How to Gather when We Can't

A guide for connecting creatively over the holidays.

For as long as I’ve been writing on the internet, I’ve sung the praises of a Thanksgiving celebration focused on making room at the table for anyone who might be feeling lonely or lost.

I bang this drum straight from the heart, not because I want us to add one more thing to our plates, or help us feel better about ourselves, or even to apply some guilt over the “true meaning” of Thanksgiving.

I talk about it because I’ve spent the past decade being healed of my toxic beliefs around “independence” and even “family,” in a culture crying out for connection and belonging. I have been warmed by the wonder of cramming a few more chairs around the table. My hope has been restored by plastic folding tables, paper plates, and potlucks where gimbap, biryani and Tupperwared Rice-a-Roni work together to redefine “tradition.”

I have received hospitality in my own kitchen, and it has changed me.

<Record Scratch>

This year will be different.

For a number of reasons (a child with a serious medical condition, a parent with a serious medical condition, jobs where we work closely with vulnerable people, a deep desire to support healthcare professionals who are pleading with us to help slow down the spread,) we will be celebrating solo this year. Just the five of us. I’m not sure we’ve ever done that before.

Struggling to muster the enthusiasm required to cook a holiday feast for my fam, I appealed to The Martin People: Let’s do something different! Something creative! We could get fun takeout and support a local business simultaneously! We could piece together an international dinner that calls to all of our cultures!

The resident foodie-of-my-heart put the kibosh on my strained attempt at reducing my workload in the name of creative flexibility and “fun.”

“But, I look forward to this meal every year.”

- Calvin Lee Martin

This, from the kid who told me earlier today that when he goes to college, he plans to live on ramen, Kimchi fried rice with Spam, and roasted seaweed. He has rendered me helpless, yet again. I cannot take it! Who am I to withhold mashed potatoes and gravy from a growing teenager who usually prefers dried squid and boba tea?

Short story long, I noodled over it for a while (he would also like noodles on Thanksgiving, FYI. Noodles!) and came up with a creative solution I hope to never employ again…

This year I’m teaming up with favorite pals Courtney and Jason (also spending the day solo) and we’re splitting the work load.

What it means: Half the cooking, all the impact.

What it also means: Fewer leftovers* and hopefully less simmering resentment.

Furthermore: Community! A sense of togetherness! At a safe distance!

Courtney and I met this afternoon to walk and discuss our game plan. (Kicking myself for not taking a selfie, but I did snap a pic of this sweet row of houses, the Goshen version of Key West.)

Our Plan

Shannan: Turkey**/gravy/dressing

Court: Mashed potatoes/Brussels sprouts/rolls

Of course, I will also be making the legendary Natalie Portman Pear Torte and Ruby always wants to bake over the holidays. IF it’s warm enough to be outside, we might meet up for fireside, social-distanced dessert on their deck sometime later in the day.

No, it won’t be “the same,” but good grief, we can handle a little dinner-related shakeup in the Year of our Lord, 2020.

This will hopefully be the only year I don’t barrage you with pleas to invite strangers over for your holiday meal. Enjoy!


If you’re staying home, is there someone you could “share” your meal with? It might mean putting yourself out there and risking rejection, but what if???


If you plan to cook a big spread for your family, can you think of anyone whose day would be brightened by a porch-side delivery of turkey or pie?

As we count our blessings this year, I hope we’ll remember just how brutal it has been for so many. Loss hangs thick in the air, tangible as winter fog.

If you’ve lost someone you love, I’m so sorry.

If finances are tight and you’re afraid to even think about Christmas, we pray for provision cropping up from parched soil.

If you’ve lost your spark, your rhythm, your faith? You’re not alone. (Sometimes it helps to remember that we’re always, constantly being found.)

If you’re grieving a fractured relationship or disoriented by the undertow of life right now? It’s okay. I wish I could pass you a sliver of torte.

Maybe this is the year we’ll learn to care for each other in brand-new ways, leaning into the weird way of Jesus as we yield our preferences for the sake of the most vulnerable.

This doesn’t mean we’re giving up or giving in. It means this Thanksgiving we stare down gratitude from a new vantage point, noticing the compassion is richer, the belonging is freer, the light is warmer, because we’re in it together.

Happy Thanksgiving, pals.

In spirit and in pie,


A Pandemic Thanksgiving Blessing

May we double-check the calendar when we rise, confirming it is, indeed, Thursday.

May our grocery lists be short and our kitchen helpers cheerful.

May the turkey thaw speedily for the first time ever, for we literally cannot handle one more thing.

May we rejoice in this gluttonous holiday blissfully absent of all pressure to don constricting fabrics of any kind.

(May we find our way into a bra and out of the t-shirt we slept in, for it is probably not asking too much.)

May the potatoes be the right kind of lumpy and the dressing just crispy enough.

May we put forth the effort to make the cranberry chutney with the nuts and the oranges, pausing an extra moment to remember Grandma Betty, the yeasty scent of her house, the tin of fig Newtons ever-present in the cabinet above her stove.

May we appreciate the art of juxtaposing the “special dishes” and sweatpants.

(May we nap while someone else does the dishes.)

May we make phone calls that matter, savoring slow goodbyes.

May we remember the imprisoned, pleading for joy to somehow fall upon them, preferably through the surprising benevolence of the cafeteria supervisor.

May we remember the homeless, ever-ready to ditch protocol and cross the street on their behalf at a moment’s notice.

May we remember the lonely, baking an extra dessert as the Spirit transcribes their name across our consciousness.

May we bear the weight of cozying up and hunkering down on Indigenous land, honoring those who were here first by learning their names.

Above all, may we feel the weighty presence of Emmanuel, God with us, even now, especially in this.


This & That

:: I’m currently reading Native: Identity, Belonging, and Rediscovering God by Kaitlin B. Curtice. She writes, “We can return to the canopy of the trees and rejoice in feeling small, because that is where we find the humility that grounds us in our place. We can be like children, and we can be like the dust.” It’s beautiful and I can’t wait to keep reading.

:: Braiding Sweetgrass by Indigenous author Robin Wall Kimmerer is one of the most soulful books I’ve ever read. I return to it often, and always in November. “A great longing is upon us, to live again in a world made of gifts.”

:: In recent weeks I have been hosting a conversation on Instagram about our various fears surrounding politics and the state of America. (Find it here.) Just in the nick of time, The Liturgy of Politics: Spiritual Formation for the Sake of Our Neighbor by Kaitlyn Schiess is out, and it is powerful. I finished it last night after poring over it slowly, allowing it to marinate. Here’s a taste: “The reality of sin in our world should keep us from placing our ultimate hope in earthly policies or institutions, and it should keep us humble about our own abilities and motives. But it should not keep us from being involved in the political realities that impact our neighbors, even if they don’t affect us.”

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* While we don’t want too many leftovers, we absolutely want some! This year I’m planning to try this Creamy Turkey and Rice Soup. I’m strangely leery of the egg yolk, but an atypical holiday calls for a culinary leap of faith.

** Nancy Garber’s Maple-Brined Turkey
11 cups of cold water
1 cup maple syrup
1/2 cup Dijon mustard
1/3 cup salt
5-6# turkey whole thawed
3 Tbl. Olive oil
1 tsp. dried oregano leaves
1 tsp. ground mustard
1 tsp. Garlic pepper

In 6 quart Container mix water, syrup, Dijon mustard and salt until dissolved. Add turkey to brine mix and cover. Refrigerate for at least 12 hours but no longer than 24 hours. Mix remaining ingredients and brush over turkey. Bake in shallow roasting pan with rack, breast side up. Cover with foil and roast 3-7 hours (depending on size) to 185 degrees internal temperature. (My family is not cute enough to “carve the bird.” We shred it off the bone and let it soak up the juice. Save some dark meat for me!)