Upside-Down Thanksgiving

by - November 24, 2010

It was 1620 when the Mayflower, a cargo ship doing its best impression of a passenger ship, landed off-course, much farther north (and colder, snowier) than its intended destination of present day New York. One hundred twenty-six passengers and crew volunteered to confine themselves to two thousand square feet below deck without a  single window for sunshine. They sailed two miles per hour over two thousand seven hundred fifty miles of ocean day and night for sixty-six solid days.

When they anchored, their real trial began, because they were about to be acquainted with a New England winter. Only fifty-three survived til spring even though they wintered on-board the ship.

As soon as weather permitted, about mid-March,  these fifty-three men, women, boys, and girls who cheated death began an all out effort to survive the next winter.  With their grief and their winter of suffering as motivation, by Autumn of 1621, they had Wompanoag Indian friends, newly built homes, and a harvested  meager first crop. They were better prepared to survive this foreign land with its harsh winters. And they gave thanks because they had hope, bonified hope, of better than fifty percent chance of survival this time around. It was a true Thanksgiving.

This morning our family of five awoke in a heated home of twenty-four hundred square feet all to ourselves. Like the pilgrims, we had to be ready and had our work cut out for us. Not because sure death lay ahead, but a Thanksgiving celebration. And we didn't fare as well as they did. There was complaining, then fighting, and no working together. Excuses and put-offs and demands added to the turmoil.

The Pilgrims knew they were dead men walking, with odds against them.  They set their sights and laid their rolled up sleeves to another deadly winter to come, their thoughts never far from the death and suffering of the winter past. A real threat of death caused them to strive toward life.

We know nothing of this. But we should. We know only warmth, safety from the elements. We know only literacy and wealth. Remember only grace. We expect life, not death, and are without motivation.

We clean our carpets not wanting anyone to see our dirt, invite thirty to celebrate the one day out of three sixty five designated for giving thanks. And although we really are thankful, it's a two minute acceptance speech to thank the Academy and our Producer and  Manager. We glitter and walk the red carpet, take trophies home to our glass showcase of accomplishments.

But we are the trophies of his grace. And we don't know this yet, can't remember, have forgotten that we cheated death. We complain, expect, and demand, while we polish our silver for a Thanksgiving dinner with a tarnished heart.

And how do we give thanks? How do we remember and live grace and thanks and mercy when we should have died from sin exposure during our first winter? How do we build a house unless we're motivated by side-stepped Gates of Hell? We must find motivation in condemnation foregone because of a Gift. Can we take it for granted? Because it was. Granted. Can we lower our expectations to raise our thanks giving?

I want to gather around a table that supports God's bounty, and remember I've escaped beyond explanation my due end. I am Pilgrim in a strange new land, with the lowered expectation of my sure demise were it not for grace granted of God.

For we can only be thankful when we remember we are unworthy and unable, when there is a real threat of death, and a taking of life for granted.

You can read of others who write of the spiritual discipline of giving thanks by clicking on the graphic.


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  1. for by grace, i have been saved.

    i loved your comparison of our rich and well
    fed lives with the pilgrims. it is good to do
    an inspection of ourselves and motives.

    i'm so full of gratitude and joy to have all five
    of my children home, though, that i just have
    to be . . . happy.

    i pray your table is mightily blessed.


  2. Thank you for words that stream together in harmony. Reminders of the road that we should travel and the focus our hearts should take. My dear your writing is piercing and convicting. Remembering years of Thanksgiving's together and longing for the time when we will eternally celebrate together... for you and this journey God has you on. All my love Tammy


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