the slip-and-slide for the kids at the Smiths, then we moved to our house and tried not to overstuff ourselves with the plethora of amazing foods offered at the Thanksgiving feast. That was followed by a time of worship and a chance to share what each of us were thankful for. After that we moved to the backyard to let the kids try to take down a pumpkin shaped piñata. Once the kids' piñata-pumpkin-bashing work was done, we moseyed over to the teacher's yard where we attempted to dance away the calories by doing the limbo, the Hokey Pokey, the Cotton-Eyed Joe, etc. And at sunset we came back inside and finished the day by enjoying dessert (I have to admit I'm a sucker for pecan pie).
Even though we missed celebrating together with our families back in the U.S., it was a great day - filled with fun, food and laughter.
Yesterday's events, though, made me remember a time when my thankfulness tank was very low.
That was the day I cracked my windshield with my own rear end.
That's right, I literally "rear-ended" it!
About five years ago I had been out in a village that I don't usually spend much time in. After the church meeting was over and it was time to leave, a bunch of people piled into the car for a ride and one lady was insistent that I take her bundles of firewood into town. The truck was so packed, though, that I had to put them on our roof rack. As we drove into Montepuez, she began complaining and her lack of thankfulness (and my own attitude that day!) put me in a sour mood.
Now, one thing that we've noticed living among the Makua-Metto for so many years is that in this culture people don't verbalize their thanks as much as people do in my home culture. It was seared into my brain at an early age that I was to always say 'please' and 'thank you,' but the expectations and cultural rules surrounding requests are different in this context. It isn't necessarily expected that a person will say 'thank you' when someone else has helped them out. There seem to be many reasons for this, but one of them may be the perception that saying 'thank you' closes off the 'transaction' and for some people seems to signify the end of that relationship. More than a few times, I have heard people say "kihosukuru" (I thank you), in a tone that sounds less like gratitude and more like a curse! That's not to say that our Mozambican friends are never thankful, it is just that when they are thankful they often express it in different ways.
Anyways, back to my story. So, the attitude and speech that the woman directed towards me that day were thank-less. When we arrived at her house, I had to climb on top of my truck to hand the firewood down to her. Unfortunately, some of the sticks had shifted during our ride down the bumpy dirt road and the bundle was stuck. I moved to get a better angle and ended up standing on the front part of roof rack, facing the opposite direction of the truck. But, as I yanked on the bundle, the cord broke and I lost my balance. Falling backwards towards the hood of the car, my rear-end landed on the top part of the windshield with a sickening crack. Thankfully my hands caught the front of the roof rack and kept me from tumbling head first to the ground. Clinging to the roof rack, I struggled to climb back on top of the car, frustrated at the way I had extended a crack in our already damaged windshield. The woman's expression remained unchanged, though, and with a blank stare she received the wood from me and walked off without a word of sympathy or thanks. I got back in the truck and drove away stewing in my embarrassment (I mean, who rear-ends their own windshield!) and irritation at the lack of gratitude I perceived from her.
By the time I made it home, I recovered enough to confess to Rachel and the girls about the origin of the extension of the crack in the windshield. As they laughed about it (after expressing an appropriate amount of sympathy, I should add), it was easier for me to recognize just how ridiculous the story was and to be thankful that the fall and the damage to the car could have been much worse. I'll admit that it took me some time to get over my wounded pride (and bruised bum!), but eventually I was able to join in the laughter.
Reflecting on that story yesterday made me consider again the connections between laughter and thankfulness. As I think about our living room yesterday, filled with smiling and laughing people celebrating a day of Thanksgiving, even far from home, I am reminded of how important laughter is to helping put us in a posture of gratitude. Our hearts seemed wired in a way that what most leads us to a place of thankfulness are the times set aside to enjoy and take joy in those around us.
May we be a people whose laughter leads us to a spirit of gratefulness and thanksgiving!
Grace and Peace,