Thanksgiving! The very thought of the day engenders images of turkey and dressing, cranberries, sweet potatoes, and
pumpkin pie. It is the day we feast from overladen tables as we visit with family and friends. As centerpieces on the table
we usually see a turkey and a tiny pilgrim, because we associate Thanksgiving with the Pilgrim's first feast of thanks.
Actually the Pilgrims were not the first new world settlers to set aside a day of thanksgiving. Even before the Pilgrims
arrived at Plymouth, a settlement in Virginia proclaimed that the day of their arrival at the Berkeley Plantation, December 4, 1619,
was to be set aside each year as a day of thanks to God. This Provision was part of their charter.
Still, it is the Pilgrims we associate with Thanksgiving. They held their first Thanksgiving Day because they wanted
to celebrate God's blessing for a good harvest; they also wished to thank the Indians for helping them survive.
It had been a difficult year since the Pilgrims, originally headed for Virginia, had landed at Plymouth in 1620. The
place where they finally settled was silent, empty of the tribe that had once inhabited the land.
Expecting to live much further south, the Pilgrims were unprepared for the harsh New England winter. That first winter
half of the intrepid settlers died, leaving the remaining band vulnerable to Indian attack and despair.
If the weather had come as a shock, they had another in store. The next spring, in 1621, they were concerned when an
Indian sauntered into their encampment end spoke to them in English. This was Samoset, a native of Pemaquid Point far to the
north, who had learned some English from the frequent fishing expeditions to the northern coast. Samoset, in turn, introduced
the Pilgrims to Squanto, a native of the extinct Patuxet tribe on whose land the Pilgrims had landed. Squanto spoke English
because he had once lived in England. From the Indians, the Pilgrims learned that the place where they had landed had once
belonged to Squanto's people who had died of a plague while Squanto was across the ocean.
After helping to negotiate a treaty with the great chief Massasoit (which lasted for almost 50 rears), Squanto stayed
with the Pilgrims teaching them how to hunt and to fish and to grow corn in the new country.
The Pilgrims were grateful for his assistance and his loyalty. William Bradford, governor of the colony, wrote of Squanto,
"He was a special instrument sent by God." In fact, without Squanto's able assistance the Pilgrims may not have survived at
But, the Pilgrims did survive. In their gratitude they held the Thanksgiving celebration we remember today.
As years passed the custom of observing a day of thanksgiving spread to the other colonies. In 1789 President George
Washington named November 26th a day of national thanksgiving to God.
Other than that special proclamation, Thanksgiving celebrations were left to the discretion of the individual states.
Some observed a day of thanksgiving, others did not.
It was a woman, Mrs. Sarah Josepha Hale, author of "Mary Had a Little Lamb" and editor of the magazine "Godey's Lady's
Book," who proposed the idea that the country as a whole needed to set aside one day each year for giving thanks. For years
Sarah Hale tirelessly promoted a national day of thanksgiving and prayer.
In 1863, President Lincoln made the day official. He set Thanksgiving Day on the last Thursday of November as "a day
of thanksgiving and praise to our beneficent Father."
Thanksgiving was celebrated at this time for the next 75 years. In 1939 President Roosevelt set it back one week in
order to lengthen the Christmas shopping season. Finally, in 1941, Congress fixed Thanksgiving as a legal holiday to be celebrated
the fourth Thursday in November.
Since then, Thanksgiving Day has become a yearly traditional time not only for feasting, but also a time for families
to share this special time together.
As at the first thanksgiving, we too can
look back at the past year and be thankful for the blessing of freedom we still enjoy... almost 400 years after the pilgrims
The first Thanksgiving feast was about
gratitude to God for His protection and provision, as well as gratitude to the Indians for helping them survive. Thanksgiving
has always been about gratitude along with family and food. Thanksgiving Day is not, has never been and will never be “Turkey
Day.” This expression does away with the very foundations of the celebration.
In fact, the whole move to sever God from
public life and institutions is a slap in the face to those who came to America looking for a place to practice their faith
not only in the privacy of their homes, but also in every day life, including public service and in education.
Somehow, we’ve gotten the idea we
can separate faith from the rest of our lives as though body and soul can be surgically cut asunder. Maybe it is this dichotomy
which has caused so many to say one thing, but behave in a completely different manner. Public educators often advance this
concept, partly due to fear of reprisal from such as the ACLU. Unfortunately, this policy creates an environment of fear instead
of the confidence we wish to instill in our young people. Students may hesitate to express deeply held religious, especially
Christian, beliefs out of fear that a teacher may publicly humiliate them, and adults fear facing a lawsuit if they express
their faith in public.
But aside from tearing us in half as people
and instilling fear, there is something only Thanksgiving brings out and that is an attitude of gratitude. Our forefathers
fell on their knees when they landed on shore after weeks of being tossed about on the ocean and packed into stinking ship
holds like sardines with little air, food or privacy. They held an attitude of gratitude in the midst of horrendous circumstances,
because they looked forward to living and worshiping freely.
When we take God out of the equation, we
trash the fundamental reason for the celebration. It becomes another attempt to separate body and soul, leaving the holiday
but an empty ritual of self-indulgence. Thanksgiving Day isn’t about us. It isn’t about gorging our bodies. Thanksgiving
Day was instituted to turn our attention away from ourselves as we consider the blessings we have in our country, our families,
and in so many other ways.
Once more we’ve celebrated Thanksgiving
Day, but how many really gave thanks? How many counted their blessings instead of their complaints? As we head into the Christmas
season, let’s not make the same mistake. Let’s not strip away the very reason for the season. Let’s instead
go into the holidays with grateful, giving hearts.
Recently an elderly friend called to ask
if I’d received an invitation to a joint replacement seminar on the college campus. I said I hadn’t with some
amusement since the only reason I still walk, other than by God’s grace, is because of multiple joint replacements and
replacement of replacements from the waist down.
The sweet woman explained the question
by saying she’d had a replacement herself in January, that she no longer drove and was looking for a ride to the seminar.
The call came on a Sunday not long after returning home from a church picnic to celebrate the acquisition of a new church
location, and I was tired. Though I don’t drive, she knew that if I went, my husband Keith would drive me. However,
I told her, maybe Keith would take her.
At that point I handed over the phone.
Yes, Keith assured her, he’d be glad to take her. No, he wouldn’t think of taking payment for doing so. Why? Because
of all she’d done for him in the past and for “just because.” Years earlier, this dear woman and her husband
opened their home to college students always looking for food and a place to “hang out.” Now that she was alone,
Keith wanted to help her out.
After a conversation, Keith hung up. “Well,”
I asked, “Are you going?”
He shook his head. The woman decided that
if I wasn’t going, if she couldn’t pay Keith for his time and if he was doing it just for her, she wouldn’t
The decision saddened me, because I understood
the attitude. How many times have I exhibited the same independence because I didn’t want to burden someone? In that
moment I realized something else, I realized that both the friend and Keith lost out.
The friend didn’t get to attend a
seminar that might have given her pertinent information and encouragement, and Keith didn’t receive the satisfaction,
the blessing, of helping someone in need.
When we refuse to allow others to help
us, we short circuit the human need to be needed and keep others from the satisfaction that comes from reaching out. Remember
all the news reports after a major disaster. Recall not only the gratitude on the faces of those who received assistance,
but also the joy on the faces of those who knew they made a difference in someone else’s life just by lending a helping
I’m sorry our friend turned
Keith’s help down. I also want to be more aware of what I may cost someone when I refuse to let them “help,”
whether that offer comes from a toddler who needs to feel needed or from someone older whose assistance I could really use.
Maybe next time someone asks if I could use some help, I’ll remember to extend a blessing to us both by being honest
and saying, “Yes, thank you” instead of “No, I can do it myself.”
Mark 14:29-30 GW Peter said to him, "Even if everyone else abandons you,
I won't." Jesus said to Peter, "I can guarantee this truth: Tonight, before a rooster crows twice, you will say three times
that you don't know me."
It is easy to look down on Peter, horrified that He could make such a
profession of faith, then turn around and deny Jesus. But what about us?
How many commitments have we made to Jesus during times of worship or
conviction that we promptly forgot or refused to honor? Do your friends or co-workers know you are a Christian--and not just
in name? Do you say no when enticed with porn, lustful or derrogatory jokes/comments? Do you share the good news of healing
and hope with those in need? Or, like Peter, when it counts, you pretend you don't know Jesus?
Maybe we aren't so different from Peter. Peter repented and became a
force for spreading the Good News. What will you do with your commitment to Christ? What will I?
Just as we live through different
weather conditions, friendships change as well because WE change. But true friendship hangs in even when the going gets tough
and weathers the seasons of change and pain, failure and success.
Why not share with a close friend
who has weathered the seasons with you, how much you appreciate his/her friendship. (That might even be your spouse.)
With Valentine's Day coming up the stores are filled with flower arrangements, gifts baskets, a large
variety of “love” gifts--especially those that include chocolates, and a wide choice of greeting cards.
The media is filled with advertisements seeking to entice us with all the possible gifts we should get that special someone
in our lives.
That loved one needs a flower arrangement, special pajamas, chocolates or even a car or a cruise or
vacation to some exotic location. No gift is too pricy to show you care. Somewhere in all the commercialism of Valentine's
Day, we've lost the meaning not only of a holiday celebrating love, but also the true meaning of love.
Love is more
than a passing hookup or a relationship that serves momentary needs or desires. Love is more than fancy gifts designed to
gain favors. The selfish, self-centered relationships paraded on television shows aren't love at all. They are temporary and
often simply sad.
What we celebrate today is a far cry from the life and teachings of the real Valentine. Just
as there is a real basis for Santa Claus in a kind, generous bishop, Saint Nicholas, so there was a real beginning to
our Valentine's Day celebration in Saint Valentine.
Under Roman rule, it is said this priest defied orders that certain soldiers not
marry as it divided their loyalties. He performed marriage ceremonies anyway. For helping others and for refusing to worship
Roman gods, he was thrown in prison. Legend has it while incarcerated, he healed a young blind girl. When he wrote her, he
signed his letter "From Your Valentine. " Valentine gave his life for his faith and for loving others well.
today's holiday has much more contemporary infusions. Unfortunately, with prevailing cultural attitudes and unapologetic commercialism,
equating love with expensive gifts has become almost normal.
But real love is about caring. It is about
sacrificing short-term wants, desires and happiness for the long-term well-being of the one for whom love is claimed. This
is true even if or when they may not understand.
Christianity, real Christianity, is all about love. It is about God who left
everything to walk among us, healing the sick, reaching out to the hurting, forgiving wrongs, teaching against revenge or
holding onto hurts. He lived love and He died to offer that love to all who ask.
The real Valentine lived God's love
as well. How much different not only Valentine's Day, but also every day would be if we treated others with such other-centered,
sacrificial love-starting with that special someone.
I Corinthians 13:4-7 (NIV) provides a picture of true love. "Love is patient,
love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it
is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always
protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres."
May we this Valentine's Day focus on living
this love for those special someones in our lives.
VALENTINE'S DAY--TRACING THE TRADITION
Tomorrow is St. Valentine's Day,
All in the morning betime,
And I a maid at your window,
To be your Valentine.
(Ophelia in Hamlet IV, 50)
It may come as a surprise that as far back as Shakespeare's day (1564-1616) Valentine's Day
was a popular holiday.
One English custom was derived from an old Roman rite of choosing a partner. Young women had
their names written on pieces of paper and placed in a box. Reaching into the box, the young men each pulled out the name
of a young woman to whom they would pay special attention for the next year.
Though no one has been able to pin point a single beginning to the holiday we celebrate today
as St. Valentine's Day, the holiday has roots in ancient Rome. On February 15th, Romans celebrated a pagan festival to their
goat-man god Lupercus called Lupercalia. Both the date and the focus on fertility may have influenced the celebration of St.
Valentine's Day as a day for lovers.
However, St. Valentine was an actual person. He was a courageous priest who cared more about
following the laws of God than about serving the sometimes capricious laws of men. Not only did Valentine give aid and comfort
to the persecuted Christians, but also, when the Roman Emperor Claudius II abolished marriage, (believing single men made
better soldiers), married couples in secret.
Eventually he was caught, imprisoned, and finally executed in AD 269...February 14th. Two hundred
years later in 496, Pope Gelasius declared February 14th as "St. Valentine's Day."
Miracles (such as restoring the sight of the jailer's daughter to whom he wrote a farewell note
signed, "From your valentine") were attributed to Valentine along with stories that spoke of his care and concern for others.
John Lydgate, an English poet who died in 1450, wrote about the custom of Saint Valentine as
In a tradition much like that of our Ground Hog Day, the British believed that birds chose their
mates on February 14th. (On the Julian calendar this date came later in the Spring than it did after the change of calendars
in 1582 to the Gregorian calendar we now use.)
Charles, Duke of Orleans, is credited for beginning the trend of sending verses. After capturing
the French Duke at the Battle of Agincourt, the English imprisoned him in the Tower of London. On St. Valentine's Day in 1415,
he sent his wife a love letter written in verse.
During the 18th and 19th centuries, stores carried books of verses. Later, as the giving of
cards became more and more popular, stores sold fancy ready-made blank cards. Often noted artists and engravers turned their
hand to making valentines.
In the late 1800's Kate Greenaway, a British artist and poet, became known for her cards featuring
rich garden scenes and blissful children.
In America, Esther A. Howland of Worcester, Massachusetts, decided in 1847 to create her own
line of cards after seeing a Valentine card made in England. Howland was so innovative in her use of color, texture and style
that she built up a business of over $100,000...and this was over one hundred years ago!
Though never made a legal American holiday, St. Valentine's Day is firmly entrenched in American
tradition. Through the years, while the style, size and shape of cards may have changed, the sentiment remains primarily the
Valentine's Day is a day of hearts and flowers, candy and cards. It is a celebration of friendship, of happiness, and
... most of all ... of love.
When I was a toddler, I thought my father,
Dad, was a giant in every way. Though I squealed when my father tossed me up in the air, I knew he’d always catch me.
Dad would chuckle as he lifted me up in his strong arms, raise me over his head, and launch me into the air. I felt the air
swish through my hair as I fell, straight into dad’s waiting arms. My father gained my trust.
I cannot count the times we snuggled together
in a deep cushioned chair as my father read one book or another to me, though in those early years I insisted on Alice in
Wonderland over and over and over. My father’s deep pastor’s voice brought the story alive for me. Not until I
grew up did Dad confess how he came to hate that book. He never let on, never spoiled the magic for his young daughter—the
daughter who already spun stories in her head. My father encouraged my imagination.
In his youth, Dad was a checker champion,
yet when we played, he held back until I understood the game. As I got older, we played cutthroat games with no mercy given--the
way I wanted it. My father helped me become confident in my own reasoning abilities and would show me how I could do better—next
Once, out of pure jealousy, I swung a blanket
at the horse my sister rode, causing the horse to rear and Karin to fall--right into a cactus patch. Dad punished me. It wasn’t
the first time. My father wasn’t afraid of giving me some well deserved swats on the behind if he thought it appropriate.
(Dad wasn’t fooled by a book stuck down my pants, though he did have trouble keeping a straight face when he told me
to remove it.)
After whatever punishment he meted out,
my father would hold me close as he carried me up the stairs, tell me he loved me and how what I did caused harm to myself
or others. Dad was fair and always made sure I understood why he disciplined me. Believe me, I was a real trial for a parent!
My father taught me that love requires responsibility.
At thirteen, I contracted such a severe
case of Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis, I became wheelchair bound within months. It was heartbreaking for my parents to watch
me, their tomboy, never-ever-sick daughter, lose weight until my bones stuck out, my eyes protruded from shrunken sockets,
and I appeared nothing more than skin and bones. Within months, my knees bent and refused to straighten; my hands drew up
into claws. Worst of all, they watched the laughter fade from my eyes as day after day I screamed out in pain.
Mom and Dad prayed. Oh how they prayed,
but they did so much more—caring for me, taking me from one doctor and medical facility to another seeking help. But
most comforting was simply my father’s presence, a presence I felt most strongly in his study.
In a wheelchair I pushed forward with my
feet, since I couldn’t use my hands, I’d inch up to his closed study door. Yes, I knew he was inside preparing
his sermon for Sunday.
Tap. Tap. I doubted he heard my weak knock.
“Dad.” As I waited, I shivered in the slight breeze wafting in from a half-open door. I was often cold those days.
Biting my lip, I called a little louder,
“Dad. Dad, may I come in?”
His hesitation broke my heart, and I felt
tears gather in my eyes. Since the onset of my disease, my emotions were all a kilter. Did I hear a long sigh? “Umm.
Come on in, Carolyn.” I knew he wouldn’t say no.
With both hands, I twisted the knob and
edged the door open with my foot. Slowly, I inched my wheelchair into the room. Sunlight shining into the room from the west
window, drew me into its warmth. With pain filled movements, I turned the chair to face my father.
Surrounded by bookshelves that went from
floor to ceiling, Dad sat behind his desk watching me. He rifled a thin hand through even thinner dark hair and adjusted his
glasses askew on his nose. My father no longer seemed like a giant to me, at least physically. In fact, he wasn’t all
that tall, though he was strong—in so many ways.
I sensed my father wanted to help me, but
kept himself seated to permit me to do as much as possible for myself. “I’m working, Carolyn, but what can I do
I surveyed the small office. The smell
of books both old and new mingled with the tang of mimeograph ink. The books beckoned me. Though he could have been more concerned
about keeping them pristine and neat, Dad put them all at my disposal.
Since I’d been ill, I’d read
everything from fiction and biographies to deep theological treatises. Sometimes I pecked out stories or poems on his ancient
typewriter. Dad encouraged my talents, forced me to think beyond the surface, and nurtured my dreams.
A north window overlooked the long drive
to the road in rural Kansas and the wide expanse of yard. I sensed my father waiting, sensed a mixture of impatience and desire
to please me. What could I say?
Finally, I raised my gaze to his solemn
face. “You don’t need to do anything. I just want to sit and read in here. Okay?”
After a long glance in my direction, Dad
nodded, a half smile tilting his lips. For a time, I watched my father read his well-marked Bible, take notes and pray. His
faith was more than a Sunday affair. He lived it. But, my illness caused such changes in me, in my family.
My childlike faith took a beating, as did
my belief that my father could solve all my problems. He couldn’t. Instead, I watched him break down and weep over my
pain, over my struggle to do the simplest things.
But here, in his domain, I found a sanctuary.
For while my faith wavered, Dad’s did not. My father put his faith in Someone higher and greater. Here in his office,
I felt a certain peace. Maybe my faith in Dad wasn’t misplaced after all. Maybe it was time I took up the mantle of
faith he carried and found that source for myself.
My struggle was far from over both physically,
emotionally and spiritually, but my faith in my father launched me to heights I never could have imagined. His faith led to
my faith, and gave me the assurance that I would walk again, I would write…and the firm belief that I did have something
Dad has been gone for many years
now, but he lived to see his daughter walk, lived to unite her in marriage, and lived to see her start getting published.
Most of all, he lived long enough to start instilling in his grandchildren his faith--the faith of my father.
New Year's Eve we celebrate the passing
of the old, and the beginning of a whole new year.
It also signals a fresh start to relationships,
to making tomorrow better, and to life itself. It's why most of us make up a list of New Year resolutions that are broken
almost as soon as they're spoken. Part of the reason we can't keep our resolutions is because they aren't really resolutions
at all, but simply wishes.
We wish for world peace, but refuse to
speak to our neighbor. We resolve to lose all that extra weight. But instead of simply eating healthy foods in proper amounts,
we try out the latest fad diet and end up poorer, but not lighter.
We resolve to be less busy, spend more
time with family, but refuse to take steps necessary to make it happen--steps like saying, “NO!”
We party just before hoping for a new
beginning, but let our habits start the New Year with despair and, often, hangovers.
It doesn’t need to be the same this
year. We can make resolutions, and we can keep them. First, we need to realize change takes time, effort, and willingness
on our part.
Second, we need to focus on those things
we actually can change, and are really worth our time and effort. (Yes, this may include weight loss.)
Third, narrow the focus of the resolutions.
Don’t talk about losing 100 pounds, think in terms of something more attainable—a pound a week, or two.
Instead of world peace, resolve to deal
with conflict within your own family or with a friend. World peace begins at home, with you and me. How can we expect governments
to get along when husbands and wives or neighbors constantly squabble?
Don’t just resolve to be less busy
or to spend more time with family, resolve to say no to anymore volunteer activities, late nights at the office, and, YES,
to starting a family night.
Fourth, realize all our best efforts, sometimes,
aren’t enough…and allow for the possibility of failure. We’re human; it happens.
Fifth, don’t let failure stop you
from trying again. It may mean refocusing, taking baby steps. It means being willing to work at a solution one step at a time.
Sixth, allow yourself to enjoy any progress
Seventh, when you can’t do it alone,
find someone to walk along side you. And don’t forget power from on high. God is only a prayer away.
So go ahead, make those resolutions and
make the New Year a better place because you’re there.