"A thankful heart is the parent of all virtues." --- Cicero
We're here once again: Thanksgiving Week in America. As the week begins, thoughts of turkey, dressing, and all the trimmings are filling the television on numerous commercials. Many people are planning yearly trips to the homes of relatives where extended families will gather for their annual gastronomic blow-out. Children are drawing pictures of Pilgrims sitting down with our country's Native Americans for the first Thanksgiving feast. Smells of pumpkin pies, pecan pies (my own favorite), and the spices of the season are filling many homes. Yes, it's Thanksgiving time and we're already anticipating a sumptuous feast.
Why, even in military mess halls around the world (now dubbed "dining facilities" in the Army), cooks are beginning to prepare to go all out in preparing one of the most wonderful meals served during the year. Ice sculptures will enhance the tables, shrimp cocktails and other delicacies will be interspersed with the most creative food carvings, and in many Army facilities, at least the senior officers and NCO's will serve in the mess lines. The extended military families and their guests will enjoy a feast to be remembered! As if that were not enough, they will stay up late into the night to enjoy the football games of the holiday. Somehow, the spirit of thankfulness will invade every home and heart as at no other time during the year.
For myself, I always recall Thanksgiving 1989 in Berlin, Germany. The Berlin Wall had just been breached days before, and we were all living in the history of the moment. As we gathered for our Thanksgiving Day dinner in our mess hall, I offered a Thanksgiving Prayer for the blessings we enjoyed as Americans and Allies in that place. Joining the 6th Battalion, 40th Armor that day were some of our British and French counterparts, along with some of our German friends. The facility was decorated first class and the cooks literally beamed with pride. The first wave of soldiers and their families made their way through the mountain of food served by the Officers and senior NCO's of the unit. The trays were heavy with all the food on them, and children had to be helped get them to the tables. Yes, the staff had done a superb job and everyone was in a festive mood.
Suddenly, the door opened and a bedraggled and bewildered group of people were ushered into the festivities. In an effort to share in the blessings of the day, the U.S. Command, Berlin (USCOB) had decided to bring some East Berliners to each of our mess halls. As the breach in the Wall was just made, these East Germans were still living in the threat and fear of the Allies. The lies told them for years still resonated in their minds. However, they did get on the buses sent for them and now they joined their former enemies for Thanksgiving.
In stark contrast to our Dress Blues, Mess Blues, and coats and ties, they were disheveled. Confusion and fear registered on their faces. When the German instructions were given to them to get their trays and enjoy all the food they wanted, they began haltingly at first to go through the mess hall line. Eyes widened as they saw all the decorations and food available.
Suddenly, an old lady dropped to her knees sobbing uncontrollably. Some of the West Germans who accompanied them rushed to her and tried to help. After a few moments of her bursts of sobs, she slowly rose and with difficulty continued to get her food. She joined her East German compatriots at a table and began eating.
What was the problem? One of the Germans assisting these Easterners told us that this elderly lady had quickly reached the limit of her ability to choose from among all the foods presented her. In all her life since World War II, she had NEVER been in a room with that much food. Therefore, she could not make choices because over the years she had rarely had any choices in what to eat! The ability to choose was, for her, like an atrophied or paralyzed muscle. It just would not work easily when needed.
I think in that moment I realized more than ever before what it meant to be blessed as an American! I found tears welling up in my own eyes and I was not alone. I quickly found myself a solitary corner and breathed a personal prayer of thanksgiving to God for the myriad of blessings I've received just because of the place of my birth. Truly, we are a blessed people in this country!
I believe Thanksgiving presents us with two significant challenges. These are more than philosophical; they go to the heart of daily life.
First, gratitude and thanksgiving are more than holiday activities. They MUST become our attitude for life. An elder wise in the ways of life once said, "It is human nature to grumble at having to get up early in the morning -- until the day comes when you can't get up!" Make this Thanksgiving holiday a renewal of your vows to says "thanks" to God and others who grace your life with good things and blessings. Make gratitude an attitude for living.
Second, true thanksgiving will change the way we live --- it MUST do so if it is genuine gratitude. Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart, authors of How to Read the Bible for All It's Worth, offer that "In Christianity, religion is grace; ethics is gratitude." Let us all vow that we will renew our commitment to live our thanks in new and widening ways!
God bless you this Thanksgiving and throughout this next year. We are indeed a blessed people. Thanks be to God for His immeasurable gifts!