Itching to Give Thanks

Giving thanks. That’s what Thanksgiving is. It is a time set aside to give thanks to God for His bounty.

The Pilgrims knew this. Rev. Robert Hunt knew this. Abraham knew this. David knew this. A Samaritan leper knew this. It is not a secret. Thanking God is as natural as a stream overflowing its banks during heavy rain. He pours and pours His blessings into us until there is no longer room to contain them. So we explode in joyful thanksgiving, letting it spill over to family and friends.

The true first American Thanksgiving took place in 1619 in the Virginia Colony at Berkeley Hundred near my birthplace in Williamsburg. Maybe that’s why I have such a special attachment to the holiday. I grew up with a sense of history. I also grew up with a knowledge of God — without really knowing Him.

Thanksgiving wasn’t just the amazing food or family or football. It was more than that. It was the sacredness of the day — a time to acknowledge how little we are and how big God is and how grateful we are to Him for every breath. I saw people praying and thanking God on that day that never even gave Him a nod the rest of the year. They just couldn’t help themselves.

My mother’s sage dressing was the best! I could eat it until I was just on the brink of being stuffed myself, but I always left room for the cranberry sauce, Parker House rolls and pie. When I grew up, I started my own Thanksgiving traditions, including an expanded menu. My mother and father drove from Virginia to celebrate with us.

One year as I was chopping and pounding and stirring away, I stopped briefly to ask my mother if there was anything she would like to do. She didn’t even have to take time to think about it. “No, I waited on you all those years. I’m content to just sit here and watch you work.”

And work I did. And I made the kids work, too. Their favorite thing was to whip the cream cheese into shape, stir in sliced olives, and spread it on the celery. As they got older, less and less made it to the plate.

I ran across some Thanksgiving menus recently. Here’s a sampling of what I liked to serve: Turkey, gravy, dressing, mashed potatoes, creamed corn, green beans, candied yams, cranberry sauce, congealed cranberry salad with cream cheese and roasted peanut topping, stuffed celery, carrot sticks, assorted pickles and relishes, spiced apple rings, homemade cheese bread, apple pie with extra sharp cheddar cheese, and pumpkin or sweet potato pie with whipped topping.

The running joke in our family, and I must admit that my annual forgetfulness never failed … thus perpetuating the joke, was the candied yams. I carefully prepared them, baked them to perfection and then placed the marshmallows on top for a quick run under the broiler. I would forget, leave them in too long, pull the flaming mass out of the oven, scrape off the top layer, replace them with fresh marshmallows, set the timer, put them back under the broiler. Voila! Perfect every (second) time! Year after year.

Year after year I cooked myself into a frenzy. Afterwards I looked like a self-sacrifice – fingernails chopped off with the celery and onions, burns on hands and forearms, bruises from carrying heavy pots. But I felt marvelous!

Sometimes it was just family, or family and friends. When I came into the church, it was family and church family and anybody else who wanted to come. My reputation grew. I usually served lunch between noon and 2:00 pm, but people would drop by late afternoon, suppertime and even later. We would drag it all out again, reheat it and serve it up. The children and I really enjoyed entertaining.

One time my two younger children dressed up as Pilgrim and Indian Princess to perform an original Thanksgiving play for us. One time after our meal, we packed up all the food and transported it across town to share it again with the “Great Aunts,” who were homebound. The pleasure of spending time with the children and consuming a feast gave them lasting memories.

One time we did not have enough money to purchase the Thanksgiving meal. I had been working with a family from my church to place meals in the homes of those less fortunate. The husband worked for a company who supplied turkeys and trimmings. They had given away all the boxes except one, and my list had been exhausted.

“Can’t you think of anyone?” he asked. “Surely someone has a need.”

In obedience to the voice of God urging me, I hesitantly responded, “I have a need.” “I knew it!” he exclaimed. “We’ll come over tonight.”

And they did. He and his wife supplemented the company’s offering and brought us everything from butter and milk to Parker House rolls and everything else we needed for a glorious meal! We were really thankful to God that year!

When I was in junior high school our principal called us to the auditorium for a reading of the first presidential Thanksgiving Proclamation made by George Washington in 1789. It cemented in my mind that even the president was subject to God, and willingly submitted himself to God’s sovereignty, and wanted the whole country to observe a day of thanksgiving.

I had experienced a similar thing a few years before. When I started school, we memorized the Pledge of Allegiance to the flag. A year later we had to re-memorize it and add the words “under God.” Our government officials wanted everyone to know that God was undergirding our country.

Another memorable Thanksgiving Day began with the usual madness and mayhem. I had been cheffing for 3 days and was up ‘way early to throw the bird in the oven and tend to all the other dishes in the works. We were expecting several special guests, so I was paying particular attention to the way we were dressed and groomed. I wanted everything to be just so.

Flitting around in my best dress, hair and make-up perfect, I was queen of all I surveyed. The place settings were set. The children had made name cards for each person. Just lovely! That’s when my daughter announced, “Mom, my head really itches.”

“What’s wrong? Let me see.”

I parted her beautiful, long hair and peered at the scalp. Ew! There were bugs crawling all over her head. What in the world was that?

I remember when I was twelve or thirteen. My grandmother asked me about my teachers at school. “How do you like your teachers this year?”

“Well,” I answered, “mostly they’re OK, but this one woman is lousy!”

“Oh, no!,” Granny exclaimed, placing her hand over her mouth trying to hide the shock of what I had just said. “You mean she has lice?!?”

With the same amount of shock I realized my daughter had lice. I put in a call to the pediatrician. Doctors love to get calls on Thanksgiving, Christmas and other holidays. It has always been my practice to oblige them as much as I can.

They called in a prescription to the 24-hour pharmacy and told me that I could give her vinegar shampoos in the meantime to start getting rid of the worst offenders. So that’s what we did.

Minutes later our first guest arrived. He was a really good friend, so I didn’t hesitate to ask him to drive to the pharmacy to pick up the shampoo. He laughed, shared his story from elementary school of when he had lice. After his head was shaved and treated with a black, tarry substance, his mother covered it with a knitted cap, which remained there for weeks.

“Oh, joy,” I thought, “will I have to shave her head?”

I decided to wait until after the meal to use the medicated shampoo, so we sat and ate – sharing lousy stories — with my daughter sitting there scratching a bit and smelling like a tossed salad. This did not even remotely resemble Norman Rockwell’s picture. Later we became aware that as one of God’s creatures, the louse does have its place.

Corrie Ten Boom recounts her own lice story in her book, The Hiding Place. During World War II when she and her sister were in a concentration camp, they were confronted with lice among the imprisoned. At her sister’s insistence, they thanked God for the lice, Corrie complying grudgingly. As it turned out, because of the lice the guards did not go into the place where Corrie and her sister conducted Bible study. The word of God went forth unhindered in that dark pit of wretchedness. Hope was born in the hearts of the hearers.

The Rev. Robert Hunt arrived in 1607 with the settlers of the first permanent English settlement in America. Before they reached their final destination at what was to become Jamestown, the ship and crew came to rest at a place they called Cape Henry in Virginia.

After spending three days on the ship consecrating their hearts and lives to Christ, Rev. Hunt led the group to the shore where he planted a seven-foot wooden cross in the sand. He knelt on the beach and worshiped God, claiming the land for the propagation of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Understanding the full import of the journey, he wanted their first act in this new land to be one of giving thanks to God.

An American tradition, a biblical directive, a joy and a pleasure … Happy Thanksgiving!

“You care for the land and water it; you enrich it abundantly. The streams of God are filled with water to provide the people with grain, for so you have ordained it You drench its furrows and level its ridges; you soften it with showers and bless its crops. You crown the year with your bounty, and your carts overflow with abundance” — Psalm 65:9-11

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Let Freedom Ring!

“Come on, Mom,” my son-in-law urged. “I won’t burn anything down.”

“You say that now,” I countered, “but I’m not so sure. Besides, isn’t it illegal to shoot off fireworks in the city?”

“Mom, it will be fine. I know what I’m doing. Do you have one of those flame throwers?”

This otherwise sane young man had a thing about fireworks. Fourth of July, New Year’s Eve, birth of a child, sunshine on a Saturday – it didn’t matter. A great excuse or no excuse at all – it was always a great night for fireworks!

We had the optimum site for it – high on a hill with a large asphalt area free of things that could catch on fire. So the rest of us set up the lawn chairs while he set up the show. I grabbed a bucket and sat next to the outside spigot, water hose in hand, just in case.

He was right. It was beautiful. People saw the display and drove up the ridge to join us. It was quite festive. When it was all over, it was still not all over. He dragged out the sparklers to delight and terrify small children and grandmas. We got through it with no injuries and even had a bit of fun.

It’s not all about the fireworks, you know. The Fourth of July has great significance for Americans. Men and women pledged their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor that we might live in a free society. But before the birth of a nation, there was a re-birth in the spirit of man.

During the Great Awakening of the mid-eighteenth century hearts were changed. The young Patrick Henry and many in his family received Jesus. Rich and poor, young and old, slave and free, master and servant – stood together in the freedom of Christ Jesus. People were born again. As a result, there was a clear break from government-mandated religiosity. Perhaps the next logical step was a clear break from a tyrannical king.

I saw a living history re-enactment of the reading of the Declaration of Independence at the Capitol in Williamsburg, Virginia. It was thrilling to re-live that special moment in time, to sense the excitement and the danger and the great sacrifice that our founding fathers must have experienced. The battlefield at Yorktown reminds us of the tragedy turned to triumph when Cornwallis surrendered to General Washington in 1781, cementing the freedom of our young nation.

My son-in-law was right. Fireworks offer just the right setting to capture the excitement, the danger, and the sacrifice of 1776. There is great cause for elaborate, loud, and light-up-the-sky celebration.

Now that he is in a foreign country, I miss his zeal for the pyrotechnics. But wouldn’t you know it? (Well, God did.) The country where he and my daughter are living today is noted for its grand fireworks celebrations – YEAR ‘ROUND!!!!

 “ … and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.” — 2 Corinthians 3:17b (KJV)

Manning Up

He always got a tie. And a shirt. And a big meal. That was Father’s Day at my house when I was growing up.

My daddy loved a party – whether it was for him or somebody else – he loved a party. And he loved his children. He loved being a father and was really good at it. We tested him often – kind of a performance evaluation. He always passed, usually with an “A.”

Now I enjoy the day with all the fathers in our church. The pastor preaches a rousing sermon calling on the men to be the “priests” of their homes – taking the lead in the spiritual lives of their families. They are given special gifts – inspirational books, pocket knives, coffee mugs, or other manly tokens of appreciation. Then we pray for them.

We beseech all of heaven on their behalf, understanding only a portion of the heavy burdens they bear. Usually a son or a father comes forward to offer his testimony of the love of a father. There is something special about seeing all the men standing together at the altar, thanking God for the blessings afforded them and asking for His guidance and instruction for the things that lie ahead.

Individually these are just guys.

“Hey! Thanks for looking at my car last week. It’s been running great
ever since you did whatever it was you did.”

“Hey! Can you get about four guys and set up tables and chairs in the Fellowship Hall for about fifty people – before service is over?”

“Hey! Debbie said for you to wait here in the foyer. Here! Take this.
She wants you to hang onto her purse until she gets back.”

“Hey! Would you look in the Men’s Room and see if little Justin is
still in there? Ask him if he needs some help.”

“Hey! Sister Wallace needs somebody to carry these things to her car.
Can you guys help her? Oh, and she might need one of you to keep
her from falling in the parking lot. It’s icy out there.”

“Hey, guys! Did you cook all this BBQ? Smells great!”

See? Just guys.

But collectively, well, that’s another thing. They are not just smelly, sweaty, talented, helpful guys. They are men, and they man up. It is a wonderful thing to observe as they gather in unity to behold the Maker of heaven and earth. As they seek the Master of the universe for wisdom and knowledge. As they offer themselves completely, willingly and wholeheartedly as servants of the Most High God.

They love the parties, the gifts, the food, and they love to be appreciated. Remember to tell them how much they mean to the family of God. And remember to pray for them. They have a lot on their shoulders. Being a father is a big job.

“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden.  Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.

In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven. ” — Matthew 5:14-16 (NIV)

Forward-Thinking Mother

My first Mother’s Day didn’t go so well. I was pregnant out to here … and very ill. Looking for a lift, I knew that Sunday would bring gifts, cards and pampering. Not realizing the protocol for my special day, my husband (after I hinted strongly, ok, after I browbeat him to a conscious understanding of the importance of the impending event) ran out to Sears and bought me gifts — a mop and a broom. Granted we needed them, but not on that particular day.

Three years later I gladly spent the day tidying up with the mop and broom, singing mother songs to the baby in my womb. “Mommy and Daddy and Bud and Birkelbach and Mommy’s little baby,” I crooned.

Bud, my firstborn, and Birkelbach, the dachshund, loved hearing their names set to music. As we added babies and changed pets, I added lyrics and changed the music.

When the children started school, Mother’s Day assumed perhaps its highest ranking position. This was the time of unparalleled devotion to Mom, lavish displays of affection and gratitude, boastings of, “My mom’s prettier than your mom,” and, “My mom’s cookies are better than your mom’s.” In the land of macaroni necklaces I reigned supreme. I was Queen. I was invincible. I was a perfect 10.

The children were at their creative best. They made elaborate construction paper cards with hyperbolic sentiments printed in crayon with great care. If I had been a forward-thinking mother, I would have kept those cards close to me at all times – especially when the little cherubs became teenagers.

“Mom, you never let me do anything. You are so mean. Do you even care that I am the only one not going?”

“Read this,” Forward-thinking Mother would have said, holding out a card in his first grade printing.

“You R the bestest mom forevr! XOXOXO”

Or, “How come I have to do all the work around here? Nobody else’s mom makes them do slave labor.”

Forward-thinking Mother would have reached into her stash and handed him the coupon from third grade: “Good for helping you do anything you want me to do. Your loving son. XOXOXO”

Or, “You let them (the siblings) get away with murder! Why don’t they ever get grounded?”

Once again Forward-thinking Mother would have produced the note he penned at ten: “Dearest Mom, I know I’m not always good, but you always love me special. XOXOXO”

See what I mean? Forward-thinking Mother has her act together. Forward-thinking Mother has all the bases covered. Forward-thinking Mother is cookin’ with gas. Forward-thinking Mother lives on a Hollywood set just past Bailey’s Savings & Loan. But I can dream.

“Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. Honor your father and mother—which is the first commandment with a promise— that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.” — Ephesians 6:1-3

Resurrection Sunday

“Yeah, I like Easter. That’s when our Savior died, and we get lots of chocolate,” said the four-year-old boy eating a marshmallow bunny. With modern commercialization it’s easy for kids to be confused about the true meaning of the holy days.

To many of us Easter was one of the two times during the year when you really “ought to” go to church. That meant a new dress, maybe a hat and new shoes, too. My daddy always made sure the women of the family had a spring corsage to set off the new outfit. Then there was the bunny thing with baskets, egg hunts and “lots of chocolate.”

We often attended the community sunrise service on Jamestown Island in Virginia when I was a little girl. What a beautiful setting! An old rugged cross (to my young eyes it looked as tall as a building) with the rising sun sparkling on the James River in the background. I fully expected Jesus to come walking out of the clouds, arms extended in welcome.

And the songs with lyrics like – “Up from the grave He arose,” “He lives!,” and “Christ the Lord is risen today.” They were so jubilant, so filled with hope and the promise of a new day coming.

As an adult I was in the Handbell Choir. We played outdoors on the hillside at the church sunrise service. At the 11 o’clock service we were situated in the balcony. To those seated below it sounded like bells ringing out from heaven with the good news of Christ’s return.

Our Easter dinner usually included ham, mashed potatoes, green beans, hot rolls and coconut cake. Of course, the kids never ate much. They were already stuffed with chocolate, candy eggs, jelly beans and Peeps. And spent the whole day running around with a sugar high!

One year my daughter and I were without transportation on Easter Sunday. A man at our church dropped off his construction truck for our use. Dressed in our finest finery we decided to throw a clean sheet over the cracked, torn and grimy seats of the truck. Then we climbed in and took off for church! We arrived on time and emerged from the vehicle looking as if we had just stepped out of the Vogue-mobile instead of the twenty-year-old rattletrap with the rusted-out panels and a truckbed full of shingles and tar paper. We laughed and laughed and laughed.

When my daughter was eleven, she asked a friend to spend the night. Sunny was her name. I was taken with her sunny personality and her curiosity about everything. She was very bright. Since it was springtime I decided to ask her about Easter. I wanted to know what she knew.

“Uh, the Easter bunny? And candy and stuff?” she answered.

“Would you like to know the real reason we celebrate this holiday?” I continued.

“Well, sure. Tell me.” So I did.

She couldn’t believe she had never heard this before. I couldn’t believe it either. She was amazed that Jesus died in such a horrible way. She was amazed that He died that she might live. She was amazed that He didn’t stay dead, and that He is alive today! At Kid’s Camp two months later she gave her heart and life to Him in gratitude for what He did for her.

“Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?’ ” — John 11:25-26 (NIV)