Thanksgiving has always been my favorite holiday, but recently it has taken on an even deeper meaning for me. Two years ago this Thanksgiving was the last time I saw my Dad alive. His health had been failing and most of his kids and grandkids were home, knowing that his time with us was ending soon.

One of the greatest gifts he taught me was how to welcome the stranger. He didn’t always have this welcoming spirit, though. I remember my Dad yelling that he was going to daily Mass to pray for my sister’s soul. She had just introduced a long-term Muslim boyfriend to our traditionally Catholic family. He softened over the years, thanks in part to a deep-seated belief that parents never turn their kids away. When another daughter came out as gay towards the end of his life, he had the courage to call the bishop when the diocese decided to cancel a retreat for the LGBTQ community. He said that his daughter deserves a spiritual home too.

Like the God “who fosters people’s growth from their mother’s womb,” my Dad actively fostered a relationship with us even when our actions and lives challenged his values. He did not let us become strangers to one another. I pray for the strength and empathy to provide the same for my own children.

What gifts are you thankful for today?

—JoEllen Windau-Cattapan is the Atlanta area director for the Contemplative Leaders in Action, a program of the Office of Ignatian Spirituality, USA Northeast Province.