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KOEDYKER: Thanksgiving traditions can bring joy and bless the heart

• Nov 22, 2017 at 2:00 PM

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving Day — one of my favorite holidays! It always has been, ever since growing up in a church where the youth took a long walk early on Thanksgiving morning to the forest preserve for breakfast and a friendly touch football game versus a neighboring church. Some of the best times were when it was cold and snowy. What a blast!

After that, we walked back to church where we had our Thanksgiving Day worship service. And what we young people especially liked was that we didn’t have to go home first and change into our “Sunday clothes.” We just walked right into the sanctuary in our sneakers, sweatshirts and jeans. The important thing is that we were there in church thanking God for all of our blessings.

I reflect on those experiences nostalgically, but they will always stay with me. We were raised with great traditions that included praise and thanksgiving to God. I am thankful for those traditions. And I am especially thankful that they included joyful and heartfelt acknowledgement of God and his gifts of love and blessing so abundant.

We live today in a day when material and physical things are emphasized and given the greatest of attention. Even Thanksgiving Day is robbed of its true meaning when we call it “Turkey Day.” We put so much emphasis on eating, parades and football games that it is easy to overlook the spiritual nature of Thanksgiving Day.

The original Thanksgiving Day took place after one of the hardest winters ever experienced in that area. Over half of the first settlers died during the first winter. And yet they gave thanks.

After the harvest, Massasoit, chief of the Wampanoags, and about 90 others from that tribe, joined the Pilgrims in a harvest festival. The participants celebrated for several days, dining on venison, goose, duck, turkey, fish and cornbread, the result of a bountiful corn harvest.

In 1621, Edward Winslow, one of the Pilgrims who survived the first winter, wrote these words to a friend describing the first thanksgiving: “Our harvest of corn came in well, and God be praised!” He added, “By the goodness of God, we are so far from want, we often wish that you could be partakers of our plenty.”

I hope that during your celebration of the Thanksgiving holiday you will take some time to reflect on what you are thankful for. I read an article the other day that talked about making up your own thanksgiving traditions or rituals that you do with your family and friends on Thanksgiving Day. As I said at the beginning of this article, those things stay with you.

There are so many things you can do. These days, our family usually goes for a walk to Lake Michigan after our Thanksgiving meal. But, before the meal, we go around the table and mention one thing that we are thankful for and incorporate that into a prayer. It just provides some time for reflection on the past year and what you are truly grateful for. Some families take the time to volunteer serving the less fortunate a meal at a shelter. Others make sure they invite someone to dinner who might otherwise be alone on the holiday.

Just last week I attended a church board meeting that I will not soon forget. As is our custom, we always have a time of Bible reading and devotions before the business meeting starts. One of our deacons read some verses from the apostle Paul’s letter to the Philippians, chapter 4. The ones she particularly emphasized were verses 4 and 6. They read like this: “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.”

She noted that the words that often get lost in those verses are “with thanksgiving.” In living our lives in the midst of anxious moments and prayers of petition, we should never forget to do so “with thanksgiving.” From there, she proceeded to go around the room and name things she was thankful for about each of the 20 persons in the room. Obviously, she had given this some thought. It was such a blessing to hear from her perspective what she was thankful for about each one of us: character traits, talents and gifts in our lives, and specific incidents whereby she had been blessed by different ones.

As I drove home from the meeting, I kept thinking about that beautiful experience. I thought to myself that maybe that could be a new Thanksgiving tradition in my life. What do I see in the people around me for which I am thankful?

Maybe you will want to do the same. Make it specific and personal. And be sure to share it with them. I guarantee you that it will bless their lives.

— By the Rev. John Koedyker, pastor of congregational care at First Reformed Church of Grand Haven.

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