I remember when she called from the kitchen table. “How do you spell “hotdogs”, Mom?” Intently, Angela was poised to write on her red strip of paper thanking God for what was at that time her favorite food. Red and green construction paper, pens and a stapler was all it took to plant seeds of gratitude in young hearts transforming a feast day on the fourth Thursday of November into a month of thanks.
Then on Thanksgiving weekend, we’d cut down our tree fresh at the farm—always from the “Charlie Brown” section, where frugal Dutch families shop- and adorn it with our paper chain. Wrapped around the icon of gift giving was our gift to Jesus—a cornucopia of thanks.
During those sometimes snowy Michigan Novembers both grandmas and grandpas– living, breathing, talking, laughing- crowded around our tiny table in our cracker box dining area and feasted with us. Afterwards, we’d stroll “Around the World” at the Christmas tree display at Meijer Gardens or attend the opening night of the holiday performance at the Civic Theatre. That was where we watched Scrooge reclaim gratitude and generosity with childish delight and where we first saw Wendy and Peter Pan actually fly to Neverland. One year a grandma was missing from the feast so we loaded up the minivan and spent the afternoon at the hospital instead. The next year, she joined us but moved slowly, unsteady and leaning hard against her walker and Grampsy. We didn’t know it then, but we were living the final chapter in that holiday story—the one that included all those grandmas and grandpas around our table. Life is like that. There is a time for everything under heaven–A time to be born and a time to die…..
Our colorful paper chain tradition lasted a lot of years before repurposing gratitude into fresh packaging. That’s when we started the blessing box–a shoebox adorned in wrapping paper and labeled carefully with a slot at the top. Every night in November we passed around note cards at supper time and listed our gifts—the fresh new mercies for each day. We filled our box and carefully unwrapped it at our holiday banquet. Each gathering our own note cards, we read them to the rest of the family. There were 236 one year and afterwards, I assigned a sweet child of mine to type them up–a record of God’s incredible generosity and a bonus opportunity to practice typing. Wonder where that list went?
Randomly, we sang around the dinner table throughout November too. Remember our favorite hymn? “Count Your Blessings”. I wish I’d recorded Robyn and Lily belting out the words “Count” and “1 by 1” for emphasis.
A few years, we opted to adorn a paper turkey with our praise. We cut out red and orange and yellow feathers for our poster sized turkey, and covered him with gratitude. Starla wrote some of her first words on those turkey feathers. Those were years of pilgrim and Indian dress up too. We’d read about the perilous journey the Puritans took across the Atlantic Ocean to practice their faith freely at Plimoth Plantation, the sacrifices made, lives lost, hardship endured. And then, after a devastatingly harsh winter, God intervened with dirt and fish bones and the help of natives. Food was harvested and friendships forged and that is always cause to celebrate. And you’d re-live it like the original storytellers.
Last year, we entered a new season of life in our family. One of our little birds flew away, migrated north and left an empty seat at the table all fall. I felt her absence keenly and deflatedly contemplated repeating time honored holiday traditions. God and I have a long history of conversations about creative family traditions. I asked Him what I should do and then I drove past a poster nailed to a telephone poll advertising a turkey trot. Immediately I thought, “How about a Blessing Trot?” Down here in Texas, fall is just waving “hello” around Thanksgiving time. Trees are beginning to blush and there’s a decent chance of a cool day perfect for a walk. So, I took to the trails around our neighborhood and designed my own personal 5K route. I was excited about our family walk and all of the reflective conversation we’d share focusing on gratitude. I enthusiastically unveiled my map to the family on Thanksgiving morning.
My idea got mixed reviews.
The dog wagged her tail and Daddy’s always up for a walk, bless his heart. Two of the kids smiled hesitantly and put on their tennis shoes.
One kid shot me an angry glare and another ran in the bathroom and sobbed for about 10 miutes moaning that she could never walk that far.
Some ideas just take time to warm up to.
Being a mom means you gotta grow thick skin. I’m still working on that….
Eventually we walked and talked and shared the goodness of God with each other while our turkey baked in the oven and when we came home, it smelled like Thanksgiving at our house. So we cooked together, all of our tried and true favorite family recipes—Grandma’s stuffing, sweet potato casserole, chocolate pecan pie. We set our table and feasted.
The writer of Ecclesiastes grappled with the meaning of life long and hard. And he concluded:
There is nothing better for people to do than to eat, drink, and find satisfaction in their work. I saw that even this comes from the hand of God. Ecclesiastes 2:24
And with our overstuffed bellies, we were living that dream in that moment—enjoying what the effort of our food preparation produced, eating, drinking, acknowledging our gifts from the hand of God, sighing with contentment and then resting from our work.
We took long naps—a luxury for us hurried people.
Later, Daddy meticulously and strategically constructed a fire in our pit. The little girls threw in crumpled newspaper for good measure and we sat around it making s’mores until we smelled like we’d been camping. Then we finished off the day cuddled up on our futon, covered in quilts watching a family movie.
This year, I am more excited than I’ve ever been for that fourth Thursday in November when we’ll all come together and celebrate the goodness of God again. The beauty of the holiday hinges on acknowledging the Giver of all those fresh, new mercies that have nourished us like dew waters thirsty ground every day, year after year, all 26 of the years Daddy and I have been forging a life together.
More than anything else, I hope that each of you girls reflect on the time we shared and see His mark on all of it. The saddest possible perspective to have at Thanksgiving is to appreciate the gifts without having spiritual eyes to see the Giver. Dante G. Rossetti says: “The worst moment for the atheist is when he’s really thankful and has no one to thank.”
That is not our family story. Our story declares the goodness and love of God in all places, in all moments and in all experiences, from low-lows to highest highs.
Do you see His fingerprint inked on your story, on the story we’ve shared, on our messy lives all intermingled? His signature reads, “Faithful and Trustworthy Father”.
That’s what we celebrate together this Thanksgiving.
And I can’t wait.