Since my grandmother passed away 5 years ago, I’ve really had a difficult time holding it together on Thanksgiving. On Thursday morning I sat in a Starbucks in Richmond, VA, cried, and got snot all over their table as I thought about my grandmother. She was the kind of person who welcomed people as they were and always listened before she spoke. She was the family secret holder. She cared genuinely and would always go the extra mile. She was intuitive and tended to sense things before they happened.

Back in the days when I was a miniature, female version of Mark Driscoll, I would have conversations with my grandmother and leave frustrated. She wrecked my nice, neat understanding of the world because she had lived in it long enough to understand that not all things are black and white (though the picture below actually is).

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Sometimes whenever I try to imagine God and what He’s like, I think of my grandmother. I’m coming to see just how much her presence in my life influenced my understanding of the divine.

I called her “Dugar.” We’re still not sure where that name came from, but it’s all I ever knew her as. Her neighbors and church friends called her “Towana.” Her sisters called her “Wannie.” She was called “Aunt Wannie” by the nieces and nephews. My dad called her “Mom.” Granddad called her “Sugar” or “Sweetheart.” We all called her by different names, but we were referring to the same love and compassion, same voice, smile, and sense of humor. We were referring to the same woman with the scar under her left eye and the tan skin she inherited from her Cherokee ancestors.

Same woman, many different names.

I don’t remember her ever kicking me out of the kitchen because I was a kid. She always invited me to help in the preparation of anything she was cooking. Even though there’s not that much helping that a kid could have possibly done, I felt like I was important and favored. I was a part of the process. I was bringing something awesome to fruition.

She always invited me to get my hands dirty.

As a kid Thanksgiving was a gathering of city folk, country folk, straight people, gay people, liberals, conservatives, white people, black people, biracial people, people who smoke, people who didn’t, people with tattoos, and people who thought tattoos were sinful.

Everyone was welcome at the table.

Folding tables were taken out from behind the couch and made of use. We sat on the floor, front porch, on any available chair in the house. The place was packed. Casseroles and other dishes sat atop the washer and dryer. Any place that food could be sat, there it was laid.

We all had our differences and our flaws, but when we met together and ate, casseroles and turkey acted as equalizers. We were family, joined together, if not by blood, by the simple fact that we needed food for sustenance and all had a hunger for it.

I don’t claim to have a ton of things about faith nailed down, but the same things I described about my grandmother, I also believe to be true about God. That’s where my hope lies.