Friday, November 18, 2005

Cultivating Thanksgiving

"Don’t pray when it rains if you don’t pray when the sun shines."
Leroy Satchel Paige

I reached into the linen closet and pulled out a “tradition.” If you read this column in past years, you may recall our family custom. We use a new tight-weave cotton sheet for our Thanksgiving tablecloth, and guests write a note of thanks with permanent Sharpie markers
Reading praises written on the makeshift cloth, I see that they chronicle our family-trek. Matrimony added new family members. A baby’s arrival was announced one year, and by the next November she was five months old. Toddlers’ artwork stands out, and preschooler penmanship progressed from ABCs written backwards to perfect spelled thanksgivings.

Gratitude is more than good manners. Expressing thanks is choosing to see what is good. Even when the sky is falling, I can be thankful for Chicken Little’s warning.

In a wealthy society, people are surrounded by many manmade objects. Many citizens are generations removed from the slower paced farm life where man interacted with God in growing food. We’re better at sniffing Starbuck’s coffee than smelling roses.

To cultivate gratitude, give yourself a thanksgiving-workout. Go outdoors. Don’t have anything plastic in sight. Just go out in the fields with God. Breathe deeply. Look up and absorb the enormity of the heavens. Bend low and peek at tiny blades of browning weeds. Watch while autumn bugs maneuver their grassland forest. And give thanks.

If a trip into the country or backyard isn’t possible, follow the psalmist’s lead and thank God for your life. “I praise you for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well” (Psalm 139:14).

How often am I grateful for toes that balance or for the bottom of my feet, long lasting and sturdier than tire-tread? For ambidextrous hands, sense of smell, emotions, and muscles -- I forget to give thanks for this physical body that propels me through life. But I tend to complain when an ailment interferes with proper function.

Last year after Thanksgiving, I heard from reader Judy Bowyer in Garland, TX, one of the 4,000 receiving the column by e-mail. She adopted our tradition and wrote: “I have to tell you my success story about the tablecloth. Before Thanksgiving, I went to Linens & Things (because I had a coupon!) to look for a sheet for my ‘memories’ tablecloth.

“But while there, I found they had a sale on quilts and I had a sudden inspiration. My home lends itself to country cozy things. I chose a twin sized quilt that had patchwork square designs, but were in light colors. . . . I placed it on the table and provided the permanent pens for remarks to be written . . . . The signing of the quilt was a huge success and I have no doubt will become one of our many ‘traditions.’"

At the Messecar house in a few days, I’ll spread our keepsake cloth on the dining table. In 2003, my dad’s entry on the tablecloth was Psalm 118:24. “This is the day the Lord has made; let us be glad and rejoice in it.” Delighting in Jesus, salvation, and another sunrise is good advice. Happy Thanksgiving.

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