Do you want a Thanksgiving that you and your family will never forget? If so, you may want to start a new Thanksgiving tradition. Let me tell you about a Thanksgiving we will never forget and how God helped us through what could have been the worst Thanksgiving.
Maybe your memories of Thanksgiving are painful. If so, this is article may be especially for you. Only God knows the heartache many feel during the holidays. Some of you dread the season. So, whether your Thanksgiving looks like a Norman Rockwell painting or is a time of sadness, I hope God will give me a few words to help you have a Thanksgiving to remember.
What are your Thanksgiving traditions?
For many, Thanksgiving brings the memory of special family gatherings, plenty to eat, and football. As I tell you about the most painful Thanksgiving we had, see if you can find the traditions that helped us get through it.
It was the Thanksgiving of 1997, and my family and I were living in the beautiful countryside of South Georgia, just outside of the town of Baxley. This Thanksgiving morning began like many before it.
Debbie was up early and busy preparing dinner. The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade was on our television, and the kids were waking up while I spent some time alone with my Bible and a cup of coffee.
We all gathered around the table for Debbie’s delicious breakfast casserole. Afterward, we took our annual Thanksgiving family walk. We leisurely walked and talked for about 30 minutes. About every 50 yards or so, we would stop. Then each of us would tell the others one of the things for which we were thankful.
Later, we jumped in a pick-up truck with a handsaw and headed to the nearest Christmas tree farm. Of course, our dog Smokey joined us on our search for the perfect tree. And no, we did not choose the first tree he marked!
After reaching a unanimous decision on the tree, I lay beside the tree and sawed away. We returned and prepared to sit down and enjoy a delicious meal together before decorating our tree and leaving to visit my mother in Jacksonville. While Debbie and the kids took care of the final details in the kitchen, I went to our shop to gather our Christmas decorations.
So far, so good. These were the things we tried to do every year. It was a sweet time.
Then the phone rang.
Debbie called out and said the call was for me.
It was one of my mother’s neighbors. She told me that she had been unable to get my mom to come to the door and had called the police. When they got inside, they found her on the floor.
I raced to St. Vincent’s hospital, where I learned she had been taken for a CAT scan. When I asked where she was, the ER staff guarded her whereabouts as though she was in witness protection.
Knowing the hospital, I found the CAT scan area in radiology and waited outside. When they brought her out, a nurse used an “Ambu bag” (BVM) to breathe for her. On the way back to the ER, I told her I was there and how much we loved her.
Later, her doctor told me she had experienced a devastating inter-cranial bleed. Tests had shown there was no brain activity.
Although a ventilator kept her body alive for a while, the soul of my precious mother was with Jesus.
How could this be a Thanksgiving we would want to remember?
At first, I was numb. After taking care of the details at the hospital and the funeral home, I needed to prepare for her funeral service in her beloved church, Faith Memorial Baptist.
You say, “That is a Thanksgiving I would want to forget!”
I understand but stick with me for a few more minutes and I think you’ll see why I am thankful.
The next few days were a blur. Mom’s pastor, James Branch, agreed to assist with her service. I had prepared a lot of sermons, but none like this. It was comforting to see that members of our church in Baxley had driven down to be with us.
After the funeral service, a man came up to me I had never seen before. He said my mom had hired him to do some work on her house. He went on to say while he was working, she told him about Jesus.
Then he said, “I got saved. I gave my life to Jesus!”
My mom had told me that she didn’t want me to cry when she died but understood I probably would. She said the pain of grief was deep and unlike any that I would have experienced before. She was right.
Yet, despite the pain, God gave us one of the most memorable Thanksgivings we could ever experience.
I could choose to be angry that of all days for Him to call her home, God had chosen Thanksgiving.
Instead, I realized the gift of a godly mother who lived a life of sacrifice for her family, taught me about Jesus, led others to Jesus, and was now without pain in the presence of our Savior is one of the greatest gifts God has given me.
How could I not give Him thanks?
I truly hope your family never experiences a Thanksgiving like I did that year. But whether your Thanksgiving is picture-perfect or a literal “walk through the valley of the shadow of death” (Ps. 23:4), by God’s grace, you can have a Thanksgiving to remember where you experience God in a real and personal way.
Did you notice the simple Thanksgiving traditions that helped to keep our family close and our focus on the Lord? If not, please re-read the story above.
Here are some ideas to help you have a Thanksgiving to remember:
Do whatever it takes to seek God (Jer. 29:13). Grieve over your sin, confess it to Him, and trust Jesus’s death, burial, and resurrection to cover it.
Determine to follow Christ (Lk. 9:23). Daily seek Him in Scripture and prayer. Gather with a group of believers for worship and Bible study each week.
Seek to reconcile with everyone you can (Mt. 5:23-24). Forgive and ask for forgiveness.
Ask God to use you (Eph. 2:10). He will show you those who need help (i.e., food, encouragement, yard work, repairs, a visit just to listen to them, etc.) then personally let God use you as a living sacrifice (Ro. 12:1).
Have a commemoration before your celebration (Joshua 4:1-9). Choose a tangible way to remember the work of God in your lives. Select a place to remind you, so you will never forget the goodness of God. For example, arrange a pile of stones in your yard, plant a tree, put together a collage of family pictures, take a family picture in a memorable spot and name it your "place of remembrance," etc.).
Tell the next generation (Ps. 145:4). Share your eyewitness accounts of what God has done to help you with the young so they remember how God has answered prayer, provided for you, and comforted you. Try to be specific (i.e., Show them pictures or, even better, take them to the very places where God spoke to you, answered prayer, delivered you, etc.).
I hope you and yours have lots of laughs, long talks, good food, watch a parade, eat, play games (maybe eat again), enjoy the good things God has given you, and give thanks in everything (1 Thes. 5:18)!
I am thankful for you!