I have a confession. Up until about 6 years ago, I didn’t like Thanksgiving. As in dreaded it. Couldn’t wait for it to be DONE. OVER. PAST.
While you pick your chin up off the floor, & scratch your heads, wondering, “How could a guy not like Thanksgiving?,” let me answer a couple of the inevitable questions that follow such a declaration about one of the United States’ most significant holidays:
- Football is one of my favorite things
- I am an American & have been for as long as I can remember
- Why, yes, I am a Foursquare pastor who loves Jesus
- And no, I don’t kick little dogs just for entertainment
Why did I have such a hard time with Thanksgiving?
Every year around November 1, an almost tangible dark cloud settled over me, often remaining until December was in sight. My attitude was negative, my forecast was gloomy, & the dread of enduring a day that was supposed to be about remembering God’s faithfulness, the people & things we’re thankful for, & making memories was overwhelming. My wife, Joni, who I affectionately call TheBean, even tried to lift my spirits by allowing the Thanksgiving menu to include MY favorite food, BBQ beef ribs, & by exempting me from any turkey consumption. But I digress…
Then Julia came to visit.
Julia (pronounced YOO-leee-ahhhh!) is a young woman in her early 20s from a small town in southwestern Germany called Achern. I’d met her, her family, & her pastor on one of the many trips I had taken to Germany to visit the Foursquare churches (& our sister church in Frankfurt.)
Julia had always wanted to visit the States, & experience American culture up close & personal by staying in someone’s home. I talked with theBean about it, & we made the necessary arrangements for Julia to come stay with us for 6 months, starting in September 2008.
While Julia spoke English, our Western American dialect was totally foreign to her, & her puzzled expression while she tried to figure out the meaning, significance, & nuances of such Americanisms as “Dude!,” “Awesome!,” & “Sweet We loved the new perspective that Julia brought us as we got to see ourselves (& our lives) through her eyes.
She started asking questions about Thanksgiving some time in October. Evidently, she’d been told by one of her friends about this “Significant American Holiday,” & she wanted to make sure she was ready for it. I tried giving her the standard, elementary school take on the origins of Thanksgiving, complete with tall tales about the Pilgrims & Squanto. That wasn’t enough for her; she wanted to know more. WHAT? WHY? HOW? WHEN? Julia’s questions came in a deluge.
About a week before Thanksgiving, I finally told her: “Julia, I don’t like Thanksgiving & I can’t wait for it to be over & done.”
She looked at me with a bewildered look “So, it’s about family, being together, thankfulness to God, & good food, & you don’t like it? It seems AWESOME,” She said.
I responded, “I know it does. But not for me.”
In my desperation, I cried out to the LORD. This was something that I’d done many times before, but this particular time, there was a response:
Look at what Scripture says about thanksgiving.
So I did. I broke out my Bible software & I searched, researched, & studied thanksgiving, giving thanks, thankfulness (& all possible permutations of the word.) I pored over the plethora of verses and Psalm 100:4, 5 filled my heart.
Enter His gates with thanksgiving, & His courts with praise! Give thanks to Him; bless His Name! For the Lord is good; his steadfast love endures forever, & His faithfulness to all generations. Psalm 100:4,5 ESV
As I meditated on this passage, I felt a ‘peeling away’, almost like my soul was experiencing a “power-washing” like the do-it-yourself-ers do to their home in preparation for painting it. The layers that were exposed contained elements of thoughts, feelings, & emotions that I readily recognized:
Frustration. Anger. Fear. Anxiety. Ungratefulness. Negativity. Unforgiveness. Unbelief. Bitterness. Grief.
I don’t know where they all came from, but there they were. I can remember numbly saying, “Well, God, I’m a mess. A big one. Please help me.”
The following Scripture came to my mind:
Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time He may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on Him, because He cares for you. 1Peter 5:5-7 ESV
I took it as a holy nudge, & knelt down as a sign of humility. I asked the LORD to search my heart, to clean it, & to heal me. Words poured from my mouth almost faster than I could mentally grasp them; words of confession, repentance, sorrow, declaration, & petition for His grace.
Thanksgiving Day arrived, complete with lots of food, family, fun, laughter, & of course, football. Before dinner, we gathered to pray a blessing, & each of us took a second to share something that we were thankful for. I participated. And meant it.
When it came to Julia, she asked if she could pray a prayer of thanks. She prayed, first in English/American (she even said AWESOME!) then in German. As she flowed into her mother tongue, tears of gratefulness poured down her cheeks; I didn’t understand all of the words she spoke, but I firmly grasped the spirit of thanksgiving that filled the room.
I wept; tangible thanks filled my soul with life & with the oil of joy sealed up the cracks in my soul with a healing salve.
And all I could think of was how thankful I was. And still am.
Thank you YOO-leee-ahhhh! And thank you, Jesus.