Thanksgiving–Making it a Holiday When We Truly ARE Thankful

Thanksgiving-DinnerBetter a bite of dry bread [eaten] in peace than a family feast filled with strife. Better to have a dish of vegetables where there is love than juicy steaks where there is hate. (Proverbs 15:17, 17:1). Holidays are challenging times! Unlike getting together to “watch the big game,” we sit opposite from one another at the table and are forced to have real conversations. For some, Thanksgiving‬ is a hallowed tradition‬ fueled by happy childhood memories. For others, it becomes a source of stress and a dread of having to be around difficult family members.

I would challenge you this week–if your traditions have become too painful, stressful, expensive, or cause arguments and hard feelings among your family–make some modifications that are conducive to PEACE‬! I knew a family once who hated cranberry sauce, but always opened a can and set it on the table because of tradition. Silly, huh? Well, how many times do we do that same thing but in other ways? Make some new traditions if you must…just make them good, easy, and worthwhile.

Make Thanksgiving a good memory for your family, rather than a dreaded event. Simplify your meal plans if that’s what it takes. You don’t have to serve a 250-item buffet to have a good dinner. Don’t create more stress by spending your whole month’s grocery budget on one meal. If you create an atmosphere of love and fun (and true gratitude) a dish of mac and cheese is as good as turkey and all the trimmings! And a meal eaten at a restaurant is not a crime, if that makes it special for your family–especially for the one who’s otherwise have to do all that cooking. I’ve even wondered before how fun it might be to just have sandwich fixings and just make an event of assembling a big submarine sandwich together…or a taco bar, or making pizzas together. No rule says it has to be about the turkey! Find what makes YOUR family feel thankful…and involved. Get creative about ways to get them around the table with you, rather than scattered into their rooms with their plates and an iPad. To do that, you may have to focus on family more than the food, and that’s really shifting your priorities in a positive way. What does it for your bunch? Singing and music around the piano? Board games? Old photo albums passed back and forth…reminiscent movies on the television…even decorating the Christmas tree together. There is some activity that will be fun that sets a spark of excitement for the years to follow.

Consider splitting the weekend to allow families a chance to linger longer. It’s called Thanksgiving weekend…and yet, we place a mandate on our kids to have to hurriedly eat and run at about 3 or 4 different houses, all on Thursday, to keep from causing hurt feelings. And someone will invariably get pouty…because no one actually shows up hungry when there’s a meal to have to eat every 90 minutes! (Remember the Andy Griffith Show spaghetti episode?) A lot of food gets wasted because families, unlike cows, don’t have two stomachs.  Let’s not place unreasonable expectations on our families.  It’s really not fair to them, or to us, when we use this holiday to force loyalty to our side of the family. It’s not always possible, but when the holiday can be coordinated to allow a fair amount of time that doesn’t put a damper on things, you be the in-law that makes it easy. I so appreciate my mother-in-law, Thelma Crum, for the way she always did this when she was able to cook.  She would do Thanksgiving with our family either on Friday, Saturday, or Sunday afternoon after church, so that her daughters-in-law could spend time with our own parents.  I’ll always be grateful for her wisdom in that.  People appreciate not having to play the “you love the other side of the family more than you do us” game. Word: a little advance planning can make this time a lot more memorable for all the right reasons. Don’t serve your kids a platter of prove-you-love-me-best…when divorce, marriage, grandkids, and other scenarios change the landscape of your traditions, adjust and you’ll preserve the want-to in your family. I can’t stress this enough–this week is your chance to shine to others as a beacon of being considerate of others’ feelings. If you insist on being the “favorite,” try being the most accommodating and easiest to please. That’ll earn you brownie points like no guilt trip ever could!

If this weekend or Thanksgiving Day is not the very best time, consider scheduling your feast on a non-holiday weekend; even or combining Christmas and Thanksgiving together isn’t even out of the question if it takes the stress and the pressure off everyone involved. When Dana and I wrecked five years ago, we had a combined Thanksgiving/Christmas in early February, an event that was truly marked by the gratitude each of these holidays embodies. If you have a loved one going off to war or fighting a terminal illness, plan the holiday to include him or her and do it sooner rather than later. Look at it this way, you are not anticipating the worst, you are extending your season of thankfulness even longer by spreading out the celebration to capture the most good memories you can.

Create an agreement not to argue! If there are hot-button topics that invariably cause bickering, agree in advance to have those discussions at a later time or not at all. Politics, your son’s eyebrow piercing, and the finer points of church doctrine are probably not good dinner topics. You already know what sets the powder keg off in your house, so man-up or woman-up and choose not to go there. Don’t use the Thanksgiving dinner table as a place to hone your sarcastic one-liners on your family. You don’t look more intelligent than the others when you have a snippy answer…you just look like a jerk! Don’t make them waste their holiday spending it with a jerk! Be nice just this once. It isn’t impossible. Pull your claws in for the sake of your family.  If you see a conversation getting a little too toasty, change the subject–or borrow that “par-lay” phrase from Captain Jack Sparrow and call a truce!  You’ve got all year to resolve the world’s crises…don’t try to do it today.  Enjoy some laughter.  (And may I also suggest–refrain from serving alcohol, those of you who normally do on this day.  Religious preferences aside, any libation, drug, or substance that causes ANY family member to get violent, moody, temperamental is NOT worth it.  Also, if you  have some who are recovering substance abusers, don’t wave the bottle in front of them and risk a setback.  Make an agreement that no one shows up intoxicated or leaves that way, if for no other reason, the safety and emotional well-being of the children of the household.  Please, don’t make this holiday a memory of the parents or older sister getting boozed up and making a scene. )

Finally, please don’t be wasteful. If Thanksgiving means every year you wind up with more leftovers than you can cram into your refrigerator, much of it later raked into the trash can, then it’s time to think outside the box…or in this case, outside the icebox.  Don’t cook more than you can eat in a couple days and share.  It’s so irresponsible to do so, especially if you’re doing it just to make an impressive display on the table.  You already know someone who won’t get enough to eat this week. If inviting that person to your table isn’t safe, practical, or possible, take or send some food to him or her.  Double blessing: send some food anonymously!  By keeping it low-key, you let God get the glory and you get the joy of being His covert agent of goodwill. Either way, just make sure no one goes hungry on your watch this week, even if all you are able to share is a peanut butter sandwich.  This is also a great way to teach your children about the “giving” part of Thanksgiving.  Kids love to give things…to allow them to help assemble take-out baggies of sandwiches or leftover pie is sowing some precious values into their young hearts.

I pray all of you will have a truly peaceful, blessed, uncomplicated Thanksgiving holiday this week. May God’s presence be felt in every home, and may you have more than enough. Love, light, and life!

Thankfulness–Breaker of Hope Deferred

Proverbs 13:12 Bread.jpgtells us that postponed hope sickens the heart. How many people are suffering in their health–or even already gone to the grave–because of a state of hopelessness?

I want each of you to ponder this and begin to confess, “I choose to be happy NOW. Not later, when the right job, the right mate, the weight loss, the respect and the education and the money come. My contingency for happiness isn’t bound up in a lottery ticket mentality, where happiness might get to happen later IF per next-to-nothing chance, I get everything I hope for.”

One of Satan’s cruelest schemes is that of deferred hope, because it’s always in the future with no acquisition date stamped on it. In that setting, only fantasy occupies the mind–for anyone else’s life MUST be more interesting than one’s own, right?

Don’t let the evil one convince you that the ideal life is the one you aren’t in! He will keep you running from one relationship to another, one high to another, one futile pursuit and then another and another. You’ll live inside a fictitious story where you spend all your days, as Ecclesiastes says, chasing “vanities.” Even when you ARE running over with favor and blessing, you won’t see it because you’ll be still focused on what you don’t have yet. Without meaning to be–and without seeing it–you’ll become miserably self-centered, trapped inside the devil’s funhouse where every reflection of your life is distorted and perverted. Not good enough.

How on earth does one stop deferring hope? It is, after all, a choice! You break the cycle first by taking on the spirit of thanksgiving. As hypocritical as that might sound, you call the devil’s bluff even before you SEE your own life as a great place to be. You zero in on even the trivial, tiny things if necessary; and praise God for those instead of lamenting things which aren’t so wonderful at present. Believe me when I tell you, God knows your heart! He isn’t going to be insulted when you do this. He knows the difference between sarcasm and a true attempt to return to a spirit of thanksgiving. If your foot is hurting, thank Him that your ear isn’t.

Jesus lived in a human body too. It would’ve been much easier to live out His days as a normal, nondescript fellow with the biblical equivalent of the American Dream. The wife, kids, the dog, the picket fence. He also knew that the key to not becoming disillusioned with the burdens He bore was to remain in the place of thanksgiving. His prayers began with, “Father, I thank You that_____.”

From what many historians believe, Mary probably long outlived Joseph. As the oldest, the responsibility to support her and to raise younger siblings would have fallen to Jesus. He could’ve wrestled with “hope deferred” as He labored away, day in and day out, to put food on the table instead of being out there fulfilling His destiny. The human side of Him may have wondered, “Am I ever going to get beyond just helping my folks and on to REAL ministry?” But you know, the side of Him which connected to His Father knew that what He was doing in those preparatory days WAS real ministry! He learned compassion and selflessness while helping wipe noses and pack water. Time He spent poring over the law and the prophets, in prayer and meditation, and in the place of solitude, and in the place of serving His family well, were all investments for what would become a 3 1/2 year blitz of ministry that culminated in Him saying, “It is finished!” at the cross–not, “This is unfair, my life has been disappointing, it is UNFINISHED. I want to reinvent myself and be like the characters on my favorite TV show!”

There have been many times when, going through hard seasons, I dreamed of hopping on a plane with a new name and identity, and just starting all over again. There’ve been times when I felt like the biggest waste of potential EVER. I’ve known for some time now that when I catch myself drifting away to that place, my thankfulness is leaking out. I immediately try to switch gears and reassess. Have I listened to the world telling me all I’m not, or am I instead peering at my reflection in the Word to see me conforming to the image of Jesus?

When we say that our current state is not our IDEA of where we want to be, then we are in the place of hope deferred…and yes, it’s just an idea. Shake yourself with this hard but vital truth!  If you get every part of your “idea” of what it takes to make you happy, you still won’t be happy unless you are already choosing to have a heart of gratitude in any state.   Our mission statement may be more than “half a bubble off plumb” when placed against our actual MISSION. It’s time to take our minds off the “if only I were richer, thinner, younger, older, more educated, beautiful/handsome, then my life would be better” merry-go-round, and make today about what we actually have in our hands. Do as Jesus did concerning feeding the multitude. Ask, “what do I have in my hands?” and then hold it up, give thanks for it, bless it, and put it to use. You’re no more cheated for that allotment of resources you have than Jesus was, when He held up and gave thanks for five dinner rolls and a couple of sardines, right in front of the astonished people He was about to bless with the feast of a lifetime!

Remember–remain thankful even when it feels silly to be thankful for your little bit. It doesn’t matter what YOU have, it’s what HE has…but He will require you to present to Him what you have first. Trade your hope deferred for faith infused! He will bless you more for thankfully using what you have–your ordinary, ho-hum life in your average or below-average body, less-than-perfect teeth, short resume’, incomplete education, not-so-dream job, biological click-ticking self–than if you were to get to swap lives with any other person on earth. Bless and utilize what you have; because in so doing, you short-circuit the endless-loop of the accuser who says you have too little to ever be effective (or happy)! Stop comparing yourself to that other person who already has what you wish you did–you may think you really want IT, but mostly what you’re wanting is to shut off feeling as if you’re a disappointment. Stop it. That other person isn’t having things as perfect as you think…especially if he or she is still motivated by that same need for approval that you’re wrestling.

God will take your offering of what you have, pour the oil of anointing on it, set it ablaze with favor you couldn’t have possibly worked diligently enough to earn, and leave you speechless at what He has done with your tiny part! So, does a spirit of thankfulness REALLY do all that? Is it really the breaker of hope deferred? Yes! On the day you grasp this–take your eyes off yourself and place them upon God–you will poise yourself for the miraculous! Refocus every single day if you have to, because this is one of the most powerful tools of spiritual warfare you will ever pull out of your bag. Get this right and watch your life begin to change in a major way…and those things you don’t see changing will start mattering to you a whole lot less in light of what IS.