"Hi," the voice on the other end of the telephone said. "We were thinking about coming for Thanksgiving. Are you going to be home?" The call came about a week before the holiday.
This young native American mother had been a part of my expanded family for most of her life. I had met her parents, brother, sister, aunts, uncles, and cousins when she was 2 years old. We passed many wonderful hours together over more than 25 years, eating the traditional mutton stew and fry bread, tilling the soil for her family's crops, and giggling and playing under the summer sun.
Although we had already invited 12 people to join our celebration, what would 12 more be? After all, this was family, and wasn't this an occasion for families to be together? I was truly grateful for the presence of this family in my life and thought Thanksgiving Day a fitting occasion to express that.
The young woman's mother and grandmother had taught me many important lessons in my life - a respect for the land, a love of extended family, an appreciation of differences, and a recognition of similarities despite the differences. It never mattered to any of us that we came from different ethnic backgrounds. In fact, we felt such a family closeness that her children called me "Grandma."
In the days that led up to Thanksgiving, I wondered what it would be like. Generally, in the past I'd fitted into their world. Now they would be entering mine.
Our Thanksgiving Day begins with church, where we listen to readings from the Bible and "Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures" by Mary Baker Eddy. Then there's an opportunity for us to give thanks for all of the blessings in our lives.
I invited my native American family to join us for church. During the gratitude portion of the service, the young woman's mother stood up and gave thanks for all of the blessings God had showered on her family, especially for the blessing of friendship and family. After the church service, she presented me with a beautiful necklace worn daily by her own mother because, she said, I had meant so much to her mother. Later, 24 of us prepared our feast.
Before we sat down to enjoy it, the mother asked to say a few words. In a true expression of grace, she thanked God for each one present and spoke of how much it meant to her to be a part of the celebration. Tears flowed.
Justifiably, many native Americans question whether they should observe Thanksgiving, since their people suffered so much at the hands of European settlers. The key for me, and perhaps for my native American family, is to lift my concept of thanksgiving to its truer meaning that is far more significant than simply marking one particular day in the history of a nation.
Many are left out of a celebration that merely observes a day, especially if the events that followed favored some over others. But seeing the sentiment behind giving thanks for past and future good transforms lives and readies us to receive more.
I love the definition of gratitude I once heard: the acknowledgment of present possession. In keeping with that, I've often found this question from Science and Health compelling: "Are we really grateful for the good already received?" Following the question is a way to measure our gratitude: "Then we shall avail ourselves of the blessings we have, and thus be fitted to receive more. Gratitude is much more than a verbal expression of thanks. Action expresses more gratitude than speech" (pg. 3).
If we embrace this kind of thanksgiving, we won't so much observe a specific day. Instead, we'll capture the spirit of my native American family who yearned to celebrate a lifetime of love and a wider family embrace. And doing so, wouldn't we be a whole lot better off to see thanksgiving as a moment-by-moment acknowledgment of present possession? In that way, thanksgiving becomes integral to our thinking, giving ourselves and those around us much to celebrate. That's putting gratitude into action.
Rejoice in the Lord alway:
and again I say, Rejoice.