The order came in the midst of our country’s most difficult years, a time when gratitude seemed the most distant emotion imaginable. Some may not realize that behind this proclamation, was a woman by the name of Sarah Josepha Hale, the influential editor of the popular women’s magazine Godey’s Lady’s Book. For decades she had been working to get our presidents to call for such a national holiday and she finally succeeded when President Lincoln realized how important such a day could be for our country, especially at that moment of tremendous need.
In our day, many people in our world are suffering and struggling with the realities of their challenging circumstances. And so it is a perfect time for a call to give thanks. If we forget how we are blessed, we will not have the strength or resolve to carry on with hope. Gratitude does not deny the difficulty. We simply refuse to believe that our painful circumstances are the only things to notice.
So this year let’s help one another do that. Let’s demonstrate that in spite of the problems we see in the world, both personal and otherwise, that we will choose to see other realities as well. Abraham Lincoln wanted the country to recognize that the trauma and discord were not all we should recognize, remember, and hold onto.
Sue and I started a Thanksgiving family tradition when our kids were young. On the dinner table, by everyone’s plate, we place 3 pieces of corn. After dinner we pass a small basket around the table three times. As it is passed, each person drops in one corn, and names something they are grateful for and then passes it on to the next person. We did this when the kids were too young to think of much more than a special toy or pet (and usually repeated what someone else had just said), it persisted through the teenage years when at least one was sure to be pouting over a bad week or month, and on into adulthood when they were navigating complicated and exciting lives of their own. It has been gratifying now to see our grown children, some with children of their own, view this tradition as a central part of Thanksgiving Day. Whoever is hosting the dinner will usually remember to put out the corn and the basket as readily as the turkey and dressing.
Through the years, Thanksgiving has sometimes happened when someone around the table was going through a personal rough patch. Sue and I have taken our turns at being the ones in pain. It takes a little more effort during those times to express gratitude or remember the areas of goodness and blessing. But I can say that the discipline has been beneficial even during those challenging seasons. That simple routine of remembering and articulating our blessings with people we love, can sometimes help us find a small measure of strength to keep carrying on.
So I continue to give thanks for Thanksgiving. A day set aside to remember our blessings as best we can, no matter what we are experiencing in the moment. I am grateful this year again for all of you who are part of University Presbyterian Church. And my prayer is that we would continue to develop our sense of togetherness, so that in all circumstances, no one would ever feel alone or forgotten.