November 27, 2014
We sat in the back seat, five people side by side, two laps filled with children, holding one another close as family in the cab of a four wheel drive truck. From what I could see, I knew Pii Jane's brother in law was driving us to her mountain village in this car, but from what I could feel, amidst their energy with one another, something bigger was driving us to go to this mountain.
Pii Jane, the talented in-house, all-purpose, seamstress for Global Groove Life, comes from the Lahu tribe, a hill tribe in Northern Thailand. She is one of the many people employed with Global Groove Life with it's fair trade ethics. I had been invited to go with her to visit her brothers house on a mountain for a thanksgiving celebration, an introduction to a Thanksgiving outside of my own culture.
After a three hour drive into the mountains, we were welcomed into Pii Jane's brothers wooden home with hot tea, while the house erupted with the joyful conversation of a family reconnecting. It all sounded like a song to me, free to speak their local dialect with one another, and I am drawn to wonder what they share with one another.
After a few moments of sipping tea, white papers are passed around to each member, and the family sings in harmony an unfamiliar tune that I wish I knew. After three of these songs, Pii Jane instructs me to put my shoes on, it was time to walk to the church.
A dusty, up-hill mile later, we reach the landing and wade through an ocean of shoes and several rows of people seated outdoors to cross the threshold into the single-roomed, cinderblock building. Each pew is heavily filled, yet somehow five spots instantly appeared upon our arrival. I take a moment to absorb this new environment, and am quickly drawn to the contrast of the orange marigold flowers carefully strung across a room of sea blue walls. My eyes are drawn to the decorative fountain of golden plastic reflecting prisms of light from the center of the room, a party piece that seemed to be hung to evoke a spirit of celebration.
As the people share, Pii Jane whispers to me the reflection of their Lahu words into Thai as they take turns speaking in front of the group. Each one shares brightly, with no amplified support, of the gratitude they have for what God has done in their lives. One man, a farmer with a dusty hat in his hand, shares a story about how he had no food, asked God for help, and how God had given him food. The man stands speaking out his gratitude as though that reflection itself were his own offering. After these, each family in the room took a turn using only the harmony and melody of their voices to sing songs for the group. With a rotation of individual sharing, and family song, I recognize that nearly everyone in the room had something to say. I wondered then what my own words might be if I had shared.
Once the service finished, we stepped outside to tables lined with Lahu food prepared and place settings waiting for us, as though to say, "We have eaten, you can eat too".
We left that mountain in Thailand, driving past trees with leaves for rooftops, fields for rice, and clouds filled with rain, and I realize that here gratitude was more than just saying "thank you" for what you have, but that maybe gratitude is the freedom of giving what you have been given. Gratitude is a gift from the overflow of the heart.