Thanksgiving at my father’s house was never about giving thanks. There was no mention of God, no moment of reflection, no expression of gratitude. It was family and it was turkey dinner and it was football, and nothing more. Unlike Christmas (which while equally secular and devoid of spiritual meaning at least included presents) there was nothing about Thanksgiving in the Barrett household that was particularly joyful.
One year, during one of my mother’s religious phases, she decided to try and change the focus of her sons’ holidays with their father. I do not know what led her to believe it was her place to impact her ex-husband’s family dinner but she went out of her way to encourage me and my brothers to make sure thanks was given.
She took several white envelopes, one for each member of the extended Barrett family and put popcorn kernels inside. She packed the envelopes into my suitcase with instructions to hand them out on Thanksgiving Day. She told us it would be “fun” for each person to take an envelope at the end of the meal and use it as an aid in the giving of thanks. As each kernel was removed from an envelop the kernel holder could say one thing for which they were thankful. In this way each person would get to share. She thought it would be special and wonderful.
My father did not share her popcorn kernel enthusiasm. He thought the envelope idea was dumb. He nevertheless did not want to come across as an ungrateful jerk, so he instead suggested that we could go around the table and ask each person to share one thing for which they were grateful. When mealtime came each person did just that. It was awkward, forced and unnatural, but for the only time in my memory thanks was given on Thanksgiving.
Looking back, I am saddened by how unnatural it was for gratitude to be expressed. I wonder if it was because none of the adults in my family believed that any of their blessings had been bestowed upon them, none of them had been given. My father was of the belief that you earned everything you had in life. Who was he supposed to thank, himself?
I do not share my father’s opinion. While I have achieved significant worldly success professionally and financially, these accomplishments are of minimal importance to me. The things for which I am most grateful are all unearned.
I am grateful for my marriage, a 35-year testimony to the grace of god and the grace of my wife. I did not earn her love by being a perfect or lovable man. In many ways over the years I have at times acted in ways that could have earned her rejection! Too often I have been my father’s son and mirrored some of his worst traits. She loves me anyway, and I cannot be more grateful.
I am grateful for my children, one miraculously conceived and the other miraculously adopted. Years of infertility and futile baby-making efforts confirm the truth that my children are a gift from God, an undeserved and unearned blessing. The love and laughter they bring to the world are gifts beyond description.
I am grateful for the nation in which I live. I did nothing to earn the opportunities that America provides. Even with the intelligence and gifts I possess (also unearned), poverty and despair could have been my fate had I been born in another land.
I am grateful for my faith, the hope that sustains me and the God who is transforming me into a better man. I did nothing to earn or merit God’s favor, but He loves me nonetheless. In my repetitively expressed selfishness and rebellion I earned his anger and punishment, but He instead loved me and gave His Son for me, the greatest gift of all, unearned and yet freely given.
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