Thanksgiving. The very word conjures up pictures of family get-togethers and tables piled with food, family members holding hands, taking time to reflect on all God’s goodness over the preceding year. A romanticized image perhaps, but I have often regretted that Thanksgiving is not celebrated in our part of the world. At times I have even thought of initiating our own Thanksgiving celebration, but as so often happens, the year gets busy and in no time at all Christmas is upon us and November has already passed. And so the idea is forgotten, discarded beneath all the other considerations that demand my time and energy.
Until last year when God brought Mandy into our lives. We had no idea the day we were introduced that shortly we would open our home and hearts to her. But open them we did, and as Thanksgiving drew near, our American ‘daughter’ desired to celebrate her version of a traditional Thanksgiving with our family.
However, Thanksgiving in the southern hemisphere was not without its pitfalls and hilarity.
Since Mandy had never before prepared a Thanksgiving repast she decided to do a practice run. The problems began immediately she started shopping.
“I couldn’t find any canned pumpkin. I searched the whole supermarket but they didn’t seem to have any,” she informed me. My face must have reflected my surprise. Canned pumpkin was unheard of in our part of the world.
“I bought a whole pumpkin but it’s not ripe.”
Again I was puzzled.
“How do you know it’s not ripe?”
“I brought it home and one of the boys said it was still green and not ripe.”
I laughed. “Oh, they were just teasing. The skin’s always green.”
A few days later, she came to me again.
“Where would I find canned sweet potatoes?”
“Canned sweet potatoes? I don’t think you’ll be able to buy them here. You could try kumara – that’s the closest we have to a sweet potato. Or yams. You’ll have to peel them and cook them.”
And so she planned and shopped, prepared and cooked, converted recipes calling for American ingredients and measurements into roughly-equivalent New Zealand ingredients and measurements, experimented and discovered solutions, made numerous urgent calls to family back home, and hoped and prayed that each dish would turn out.
With some trepidation I looked forward to the Thanksgiving dinner. The practice run where she made pumpkin pies had seen the pies still cooking at midnight. Although we were not accustomed to sitting down early to our evening meal, midnight was too late for our collective digestive systems.
The day finally arrived. As we stood around the table eyeing the roast turkey, bread stuffing, gravy, sweet potato pie topped with marshmallows, creamy whipped potatoes, green beans, red berry fruit salad, and pumpkin pies, it was suggested that we each take a moment to thank God for just one blessing He had given us.
The usual blessings were acknowledged: health, family, friends, employment, God’s love, God’s provision; but it was my youngest son’s prayer that touched my heart and brought tears to my eyes.
“Thank you God that my parents love me and always stand by me”.
At the time I wondered: He’s only ten years old. That’s a bit strange. What is he thinking? Then: Oh no, what has he done now? Afterwards I queried him and he explained that even when he made mistakes, even when he let us down, we still loved him.
His prayer that day challenged me.
Despite my shortcomings, God still loves me and stands by me. He loves me even when I mess up or disappoint Him; when I let other things crowd Him out; when I fail to acknowledge His goodness; when I struggle to be thankful.
For there are times when I have a problem being thankful. Times when I’d like to be able to rewrite Paul’s words: in everything give thanks.*
Does God really expect me to be thankful when things go wrong; when I’ve been insulted and hurt; when there’s not enough money to pay the bills; when I’ve spent hours at the computer only to lose all my hard work; when the dishwasher breaks down as we’re walking out the door to attend a youth camp; when the car won’t start and I’m late for work; when I feel cut off from other Christians and misunderstood by friends in general; when nothing ever seems to go right and I wonder where God is?
In everything give thanks.
Surely God doesn’t expect me to be thankful when my body threatens to miscarry the child I so desperately desired; when a routine surgical procedure leaves me unable to walk or work and in constant pain for months on end; when a family holiday is ruined; when I’m forced to turn down a job I so desperately wanted because the employer changes the hours?
In everything give thanks.
That Thanksgiving dinner my son taught me a valuable lesson: God’s love never changes. I learnt the importance of cultivating a spirit of thankfulness: learning to thank God in the good times as well as the bad, knowing that His love never fails. When things seem bleak, God loves us. In our darkest moments, God still loves us.
Just as my son prayed around that Thanksgiving table I can now pray:
Thank You God that You love me and will always stand by me. Thank You that You will never desert me. Thank You that regardless of how often I mess up or disappoint You, Your love will never change.
Because of the example of our American friend, we will celebrate Thanksgiving this year, but whether we celebrate it with a traditional dinner or our own version remains to be seen. However this I do know: we will take time to thank God that His love is unchanging.
And as for His other blessings: I already have my list ready!