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Finding the Thanks in Thanksgiving

laughter

Every season seems to evoke its’ own set of memories which reflects perhaps that same time of year so many years ago or possibly a not so distant past. For many, the Thanksgiving holiday triggers the feeling of warmth, of family, of pumpkin spice and football games, of fun and food and thankfulness. Unfortunately, however, this holiday has often times been reduced to a well-worn speed bump, as folks rush toward the Christmas holiday; just a Black Friday Eve, a commercial high jump into the commercially charged holiday season.

As a kid, growing up in my parent’s house in SE Ohio, Thanksgiving was an unwritten commitment on the calendar, an assumption made that if mom was cooking, you had better be on your death bed rather than miss Thanksgiving dinner! I never really thought too much about being thankful during this time, unless you count being thankful when the event was finally over; when the last sheet of saran wrap was finally snapped off the roll and carefully wrapped over and around the last dish of left overs. It seemed to me to be a very stress filled time, consisting of a whirlwind of activities, all culminating into one feast laden smorgasbord laid out in the middle of a large table surrounded by elbow to elbow humans, passing around dishes of delicacies and plates of plenty with the intricacy and synchronicity of a well-choreographed dance. But I digress; let me take you with me to a time when life seemed simpler and mislaid worries of a young lad was unwarranted and unnecessary.

The Thanksgiving season in Ohio varies from year to year in regards to what type of moisture falls from the sky but there remains one constant; gray skies. Like dove gray colored cotton batting that hung over the surrounding countryside, possibly for the next several months to come, the gloomy gray heavens seemed to blend with the browns and tans of the bare trees and dead leaves dispersed throughout the landscape. Often times, the cool crisp breezes were accompanied by an occasional flake of snow, dancing and floating lazily downward. Inside the house looking out the front window, the desolate scene was made complete by the condensation hugging the single pane windows, giving an official nod to the chilling temperatures outside.

The turkey made its’ appearance a couple days in advance as it hung around in the refrigerator until the lifeless carcass was deemed thoroughly thawed. The night before Thanksgiving, mom would lay out several pieces of bread so they could grow stale (dry out), to be used in the dressing the next day. Mom made two types of dressing: regular sage dressing with celery, egg and other ingredients and the other, the same sage dressing enhanced with oysters. I always interrogated mom regarding which was the “enhanced” dressing, lest I get hold of a slimy surprise within my portion of goodness. Very early on Thanksgiving morning, mom would get up, prepare the dressings and proceed to have her way with the celebrated bird, cleaning it and giving it a little dance before filling the cavity with dressing, providing a deep tissue Oleo massage, seasoning the ample fowl and throwing it in the oven. It always struck me with a sense of wonderment how mom could actually create such a feast with a regular four burner electric stove with a two rack oven. All I knew was that it smelled really good, while I was content to lie on the living room floor, watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving parade.

The time for the feast finally arrived with the presentation of turkey, dressings, mashed potatoes, candied yams, rolls, cranberry sauce (canned of course, shaken out of the silver vessel into a crystal bowl and sliced evenly with a butter knife no less), green beans, corn, sweet gherkins and deviled eggs. After a request was made on who wanted what to drink, everyone filed in around the wood grain laminate table, capable of extending out with not one but two leaves, depending on the crowd for that year. There was an unofficial seating chart or more like pecking order that ensued; Dad at the head of the table, mom on one side of him so she could get up and down to meet the needs of guests, older siblings and their spouses or friends filled in from eldest to youngest until all of the high backed, vinyl green floral print chairs were filled. The overflow landed at the “kid’s table”. Being the youngest of six, I was very familiar with the kid’s table. In fact, after I got married and we had a child of our own, we would at times, find ourselves back at the kid’s table, with knees touching the bottom of the table top! Before we ate, we always said a corporate prayer that we had adopted as our family prayer; “God is great, God is good and we thank Him for our food. By His goodness all are fed, give us Lord our daily bread. Amen”.

After the meal was finished and the desserts were handed out, (pumpkin pie was the staple dessert followed by some kind of cake) folks would start migrating to other rooms. The men would naturally gravitate to the living room to watch the game but would ultimately end up snoring like bears in a den. That left the daughters and daughter-in-laws to perform a visual game of rock-paper-scissors to see who would wash and dry the large stack of dirty dishes. Mom was exempt of course, since she prepared the feast. After that, it was an afternoon of playing table games (five hundred rummy, dominoes and Aggravation being the favorites), talking and perhaps taking a walk if the weather permitted until finally, the leftovers were divvied out and the families left, one by one.

You may be asking yourself why I would go into such details to describe an event that took place so long ago and the answer is quite simple. It’s to remind you of what’s important, to trigger similar memories and experiences of your very own and to think once again upon the many blessings God has bestowed on you these past however many years. We take so much for granted, that those we love so much and hold so dear to our hearts will always be with us, but that isn’t necessarily true. We need to learn to appreciate each moment more, whether it be just a regular day or something pretty spectacular with those around us, to cherish the sound of a giggling child or the wisdom wrapped up and presented to you by a dear old friend or loved one. Thanksgiving is not all about the food, football games or how clean your house is; rather it’s about counting your blessings and allowing these present times to become the blessings you will count tomorrow.

Many changes have occurred since we once sat around that old table. Beloved faces no longer grace us with their presence; so many family members have scattered across this great land of ours. But one thing still remains; Love. The love we have for one another binds us through both the times of celebration and those moments of grief. God’s greatest blessings are all around us if we only take the time to look. And the act of being thankful is to be exercised every day, not just on one holiday. This year, take the time to find the “thanks” in Thanksgiving. Try looking around your own table of family and friends; breathe a prayer of thanksgiving to God for your own many blessings, both big and small.

Family Thanksgiving

The Christmas Box

Christmas box

The holidays are once again upon us and all of the old memories come flooding back as we place precious moments, cleverly disguised as Christmas ornaments, so very carefully on the twinkling light laden evergreen.  Some memories bring a smile to the face as you reflect back on a different time, perhaps a long forgotten place; the memory, once lying dormant, nestled deep in the recesses of the mind until a sight, smell or event once again revives the remembrance in vivid details.  Thus is the case when I see a candy orange slice or old fashioned hard candy.

I grew up in the sleepy town of Nelsonville Ohio, tucked in the Hocking Hills of Zaleski State forest.  My family went to the Church of the Nazarene on Adams Street where my spiritual foundation was birthed.  The church itself was a blonde block split level building with stairs both leading up to the sanctuary and downward to the Sunday school classrooms.  The windows in the sanctuary were all made of stained glass with names of those who donated to the building of the church, etched in the bottom of each window.  Back behind the pulpit and the choir loft was a very large, round stained glass window with what appeared to be curious and perhaps mischievous cherubim peeking out from and around puffy white and gray clouds. Those same angelic faces also gave many a child an impressive fright as they seemed to stare and follow your gaze if you dared to look too long.

Our family mostly went to Sunday school and seldom attended church unless there was a special speaker or possibly a visiting missionary.  The exception came during the Christmas season.  Every year, I would be involved in the children’s Christmas program in some way, whether it be a small bible verse to say or, as I got a little older, a speaking part in the Christmas pageant.  And every year I would fuss and fret over my insignificant part, not wanting to go up in front of “those people”; the congregation which looked to me as scary as the angels in the windows.

There was only one thing that kept my eye on getting through this hideous, inescapable ordeal; the Christmas box.  You see, on the Sunday before Christmas after the pageant was over and everyone was dismissed from the service, everyone received a treat box.  I know Mary and Joseph had the gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh presented to them by the Magi but we had the treat box and piece of fruit, which seemed of equal value, given to us by the big guys, men from the church that seemed to tower over us kids and would many times have to stoop down to hand us our treasures.

Unable to curb our enthusiasm and curiosity, as soon as we clambered into the back of the car, my siblings and I removed the scotch tape that bound the box and carefully opened the lid, like a treasure hunter investigating his discovery.  Aside from the choice of a Red Delicious apple or navel orange, the box contained an assortment of incredible edibles that would sure to satisfy the taste buds for days to come. Coconut bonbons, peanut clusters, chocolate drops, walnuts, sugar coated orange slices would greet you as you opened the box as well as an assortment of old fashioned hard candies which made up the majority of the candied treasure chest.  My favorite was the raspberry hard candy that was filled with a juicy center and would burst in your mouth as you clamped down.

I would always choose the Red Delicious apple which I could quickly devour and toss the core.  My sister, Jennifer however, always chose the navel orange as we headed down the church steps and to the awaiting car.  Jennifer didn’t just eat the orange; it seemed she held a ceremony for it as she celebrated the citrus in her hands.  Jennifer would carefully lay out a paper towel and peel the orange rind, piece by piece until her orb resembled a raggedy softball.  Then she would separate the orange segments and isolate just one, where she would slowly and painstakingly remove all of the membrane until the orange nectar was exposed.  She would then stick half of the orange segment into her mouth, close her eyes and bite down, orange juice running out of her mouth and down her chin.  At times, there would be a soft moan of gratification and the process would repeat itself until the fruit was completely gone; it was as exciting to watch as watching paint dry…

As I look back on those times and reminisce, I have to smile and shake my head, for something as small and insignificant as a treat box in an adult’s mind, was so special and anticipated in a child’s.  But I also have to shake my head at us adults, who constantly need to be reminded of what the true meaning of Christmas actually is; that Hope was born on Christmas Day and the possibility now exists for us to live eternally with and for the One who gave His life so we may never truly die.  Like the child of my past, anxiously waiting for that treat box, we need to daily wait with great excitement and anticipation what blessings our Lord has for us as well as what service, task and/or ministry He needs for us to carry out.

As I entered adulthood with all the different responsibilities it entails, I was able to take part in ordering the contents and filling the treat boxes for that same local church.  I learned that we had far fewer chocolates in the box as opposed to hard candies because of cost and that it really was a financial struggle for the church to continue providing the fruit for the congregation.  But I also knew that everyone involved felt it was well worth sacrificing from another line item area to ensure everyone had a special treat in their hand.  And nothing else felt more rewarding at the time than bending down and handing a special treasure, the Christmas box, to a child who had just performed their heart out for a very gracious loving congregation…

Jennifer’s Ashes

Today marks the end of the Thought of the Day.  One year ago today, I started to post these on my blog post. These “Thought of the Day” statements were created for my sister, Jennifer, to attempt to temporarily get her mind off of her daily struggle with stage four melanoma; I would call and leave them on her answering machine or text them to her.  I hope you have enjoyed reading these thoughts as I have felt these were God inspired and it was my privilege to be the presenter of God’s “thought provokers”.  Reflected below is a final tribute I wrote for my sister, Jennifer…may God richly bless your lives and may you truly appreciate every heartbeat of life…

 

Jennifers headstone 2

 

Jennifer’s Ashes

Gone are the happy go lucky days

Where days went on forever and forever we played,

When I had your back and you had mine

We were just siblings, but how our lives intertwined.

 

And now I’m just standing here, burying Jennifer’s ashes

Wishing I could somehow turn back time,

Back to when you were healthy and happy

Back to the days when laughter chimed.

 

You taught me to drive and I pulled you through hell

From the torture of Algebra, we worked through it well,

I must confess, I teased you too much

But you got me back with your screams and your pouts.

 

And now I’m just standing here, burying Jennifer’s ashes

Wishing I could be anywhere else,

My head knows you’re gone but my heart’s in denial

Time heals all wounds but I still have an aching pulse.

 

We both grew up and became adults

We both had families and bills and the lot,

And even though we didn’t see each other very often

We made up for it, on the phone or in person.

 

And now I’m just standing here, burying Jennifer’s ashes

Hating myself for the guilt I feel,

For I’m still alive being healthy and happy

And your life is over, a life gone too soon.

 

Standing here on your birthday, May 23rd

Barely listening to the Pastor, his words scarcely heard,

For my mind continues to wander and I kind of worry

That this date will be forever stamped with a bittersweet memory.

 

And now I’m just standing here, burying Jennifer’s ashes

I’d rather be celebrating with you still alive,

You often stated that your birthdate meant time for spring planting

But none of us knew just how your words would now be implied.

 

I know your soul rejoices for where you reside now

Among the angels and the Son of God,

Please be patient with me big little sister

As I try to cope with placing your remains beneath the sod.

 

And now I’m leaving behind Jennifer’s ashes

Moving ahead with the rest of my life,

Yearning for the day when I once again get to see her

Where the heavenly realms is flooded by God’s Holy light.

Jennifer 1958 2

Thought of the Day–5/20/18

Thought of the Day—    Gift of God, freely given

Receiving mercy

Accepting Christ as savior

Christ centered life

Experiencing unmerited favor