It's that time of year again, friends. That time of year where we are faced with the reality that Christmas is just 2 paychecks away (those of us who even get regular paychecks), the stores are always packed, those familiar holiday songs that have been forever ingrained in our minds since we were children come obnoxiously back to haunt us over and over whenever we run errands, our children want anything and everything they see on the television commercials that air during their favorite programs, the bills seem ever growing, and oh yea... that turkey you have no idea how to cook but because you wanted to carry on the family tradition you volunteered yourself for the task only to pray that you don't somehow dehydrate and under cook it at the same time... Its no wonder that when Thanksgiving arrives most of us don't even feel like we have time to think about being thankful, let alone try to find something to be thankful for. And yet, we have a million things right under our noses to be thankful for and most of the time we take them for granted.
So when it comes to Thanksgiving, why is it so special to me and why do I feel that it is a very important part in American culture? Simple: It makes life happier. You might be sitting there reading this wondering if I have completely lost it, which is an easy assumption- especially for those of you who don't know me (and some who do.) I know, I know, there is someone that you rub the wrong way or that rubs you the wrong way that you will inevitably have to see at some point on Thanksgiving. Or you might be thinking that Thanksgiving is the perfect day for food consumption and naps with football games and parades humming in the background so that you don't have to think at all. I can understand that for most people, Thanksgiving is one of those given holidays that you know you have off. Some people don't have that luxury. And it is nice to have a day where one does not have to think. But I believe that Thanksgiving is one of those days meant for thinking.
First of all, most of us know the story behind the day. But to most of us that is all it is: a story. But think about this for a moment: when those pilgrims and those Wapanohoag that came together it was a true celebration of the first success those first pilgrims experienced. It was thankfulness for surviving and the providence of God, and for those Native Americans who helped them learn about this new world. That first winter here for the puritans we know as Pilgrims was devastating, so that first Thanksgiving was more than just a feast.
When was the last time we gave thanks for surviving? Or for the homes we live in? Or the cars we drive? Or the warm clothes, heat, and food we eat? I don't see any of us scrounging in the woods chasing wild birds so that we can provide for our families and hope to survive the winter. I know some of you hunt for sport, but these people hunted to survive.
Now, here is where it gets a little more personal for me and my family. My grandfather has made it his mission to learn as much as he can about our family and trace us back as far as he can go. And he has done an amazing job of it, not only telling us hundreds of stories about our forefathers/mothers, but instilling in us the importance of heritage. In order to understand who we are it helps to know where we come from. One of the things he learned was that we not only come from the Pilgrims, but specifically can trace us back to several. This makes perfect sense actually because they were a community, it would make sense that their children would marry. So when we think of Thanksgiving and celebrate, we have the benefit of knowing that these people that started it all were not just nameless faceless pilgrims from a story book, but that they were individuals who had stories to tell and lives to live. When we celebrate we remember our great-something-odd grandparents such as the Standish family, The Bradfords, the Carvers, and the Cooks. We know their stories and we understand that because they survived, because they were adventurous and bold, we are here now. These are the things that I have the privilege of teaching my children now, and I hope that they too will understand and share in the family pride on this particular holiday.
Another unique thing for us on Thanksgiving is that I married a man who is part Native American. He is not Wapanohoag, he is part Sioux. However that does not diminish the fact that we both come from people that contributed to this country's beginnings, and we come from people that did not fully understand or accept one another. I love to look at my family as "coming full circle". Our ancestors were from completely different cultures, and there have been rifts and angst over the years, but here we are, centuries later, sharing our histories and uniting as a family. Thanksgiving is a great reminder for me of these things.
So as we head to my Grandparents' house to celebrate Thanksgiving and then over to Seth's cousin's place for dessert, we find ourselves thankful for many many things, including our family and our heritages that our children get to be a part of.
I am also thankful for where God has brought me and my family in life. It amazes me as I look over the past decade and I see where I was and where I am. I see the many times God has provided for my family in the most random ways. This is where I feel connected to the story of George Mueller. He was a missionary in the nineteenth century and he never asked for handouts or money. He ran orphanages and would often never have enough food to feed the children. This man had incredible faith and would sit the children down for meals and say grace as if they would have a meal, even if he did not know where it would come from, and many times he was rewarded for his faith and God would provide. I think of times as a child where groceries would show up on the doorstep or a friend would have extra milk due to a miscommunication with her spouse and we were blessed as a result. I think of the numerous occasions where we were given grocery gift cards anonymously at times where we needed them most. I think of the random turkeys that were given to us because people felt led by God to do that, not knowing our financial situation. I think of the time we got a grocery card with a note that simply read, "He knows your needs and is faithful to provide." That note is still on my fridge to this day to remind us constantly that God is taking care of us no matter what might come our way. I think of the turkey we just received yesterday because some good people donated them to the base my husband works at and I think of how much of a blessing that was. I think of how my children are my little miracles. My daughter was born 8lbs 3 oz and a week before she was born the doctors were concerned that she was going to be insanely underweight. They couldn't explain the weight gain. Rylee had a perfect APGAR score to boot. My son was born after I had miscarried and I will forever be grateful for Samuel. I feel a connection to Hannah from the Bible who cried out to God for a child and God heard her and blessed her with a son, also named Samuel. (Our son is not named for the Biblical Samuel, but for my husband's oldest friends in the world: Samuel and Luke.)
I am thankful for growth in my life and the mistakes I made and had the opportunity to learn from. There have been some very trying times for me and my family growing up for various reasons I have covered in previous postings, and each time I have come out of it a little stronger, a little lighter, and a lot brighter. I'm being refined here, and while I know I will never be perfect, I hope that I can be used of God in wonderful ways in raising my children and sharing my testimony with others. I am thankful for the first, second, third, tenth, and hundredth chances I have been given and the grace God has bestowed on anyone who simply asks for it. I'm thankful that I can devote my life to God in return.
I am thankful that I was raised in a solid Christian home and that I have not only been born to parents who love me, but I was chosen. (See my Father's Day post.) There is something truly beautiful in being chosen, and for those of you readers who are familiar with adoption might be able to relate to this. I might not have been planned by my earthly parents, but God has a plan for me. I was chosen by my earthly father and my heavenly one. Yea, I think that is definitely something to be immensely thankful for.
I am thankful for college and the training that my husband Seth and I are getting in order to continue God's work and fulfill the call God has on our lives. I am thankful that we live in a country in which I can freely share my faith with others and not be arrested, beaten, or thrown in prison as a result.
I am thankful that my children get full medical care, that they are clothed, they have toys and books, and that they are well fed. My heart breaks for the countless children around the world that do not have these things based solely on the circumstances of birth. No child should go hungry or cold. I would love to see this change, and will do what I can to help. I am thankful that my church, and countless others will give of their time and money and pack countless shoe boxes with Christmas presents filled with toys and necessities for children that don't have the same privileges we take for granted, and all because of the Love of God.
I am thankful for my friends and family that accept me and love me in spite of my faults and idiosyncrasies. I am thankful for the call God has put on my life and for whatever comes my way, including future mistakes and troubles I might stumble through on the way, as I know it just refines me that much more to be a more effective tool for God's work and parenting.
So this year as Thanksgiving, and even Christmas, approaches, if you find yourself struggling to find things to be thankful for, open your eyes and look around. That is the perfect place to start. There really are a million things and maybe this year we should really take the time to think and count our blessings.