I’ll never forget my first Thanksgiving back in the United States after living in South Africa for most of my childhood. Nearly 20 aunts, uncles and cousins gathered around my Aunt Lou’s dining room tables in Upstate New York. At an early age I discovered her tender heart, noting that she’d choke up as we took turns reading the Scriptures on gratitude that she had carefully penned and placed in front of our plates. Oh, how proud I am to share a piece of her name!
Aunt Lou has celebrated nearly ten thanksgivings in Heaven now, and that torch of spiritual training has been passed down the generations. I vividly recall the year I was convicted to live a life of intentionality in our home; challenged to no longer assume my kids would pick up my faith simply because we shared an address. Nope -- no faith by osmosis here. If I wanted my children to learn the virtue of gratitude, I needed to teach it.
I’ll admit it was a bit awkward the first year I posted the 11 x 14 “I AM THANKFUL FOR…..” sheet on our refrigerator a week before Thanksgiving. There were some rolled eyes and shrugged shoulders, but I promptly announced that we were not eating any turkey until all 20 lines were filled in! A day or two later I was relieved to see that somebody had anonymously plunged in and taken the first step (actually, I think it was my husband….thanks, Steve!) And slowly, the page began to fill up: “I am thankful for my teacher, Mrs. Royal……for this warm house…..our new puppy…our church.”
The next year I took a bigger step and widened the circle. In preparation for my brothers’ arrival with their wives and children, I typed up slips of paper with each family member’s name on them followed by a blank: “I am thankful for Kaleb because _________.” “I am thankful for Uncle Chip because __________.” As each person entered, they drew a folded slip out of the basket. Once again, sorry -- turkey dinner was on hold until everyone had completed their slip and returned it to the container!
After dessert and a football game, we gathered in the living room and passed the basket around the circle. One by one we reached in and randomly pulled out a paper to read aloud: “I am thankful for Brittany because she’ll play Legos with me even when she’s tired.” “I am thankful for Aunt Karen because of her enormous heart for young moms.” I loved seeing the faces of the younger children light up in anticipation as their name was read and their character publicly honored. Oh how a simple phrase of affirmation buoys the spirit, eh?!
This year, let’s commit to being intentional. So what if it feels cliché! What have we got to lose? And when your teenage nephew refuses to participate because he thinks it’s lame, simply have someone else double up and fill it out on his behalf. After all, there’s a good chance he’ll be lurking around the kitchen corner, listening in as his name is read and he discovers for the first time that somebody in the family appreciates his knack for always fixing the computer when it’s broken -- or thinks he’s one pretty amazing big brother.
So next Thursday, why not top off that pumpkin pie with a healthy dose of favor and honor, intentionally sprinkled among those we hold dear. Paul summed it up well in his letter to the Romans: “Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves.” (Romans 12:10)