Thanksgiving Reminders

"Are we going to do the rocks again this year?" Sarah asked me recently.

"You mean the rocks we did at Thanksgiving a couple years ago?" I asked and she confirmed with a nod. "You want to do that again, huh?" 

"Yeah, it was fun."

It's funny what kids remember, the things they hold on to that become traditions.

I feel very strongly that being thankful is an important virtue. I want to be intentional about teaching my kids to be thankful. Everyday. Not just on one day. Because I believe that thankfulness is a game changer. I believe it's a life changer.

When I was growing up and had Thanksgiving with my dad's family, after dinner we would pass out candles, turn off the lights and have sort of a candle lighting ceremony that always made me want to sing "it only takes a spark to get a fire going." The first person to light their candle would say what they were thankful for and then light the next person's candle, who would then say something appropriately thankful. We would go around the room, listening to what everyone was thankful for and watching the room grow brighter with each thankful thought. Some years I thought it was cool. Other years I thought it was hokey and forced. Each year it was intentional. It was a discipline.

And it's true, sometimes being thankful takes discipline and sacrifice. Sometimes I want to roll my eyes at the thought of being thankful in a certain situation. But always, ALWAYS, the act of finding something to be truly thankful for, even if it is a blanket to cover me (because there are those who don't even have that), changes my heart. It paves the way for God to work in me.

He who sacrifices thank offerings honors me, 
and he prepares the way so that I may show him the salvation of God. 
Psalm 50:23

So when Thanksgiving comes around, I can't not acknowledge the thankfulness part of the holiday. I like to do cliche things that might make some eyes roll, like going around the table and talk about what makes us thankful.

The year that Sarah was born, when John was in pre-school and Kaitlin couldn't wait to be in pre-school, I found some leaf patterns and printed them out onto colored paper. John and Kaitlin cut the leaves out with their colorful little kiddie scissors and helped me decorate the Thanksgiving table with their paper leaves.

Before dinner I had everyone write something that they were thankful for on a leaf, then after dinner the kids and I strung the leaves onto a garland. That paper leaf garland was probably hanging up until after the Christmas decorations came out. This year while I was going through some boxes in the basement - all the boxes of things I have a hard time throwing away because I'm sentimental - I found that old garland and I hung it up again, eight years later.

A couple years ago Thanksgiving came at a very difficult time for us. Only a couple weeks before, at the end of October, our world had come crashing down around us. We were walking in grace, mercy and forgiveness but occasionally we stepped on a landmine trigger. Our wounds were still very raw.

My parents had flown home from China to be with us in our crisis, to help us in whatever way we needed. My sister was there, too. The eight of us sat around the Thanksgiving table that day thankful just to be together, to be a family. Imperfect, yes, and hurting. But hopeful.

Before the meal, as I was setting the table, I looked over and saw the candle that was sitting on the coffee table. It was set on a wooden plate and surrounded by decorative rocks. In a flash of (divine?) inspiration I thought of the rocks that the Israelites set up after they crossed the Jordan River. They set up the rocks to always remember what God had done for them. I thought that we could do a version of the same, remember what God has given to us, what we are thankful for.

I spread the rocks along the middle of the tablecloth, among my Clifton Spode dishes and hand cut Bohemian crystal. They were an odd centerpiece. A good talking piece. After dinner I instructed everyone to take a stone and write on it something that they were thankful for. I had thought there would be only eight stones with words on them, one for each person. But soon all the stones were filled with words symbolizing something to be thankful for.

// mercy // love //  laughter // grace // hope // forgiveness // food // family // music // sports // travel // house // watr // freedom // the United States // God // cooking with Mom, Oma, Betty // a good church family // school // you // everyone // Oma // Opa // John // Kaitlin // Sarah // Reggie // Mia // Buddy // Mom // Dad //

// JD and Anne //

It was a holy experience to share together. To think about things we were thankful for in the midst of some really confusing, difficult days. It brought what is important into focus. I'm thankful for that.

There is power in giving thanks. In finding things to be thankful for when maybe all you can see right now are the things that cause you pain. When you can look past your pain, or even just rephrase it, and find something to hold on to, something to say "at least I can be thankful for" -- that's when God steps in. 

Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, 
giving thanks through Him to God the Father. 
Colossians 3:17

I will give thanks to you for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; 
wonderful are your works, and my soul knows it very well. 
Psalm 139:14

Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks; 
for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus. 
1 Thessalonians 5:16-17

You changed my mourning into dancing. 
You took off my funeral clothes and dressed me up in joy 
so that my whole being might sing praises to you and never stop.
 LORD, my God, I will give thanks to you forever.
Psalm 30:11-12

Praise the LORD! 
Oh give thanks to the LORD, for He is good; 
for His lovingkindness is everlasting. 
Psalm 106:1

The thankful rocks have sat there for two years now, reminding me of that Thanksgiving each time I light the candle. Sometimes I'll turn them over to see a word better by the lamplight. Some of the words on the rocks are fading now. I wish I had used something more permanent, more legible than Sharpie. But it was a spur of the moment thing. 

Now Sarah, with her question, has me thinking of some ways we can make the words, and the tradition, a little more permanent. Along with the attitude.

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