On a summer bicycle tour of Hawaii, a friend of mine and his companion pedaled up a hill as a rainbow arched across the horizon. Then, to make the scene even more awesome, a cooling rain began to fall while the sun was still shining! In awe, my friend turned to his companion and said, "Wouldn't it be wonderful if we could bottle this up and bring it out some dreary November day?" The other replied, "You need to do what my father taught me. My father told me to remember my goosebumps."
During this Thanksgiving 2010, we should look back to recall those moments that brought sunshine in our lives; the "goosebump" moments are the rainbows in the storms of our lives.
Someone has named the season we are now in "Hallow-thank-mas." The so-called "holiday season" begins earlier and lasts longer than ever. Now it begins before Halloween (with increasingly elaborate Halloween decorations) and continues through the many festivities of Christmas. Sometimes it seems that Thanksgiving gets overlooked and forgotten, but it is one of our more important celebrations as a nation -- a time when we pull away from our work and spend time with family to acknowledge all the blessings that have come our way.
Thanksgiving Day as a holiday began in the fall of 1621, when the Pilgrims who had survived their first winter in America were facing the uncertainty of their second. The wheat and the peas they had brought with them failed to germinate. At one point, their daily rations consisted of five grains of corn. In the fall of 1622, there was enough food and shelter for the survivors to last a second winter. While they still had problems, they were filled with gratitude to God, and that level of gratitude is credited with getting them through subsequent winters and the numerous future challenges and problems that they faced in establishing their roots in this new land.
Back in the fifties, when my husband was a student pastor, he drove about 90 miles every weekend to preach at a small country church. The children and I usually went with him and stayed in an unfurnished five-room "parsonage with a path." But Thanksgiving Sunday, 1952, I stayed home in our small college campus apartment with a sick baby. I was exhausted from losing sleep, and it was a cold and dreary day. After finally getting the baby to sleep, a little after eleven, I turned on the radio (no TV) while washing the dishes and cleaning the kitchen.
A preacher was in the midst of a sermon about things for which to be thankful. He said, "Have you ever thanked God for dirty dishes?" And as tired as I was, I smiled and looked down at the sink full of dishes that I was tackling. And I realized: "If one has dirty dishes, there's been food to eat. People with no food do not have dishes to wash." Have you ever thought that the beggar out on the street has no dishes to wash, no floors to mop or furniture to dust?
The preacher read a poem that I have never seen in print, but I remember it as something like this:
Thank God for the dirty dishes
For they've a story to tell
And from the stack I have to wash
We've eaten very well.
While folks in other lands,
Are glad for just a crust
From this stack of evidence
God's mighty good to us.
Thanking God for the things we usually take for granted is a step in the right direction on Thanksgiving Day and every day. In our own time, too many of us seem to have an "Archie Bunker" attitude, saying, "I do not say grace at the table...because I buy the food and Edith cooks it." A good place to start, then, is to begin with zero and move up to the level of being grateful for ordinary things of life, food to eat, a clean bed, a warm house, fresh apples, turnips, greens, and cornbread, the smell of flowers, a Christmas tree, a church. And freedom! I think I may have gotten a new idea of what "zero" means when I saw some women from Afghanistan, a few years ago, expressing their thanks for being able to uncover their faces and the Afghan men being free to shave or grow a bread as they wished.
One of my favorite stories is about an immigrant shopkeeper whose son came to see him one day and complained, "Dad, I don't understand how you run this store. You keep your accounts payable in a shoe box, your accounts receivable on a spindle, and your cash is in the register. How do you ever know where your profits are?"
The father replied, "Son, when I came to this country, all I owned was on my back. Now your sister is an art teacher, your brother is a doctor, you are a CPA. Your mother and I own a house and a car and this small store. Add all of that up and subtract the clothes on my back and there is your profit.
I suspect that many of us could give similar testimonies.
Helen Keller, blind and deaf, said, "I thank God for my handicaps. Through them I have found myself, my work, my God."
Whatever it takes in our hectic world, we need to find God.
Some of us rarely think about God and the blessings he pours out on us. One source of ingratitude is lack of thought! "Think" in the Anglo-Saxon is related to "thank." A "thank" is a "thought." To "think" is to "thank." The Psalmist tells us to remember, to think, and to thank. "Bless the Lord, O my soul and forget not all His benefits." Forget not...remember. Thoughtful people are thankful people!
Ruth Baird Shaw is an 87-year-old retired minister in the North Georgia Conference of the United Methodist Church.