Thanksgiving is the last great American holiday I still hold true to. Perhaps itís because the holiday falls so closely to my birthday. Perhaps itís because the holiday is more about filling up on a feast of delicious roast turkey and all the fixings than buying crap-tastic gifts from the 7-11 at the last minute just Ďcause the mailman left me a basket of cookies on the doorstep, and TV commercials and Hallmark guilted me into the Christmas spirit.
I could ignore Christmas, New Yearís Eve, Valentineís Day, Fourth of July, all of it, as long as I kept the tradition of a full bounty on the dinner table Ė enough for two dozen. Better yet, one of these days, Iíll be like a friend and scarf my plate of Thanksgiving blessings in 15 minutes before standing for two hours at a church or a shelter to feed the homeless.
To me, Thanksgiving is the least capitalized-upon American holiday there is. Itís hard to sell big-ticket items over a special occasion based on the Pilgrims giving thanks to God for not dying from a million and one diseases upon arrival in the New World, or not being bow-and-arrowed to death by a million and one native American tribes roosting in and around the areas near Plymouth Rock.
The entire emphasis, instead, is outward, not what loot can I wheedle out of mom and dad, what treasures can I store in heaven on earth... but what has blessed me, my family, my friends, the fact that I am still breathing and able to help others less fortunate, that I can write when I am sad, happy, confused, lost, euphoric, as an outlet, as therapy, as a means to touch strangers and teach them weíre not so strange after all, that I can enjoy the advantages and advents of advancing civilization, despite its occasional drawbacks.
My natural tendency anyway is to think about what I can do for others first, then myself, last. Thanksgiving enables me to fulfill my deepest, greatest dreams, in as simple an act as going crazy with my Costco platinum card, so I can dump boxes and boxes of non-perishable goods at my church for the November Day of Sharing. Every year, my first thought is of those disadvantaged families turned away from one shelter after another Food Bank, because of a shortage of blessings, and I wish I could inherit enough millions to feed and clothe every single living being on this planet every day.
The philanthropic inside me wars with the culinary avarice, so that I am feeling guilty pleasure every time I lift my fork full of turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, creamed spinach, hold the cranberry sauce and sweet potatoes. Such a dichotomy of compassion and sloth.
This Thursday, the Weber family will be doing something a little different than stuffing ourselves with way too much food and eventually throwing away the leftovers a year from now. We decided to pair up with another family, the St. Johnís Ė friends from church, their 18-year-old daughter Breann babysits our two-year-old son James from time to time Ė at their larger house to do up Thanksgiving like that Norman Rockwell painting, the artistic embodiment of the norm that Iíve never experienced personally, coming from such a small family.
Jimís doing a 22-pounder, Eddie will join him with the side dishes, and Iíll be there trying to recreate the crispy on the top, but sinfully moist on the inside bread-cube stuffing (my late father used to do) purely from memory, microwave a little buttered corn for James, throw some rolls in the oven to warm, and hopefully, weíll all feel a little less lonely, overwhelmed and blessed.
In these times of over-commercialization when it is now appropriate to put up Christmas decorations in October(!) and use the holidays to further feed and clothe the upper-middle-class merchants at the malls, instead of remembering the sacrifices our forefathers and Jesus Christ (for the believers) made so we COULD shop till we dropped, I find respite, escape and a refresher course on being a light in an ever-darkening world by reading passages in the Bible whenever I can.
I never did before. Ever since the early-November church choir retreat, though, Iíve really wanted to, because itís the Word of God, and I want to read his notes of love to me, not as a novel, front to back, chronologically for the characters and the cliffhanger... but one or two lines at a time, serving as an entire semester in philosophy, theology and humanity, a lesson, a reminder and a verbal embrace at the same time.
I came across this from 1 John, Chapter 4, verses 10-12 while waiting for my Greek take-out at Kafe Neo two nights ago. It bears repeating:
ďThis is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.Ē
Three lines, buried between a how-to on determining evil from good spirits and the belief system of Christianity the world over... reminded me that for my whole life, Iíve been resenting, envying and bemoaning the assumption that my giving nature has left me behind the scenes, cleaning the toilets, while the superstars stand on the stage taking their bows, eating their caviar, receiving all the acclaim Ė for nothing.
Because, based on the above Scripture, the acclaim really belongs to those of us behind the scenes, incapable of doing anything but thinking of others first, whether it be sacrificing our own personal enjoyment of hobbies, alone time in the bathtub with candles and a PEOPLE magazine, a chance to watch favorite cooking shows on TV, a backup of HBO movies from three months ago ... in order to watch over our children, go outside with them, ensure theyíre getting enough sunshine, play time with neighborhood kids, exercise time running around with the soccer ball, exploring time going around from tree to rose bush to garden for hands-on scientific learning, then mealtimes, naptimes, tantrum times, mommy cleaning up the house time, church friends lecturing mommy she should go out more with the other mommies, hire a babysitter and do a girlsí night out, take a shower, comb my hair, put on an outfit that doesnít have ice cream stains all over it, more thankless chores, the laundry, the dishes, a grocery run to grab more food for the homeless...
It didnít really hit me until I began poring over what love means to God, from that one section... that Iíd been given the spotlight all this time, by loving others before myself, by deriving the joy simply in giving Ė without expecting anything in return. That the return lay IN THE GIVING, not the receiving of an acknowledgement about how selfless I am, throw a parade in my honor and let me disengage from humanity.
I still need to exercise a little control over the ďMeĒ time, to refresh and replenish. But itís nice to know Iíve been doing the right thing all along, that my instincts reflect the true blessing, in the giving, not the gift.
God can handle the rest.
I wonder if He can do the stuffing...
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