It’s that time of the year again. Can you smell it in the air? Go ahead. Breathe it in. Does smells like burning leaf piles and crisp air? Because if it doesn’t, I highly recommend that you take a walk and find somewhere where it does—unless the smoke irritates your lungs and the cold air makes your nose run. In that case, maybe you should stay inside and light up a candle that smells like baked goods.

Those are the kinds of smells that usher in the Thanksgiving season. It’s a beautiful time of year where we all take time to remember what we have to be thankful for and to walk in that gratitude. It’s also the time of year where we indulge in delicious food, good company, and pumpkin everything—candles, food, deodorant. Okay. No, pumpkin scented deodorant isn’t a thing, but is there an argument to be made for it? I don’t know, but I’m feeling yes.

We all have a general idea about how this Thanksgiving season is supposed to go. In a perfect world, everyone would have a table that came straight out of a lifestyle magazine. But that’s not the case for everyone. And if you’re a small group leader, there’s a good chance that you may have a kid or two who won’t be experiencing something like that. Their family may not be in a position to put together a dinner spread that is Instagram-worthy. They may be spending the day with people who add to the stress and tension. Thanksgiving may carry with it a lot of negative emotions and contexts as children and students attempt to process certain circumstances year after year. Thanksgiving is supposed to be a beautiful day. But it isn’t doesn’t always feel that way.

So what can we do? Well, unfortunately, we can’t intervene in every wayward situation. We can’t cook every meal or sit at every table. But we can make every effort to create a safe place within our small groups where every kind of Thanksgiving is welcomed. The ones with delicious food. The ones with very little. The ones jam packed with family. The ones that felt a little empty. The ones that inspire beautiful memories. The ones that bring up painful ones.

Our job as small group leaders is to create a safe place for our few where they can work through those kinds of feelings and thoughts without shame. Kids and students may be afraid to share the specifics of their Thanksgivings because their experiences are so vastly different from some of the other kids in their group. Not everyone is eating well. Not everyone is laughing. Not everyone is gathering around a table surrounded by friends and family. And it doesn’t serve our students to pretend like those things are true for everyone all the time. Honor their unique contexts. Be sensitive to the tension or pain they may be feeling. Don’t be afraid to ask questions that are general enough for everyone to answer. And create a place where your kids can be grateful for the things that they do have—even if those things look a little different.

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Adriana is the Lead Editor for Weekly at Orange. She has a degree in English education and has taught literature, drama and creative writing. She also spent nearly ten years working with her husband as youth pastors. She loves books, traveling, the ocean, old typewriters, and she’s passionate about Jesus.

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