by Dale Reeves
If you have ever ridden that boat ride at Walt Disney World where that obnoxious song “It’s a Small World” gets stuck in your head for days, (you can thank me later for putting that song in your head), then you’ve observed the end of the ride where the word “Goodbye” is shared through many different languages. We are less than a week away from our national observance of a holiday that is very much based on a command we are given in the Bible, and the phrase “thank you very much” is translated in several languages as follows . . .
mahalo nui loa
Children are taught to say “Please” and “Thank you” at an early age. I love to hear one of our two-year-old grandsons, Miles, say, “Tank you, Mamaw” when he sits down in his high chair to eat a delicious meal that she has prepared for him. When our two daughters were growing up in our home, they learned from the VeggieTales’ character Madame Blueberry that “a thankful heart is a happy heart” and “that’s why we say thanks every day.”
Overflowing with Thanksgiving
The apostle Paul reminds all of God’s children in several places about the imperative of giving thanks to God in all things:
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God” (Philippians 4:6, NIV).
“. . . . rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness” (Colossians 2:7, NIV).
“ . . . And always be thankful. Let the message about Christ, in all its richness, fill your lives. Teach and counsel each other with all the wisdom he gives. Sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs to God with thankful hearts. And whatever you do or say, do it as a representative of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through him to God the Father” (Colossians 3:15-17, NLT).
Just a Blip Between Halloween and Christmas?
Over the past two weeks, decorations in our neighborhood have quickly transformed from bales of hay, pumpkins, skeletons, and inflatable ghosts to inflatable Santas, Frosty the Snowmen, tin soldiers, and candy cane lights. Is Thanksgiving just that—a holiday squeezed in between Halloween and Christmas in your life—or is it more?
In our house the turkey has already been purchased, and my wife and her mother have been gathering other food items for several weeks now. We will enjoy one of my favorite family meals of the year, but is that all there is to this holiday, besides a bad football game featuring the worst team in football, the Detroit Lions? I went from the Halloween Oreos with orange crème filling to the Christmas Oreos with red crème filling pretty quickly, thanks to the cookie display that easily caught my attention at the end of the aisle at Kroger. But where are the Thanksgiving cookies, Nabisco?
By the way, in case you’ve ever asked the question, “Why do we have to watch the Lions play football every Thanksgiving Day?” like I have, here’s the answer: In 1934 the Lions were moved to the Motor City. Then owner George A. Richards decided to have them play on Thanksgiving in order to attract more fans, since the Lions weren’t attracting much of a crowd because the Detroit Tigers were the city’s main sports attraction. The NFL tradition of having Detroit play every year on this holiday continues to this day—and they are still trying to acquire fans to follow them!
The first formal proclamation of Thanksgiving in America was when President George Washington declared November 26, 1789, as a day of public thanksgiving and prayer. However, we credit Abraham Lincoln for declaring Thanksgiving a federal holiday in 1863—during the American Civil War. He called for a day of “Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens.” His declaration had been prompted by a series of editorials written by Sarah Josepha Hale, the author of the nursery rhyme, “Mary Had a Little Lamb.” Lincoln declared that the federal holiday should take place on the last Thursday of November in hopes of helping to “heal the wounds of the nation.”
Speaking of wounds, the hottest topic that will be divisive at the Thanksgiving table for many people this year centers around COVID-19 immunization. Several newspapers have shared articles about how many Americans are planning larger celebrations this year, but some are requiring all their guests to be vaccinated before entering their house. Click here to read one of those articles. Noel Brewer, a professor who specializes in health behaviors at the University of North Carolina, says, “People who get vaccinated can be self-righteous, and some people who haven’t been vaccinated can be belligerent.” How sad that some family members will choose to avoid getting together for a Thanksgiving meal this year because of the polarizing situation we find ourselves in.
Count Your Blessings
Thanksgiving should be about giving thanks to God as we gather in community. It should be about counting our blessings, not counting our differences. Growing up at Clovernook Christian Church as a child in North College Hill, I loved attending Sunday night worship service because there would be more singing and less preaching. It seems like we sang certain hymns more than others. On those nights when the song leader hadn’t done his homework, it would be “call out your favorite hymn” night, and invariably, someone just for fun would yell out “page # 322,” which was the hymn, “From Greenland’s Icy Mountains.” Ever heard of that one? I hadn’t either. It was always refreshing to come back to the old standbys—hymns like “Power in the Blood,” “Love Lifted Me,” and “Count Your Blessings.” And, as we sang that particular song, the song leader, Dave Lang, would ask us all to think about and number the many blessings we had received from God that week.
You know what? That’s still a great exercise for us today. On those days when I’m struggling with something, perhaps dealing with some worry, I still return to this practice of counting my blessings. If you haven’t done that in a long time, I would challenge you to do so this coming week as we celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday. Get out a pen or pencil and a piece of paper, and do it the old-fashioned way—enumerate as many blessings in your life that you are thankful for. Don’t rush through the exercise before moving on to the next thing. Take your time, relax, sit in a quiet place, breathe deeply, and thank God for each item that you can think of as you write the blessings down on your paper. It is guaranteed to help your day go better.
I composed this poem 35 years ago after the birth of our first daughter, and its words are still true today, after the birth of our first granddaughter.
Your goodness and grace are great, O God,
And the love you give us each day.
We come to you now to offer up thanks,
Each in our own special way.
For food, clothes, and shelter we’re grateful, O Lord,
Let us never for granted take these.
For other blessings of material things
We bow at your throne on our knees.
For parents, and brothers, and sisters too,
We’re pleased that you’ve taught us to love.
Through babies just born and others to come,
We feel your touch from above.
For blessings on earth and others unseen,
We want to give you praise.
For Jesus the Christ who lives inside,
Our hearts and our hands we raise.
Continue to teach us of gratitude
And how as one body we proclaim
The name of Jesus to those we meet
To the glory and praise of your name.
It’s really a matter of what you choose to dwell on. It can be a holiday filled with stress, worry, divisive discussions, and overeating, or one filled with thanksgiving for the God who continues to bless you abundantly. It all depends on the perspective you choose this Thanksgiving.
What’ll it be?