Thanksgiving Lost . . . and Regained

Two stuffed chickens were roasting, filling the house with that special Thanksgiving aroma.

It was November, 1985.

We were living in Bolivia and enjoying celebrating our traditional holidays where chickens substituted for turkeys and expat friends for family.

It would be a fun gathering at our mission guesthouse.

That morning a neighbor rang my doorbell.

P. was a young mother in our church; her children, along with mine, were faithful in Sunday School, her husband was an alcoholic and mentally disabled after a motorcycle accident.

The six of them lived crammed in two small unfinished rooms in his parents’ house.

P. and I were becoming friends. Each week our children would play while we made soup and pudding in my kitchen, talking, praying, and sometimes crying, together.

P.’s trust in God amazed me. Joshua 1:9 was her go-to verse: Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.

That Thanksgiving morning she’d come to tell me she had no food nor money.

My soul groaned as I gave her some things from my pantry and watched her walk down the street with that puny little sack.

God, why is life so unfair?

Later, on the way to our feast, we stopped at P.’s house and I gave her one of the cooked chickens.

It made them happy, but it did nothing to alleviate my conflicted heart.

And when I saw the abounding tables at our dinner, I wanted to cry.

This is wrong.  I don’t want to do Thanksgiving anymore.


 In Bolivia, poverty was all around us: poor people of all ages, sick and hungry children sleeping on the streets, calling out, begging at our gate or restaurant table.

It was heart-breaking.  Especially seeing it up-close with my friend P.

I couldn’t stand it. The more needs I saw around me, the more hopeless I became.

After seven years of life there, I had some kind of breakdown. A dark cloud of anger and shame dogged me.

Where are You, God? Why do You let children suffer?


Home in NC that year, I told Jake I was considering becoming an agnostic. I wanted freedom from the questions and pain.

I didn’t want to do it, but I attended a weekly study on Galatians, and I can’t explain it, but my heart got Jesus’s good news for the first time.

Because I tend to live like a practical atheist — self-reliant and self-righteous — all the needs of the world, like poverty, can feel like my responsibility.

But God revealed to me the poverty in my soul — my great spiritual needs — and at the same time He was teaching me how to turn to Him and find His grace.

Then one day — what a day! — God’s love poured generously into my soul, and it changed me.

A few weeks later, at our Thanksgiving table, I sat amazed at the joy and gratitude I felt, for God’s rich blessings in Christ.

And I looked forward to returning to Bolivia, believing — like my rich-in-faith* friend P. — that God would always be with me and give me the courage and strength I need.


After our first three years in Bolivia, P. moved far away and I never saw her again.

But three months ago she contacted me on FB and wrote some very sweet words.

I doubt she knows how deeply her faith impacted mine, but I’m thinking this week would be a good time to tell her this thanksgiving story.


*James 2:5


9 thoughts on “Thanksgiving Lost . . . and Regained

  1. Thank you Sarah! I also grew so much through that Galatians study you shared soon after Maria’s birth! Possibly right around Thanksgiving! Just was with brothers and their families in Pittsburgh for Thanksgiving. It was a blessed time. Now back with Maria in Indiana. Tom is in Florida working on a dream/project. Sending you and Jake lots of love! Thank you for sharing!


  2. You’ve done it again! You have written truth in the midst of heart ache. You have spoken hope into despair. Sarah I am deeply moved by your sharing of inner spiritual and emotional turmoil that finds peace in the gospel truth that God loves us and is pursuing us in Christ. We don’t have simplistic answers to the meta questions of suffering. But we have a suffering Lord, Who enters into our pain and tells us he loves us fiercely.


  3. I am glad for you to be able to be thankful for your blessings. I feel so blessed too. To have been given so much goodness in this life, undeserved. And if I lived with daily contact with poor and needy people, I would be so broken over the inequity.

    On Wed, Nov 21, 2018, 2:01 PM Sarah Keeps Growing Down sarahkeepsgrowingdown posted: “Two stuffed chickens were roasting, filling > the house with that special Thanksgiving aroma. It was November, 1985. We > were living in Bolivia and enjoying celebrating our traditional holidays > where chickens substituted for turkeys and expat friends for f” >


  4. i remember a bit about that struggle of yours. God is good and Galatians is wonderful. Thanks for calling yesterday. i’m so sad we won’t see you and worried about what’s going on with Jake. We leave tomorrow at 5am for PA, so i don’t have time to call you today. But i will. i’m so glad you are in touch with P. After all these years. Ken had some wonderful reunions in Nigeria. Happy, thankful weekend, and every weekend. i love you and must find a way to see that baby girl!! Before she’s old enough to get married :-} ph



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