Giving Thanks in the Waiting

November 24, 2016

1,100 miles separate me and my family this Thanksgiving. Being away from family on any holiday is difficult, but this season of my life has presented me with additional challenges. Since moving away from my home state in June, I have missed surgeries, health scares, and many tears. As those around me express excitement for the upcoming holiday, I am struggling to share their joy. I want to participate in the anticipatory buzz of discussing travel plans, traditions, and impending family drama. But, my Thanksgiving plans this year do not involve anxiously waiting for my grandparents to arrive, watching too many people try to fit into our kitchen as the meal is being prepared, strategically placing chairs around the expanded dining room table to maximize the number of people we can fit, or waiting for my turn to share what I am thankful for.

Instead, this year, 1,100 miles separate me from the people with whom I have spent every Thanksgiving. Rather than holding to tradition, my plans involve waiting: waiting for the phone to be passed around to each loved one, waiting for the day to pass, waiting for Christmas so I can join them. And yet, in spite of the ache that longs to be wrapped up in hugs, kisses, and laughter, I will still lift my heart this holiday in thanks.

I am thankful for the opportunity I have to pursue my education, despite the distance. I am thankful for those who have walked with and supported me along the way. I am honored to have learned and graduated from Dordt College’s Social Work department this past May, and I am thankful for the ways that I was equipped to work with and for others. And, I am thankful for how I was prepared to further my education at a world-renowned and respected institution. Even after six months, there are mornings spent walking to my field practicum or to class in which I am still stunned by where I am and what I am doing.

There are days when the distance and demands of my program are hard, but regardless, I am thankful for the ability to move somewhere new, try something different, and grow.

In the moments that I find myself nostalgic for permanency and familiarity, I am thankful for the love of family and friends which can travel across 1,100 miles and still be felt in abundance. I am thankful for weekly phone calls with my grandparents, emails with my mom, and texts with my dad and brother. I am thankful for the aunt who picks up my phone call when I am riddled with guilt: for not choosing to attend a closer program, not being present to kiss my dad before he went into surgery, and not being able to sit with my grandma when she’s hurting. I am thankful for new friends and classmates who help me navigate my current temporary home, as well as old friends who reach out and keep me rooted.

I am thankful for the chance to serve here. I am thankful for the people who share their stories with me, who welcome me into their lives, who teach me how to better love and serve them. I am thankful for the opportunity to show up for people when no one else does, and I am thankful for every step of progress, no matter how small or seemingly insignificant. I am thankful for meaning and purpose, even during a season of waiting.

Above all that I long for and miss, I will lift my heart this holiday in thanks both for that which sustains me as I wait, and also the promise that in my waiting I will always be met by my Savior. Thanks be to God.

About the Author
  • Chelsea Maxwell is Program Associate for the Center for Public Justice Families Valued initiative, an initiative promoting policies that support and honor God's call to both work and family life. Chelsea holds a Bachelor's of Social Work from Dordt and Master's of Social Work from the University of Pennsylvania School of Social Policy and Practice. She is a former intern of CPJ's Christians Investing in Education initiative and was a Shared Justice Policy Fellow for What Justice Requires: Paid Family Leave. A native of Iowa, she now lives in the District of Columbia.

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  1. Chelsea’s words make me so thankful that God brought her into my life and allowed me to be her Father. I am thankful for her and the person she is and becoming!