I'm a daughter, granddaughter & niece of pastors. I love God & studying the Bible and want to empower others to do the same.
Oh come, let us sing to the Lord! Let us shout joyfully to the Rock of our salvation. Let us come before His presence with thanksgiving; Let us shout joyfully to Him with psalms. For the Lord is the great God, And the great King above all gods. -Psalm 95:1-3, NKJV
For much of my life, Thanksgiving has been my favorite holiday, probably since I was a preteen. I don’t remember the exact year or age it happened. I think it was around the time my father decided it was too short a holiday to travel all across Florida in an attempt to see all our scattered family, from Miami to Orlando.
So instead, he decided to host Thanksgiving, and all have always been welcome, even neighbors, or friends without family nearby, the more the merrier. Cubans and southerners are used to having scores of people around all the time, and my family is a combination of both these cultures.
In the morning I would sleep in, then go pour a large mug of coffee, and snuggle on the couch under a soft blanket beside my young sisters who would watch the Macy’s Day parade, hypnotized by the balloons and colorful floats and characters, their cold toes tucked under my legs. My mother would call out in delight each new parade float or singer for my father, who was in the kitchen basting the turkey. My preteen heart leapt when my favorite boy bands appeared. It leapt again when my mom made us hot cocoa with marshmallows or hot apple cider. I rejoiced when my family arrived from Miami with real Cuban bread for sandwiches for lunch, and excited exclamations about how happy they were to see us, with kisses on cheeks and hugs.
I shook with eagerness when the petit fours were unwrapped from their shimmering boxes and my cousins and brothers and I were given permission to tear into them after lunch but before dinner, like an English tea time. The cakes came in flavors like chocolate, coconut, strawberry, lemon, or the most coveted—red velvet; each one made of layers of light sponge cake and frosting, coated in a solid icing drizzle. I smiled at the beauty of the table and decorations my mom had laid out, at the way the terrazzo floor felt and sparkled clean and cool under our feet, at the first hint of fall that often blew in through the open windows, the chill and the promise in the air of the good things to come. My brothers and I would run and slide down the long hallway in our socks like skaters, giddy with sugar and excitement.
I delighted in a couch so crowded with people, with family, that sometimes we had to pile on each other’s laps to make room for everyone, hugging, loving, snuggling and cozy together, especially on cool days. Both sides of our family all gathered together in one house, united, whole. My grandfather would hold my hand and rub his thumb across my fingernails, the same way my toddler niece does now.
There were a couple years when my mother and grandmother and aunts even accompanied me to a morning Jazzercise class to preemptively work off all the eating that would commence between 5 and 6 PM. We laughed our way through the routine, enjoying each other’s company. My siblings and I always laughed too at the funny way my grandfather would sneak a plate of food if dinner began later than 5, insisting how hungry he was: "really a-starving."
A few hours after dinner, my friends would begin to arrive, and every year more and more would come for the big bonfire and s’mores that would take place in the backyard, and for the pleasure of loving, silly company. My cousin might bring his guitar and play for us, or his sister would grab a microphone and she and I would delightedly sing awful, fun karaoke, or along to whatever tune was being played. We all told stories and jokes and laughed and some huddled together under blankets, in hoodies, with boots (all rare treats for central Floridians). Many inside jokes were born those nights.
My grandmother understands all these little joys, these little gifts I would soak up throughout the day. Nana and I give thanks for our blessings all day long on this day, as they happen. We smile at each other or at our loved ones, or just up at the One who blesses us so abundantly. We look up at the Savior and whisper "thank you." We feel His pleasure, His delight, at our delight, especially in Him. When we are all gathered together like this, she will periodically smile across the room at me, or across the bonfire. She knows the secret to joy is here, in thanks giving.
Thanksgiving is a special day, one when my family slows down, rests, enjoys the present. We give thanks for the biggest gifts and the tiny ones, for the Lord’s Supper and sacrifice, when He broke bread and gave thanks for His own death, for our salvation, for the eucharist. Christmas as a teen was always too hurried—too rushed from one house to the next, one activity to another—to spend much time in the present, for me, then. But Thanksgiving has been a day spent wholly in the present: taking delight, thanking God, receiving joy. When children crawl into laps and fall asleep in sugar comas. When families hold hands, dance, and sing together. When love abounds and we are each thankful for the presence of each other, knowing these days are short-lived, and this day, this moment, is a gift.
I read a book by Ann Voskamp called “1,000 Gifts.” It talked about this thing I’d looked forward to every year; it named what I’d known and hidden in my heart all along. This giving of thanks, this being present in the moment, this full life of salvation, sozo, that comes from first thanking God. She called it eucharisteo—to be grateful, to give thanks.
She suffered tragedy, battled horrible depression, and needed a lifeline. I too know the vast sorrow that accompanies grief, as one less sits at our table now every year, one I held most dear. One whose hand I wish I could hold, who I wish I could go back to those years when she was little and sat in my lap and held my hand with her little one. The peaceful one, who could end an argument amongst my siblings about which show to watch by gently asking for her favorite cartoon, and we would all oblige. The gentle, tender-hearted one, who wouldn't eat anything that had a central nervous system, because she couldn't stand the thought that anything suffered pain just so she could eat it. The one who would get excited about new projects or doing something fun like baking madeleines or throwing a tea party or listening to a new folk artist album, and so I would find myself with her at the store getting ingredients, or baking while she played DJ, or watching the director's cut of the Avengers until 2 AM, barely awake, as she exclaimed about facts she found interesting. The one who had the most beautiful, silly laugh, and the goofiest sense of humor that not everyone understood, but they smiled anyway, enjoying her joy.
Ann Voskamp—author of a book about giving thanks through the slough of loss and depression—she knows this sorrow, this pain. She lost a dear one too, too young. And yet she still gives thanks. She writes about finding joy, first in glimmers, then in abundance, about a life of rejoicing in everything, about pausing and seeing the little God-gifts, the beauty of the present moments all around us every day, of writing them in a notebook she keeps. I do the same now, and it helps me regret less, to pause and be present more, and to be more thankful. It feels like Thanksgiving day. Every day starts to feel different now, more hopeful. Joy starts creeping in, lingering longer, even amidst sorrow, frustration, pain, unwanted circumstances.
Ann writes about sozo, to save, a salvation that is full, complete, whole. This is what the tenth leper experienced when he came back and thanked Jesus for healing him (“Where are the other nine?”). Only one came back, and Jesus said that his faith made him well. But, hadn't he already been healed? How then was he made well after the healing? Because he came back, and give thanks:
“One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him—and he was a Samaritan. Jesus asked, “Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? Has no one returned to give praise to God except this foreigner?” Then he said to him, “Rise and go; your faith has made you well/whole.” Luke 17:15-19, NIV
His true wholeness, his abundant, full life, came from giving thanks to God. It was made complete through thanksgiving. This is what filled in the remaining gap. Our prayers, our days, need to begin and end with giving thanks to the Father—specifically—not in an empty blanket prayer we don’t really mean, as I was too often guilty of. Chuck Swindoll has said "A sign of the filling is being thankful in ALL things."
Our days should be peppered, sprinkled with praise, with thanks, all day long. We need eyes to see all the many, even tiny, specific things, the "little moments" Brad Paisley once sang about, to be thankful for. He sang about a wife who "steals my heart again and doesn't even know it" because he's looking for those good moments to be thankful for, and so he finds them. How much more does the Creator of our hearts do for us daily? How much more can He fill our hearts (completely)? If we have eyes to see. We need to seek and capture these moments like snapshots and offer them back up to the Lord in thanks, in the present, and upon the evening's reflection and prayers of thanks. We need mouths that speak the Lord’s praises for our blessings all day long as they occur, and He will fill our hearts with fullness, with abundance, with saving joy. “You will show me the path of life; In Your presence is fullness of joy; At Your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” Psalm 16:11, NKJV
Who couldn't use and doesn't desire more (or any, if it has been lost) JOY?!
Little moments, God moments, such as a child reaching for their grandparent. Kissing their great-grandmother, laughter, a sunset, a favorite or new song, the colors of fall, the flavors of favorite foods, a hug, a kiss, a gift. God's gifts. To me. To you. Daily gifts.
We need the all day, every day habit of thanksgiving. Thanks giving is not a unique day; it is a mentality; it is a lifestyle, a way of living abundantly. If we re-focus and return our thoughts to what is true, right, lovely, praiseworthy, admirable (Phil. 4:8) and even more, to the God who is, then we will see all the daily things, daily moments to give thanks for. If we practice at this all day long, it teaches us to be in the present moment. If we list these God-gifts, in word or prayer or on paper, as they happen, or at the end of the day, or even the following morning, we slow down and begin to live in the present.
As C.S. Lewis said, “He desires them [us] continually concerned either with eternity or with the Present—either meditating on their eternal union with, or separation from, Himself, or else obeying the present voice of conscience, bearing the present cross, receiving the present grace, giving thanks for the present pleasure.”
The Word commands us, beckons us: “in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” 1 Thess. 5:18, NKJV
Then we will in yet another way, better and further “know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.” Eph. 3:19, NKJV
And this is the key that unlocks JOY. The more we practice Thanks Giving, I have found, the greater our joy. We will be radiant with it, like Moses coming down from Mount Sinai, because He had spent 40 days and 40 nights in the Lord's presence, present in the moment with the Lord, praising Him, receiving His law and words with thanks. So then:
“Praise God from Whom all blessings flow. Praise Him all creatures here below. Praise Him above ye heavenly hosts. Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.” -Praise God, from Whom All Blessings Flow, Thomas Kent
For more verses about giving thanks, read Philip. 4:6, 1 Tim. 4:4, 2 Cor. 4:15-17, Eph. 5:4, Psalm 69:30-32, Psalm 100.
© 2020 Amanda Lorenzo
Liz Westwood from UK on November 24, 2020:
This article is packed with thought-provoking comments. There's a lot to ponder on here and be thankful for. You face the challenges too of the bad times.