Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Thanksgiving Thoughts (WFW)

Thanksgiving at our House

I realize that it is well past Thanksgiving in Canada, and the left-overs are all eaten up in the United States. But I am still thinking about this warm and cozy holiday even as—and especially because—the Christmas season is beginning.

You see, I spent a bunch of years living in the U.S. and was fortunate to experience a "real American Thanksgiving" many times. During my college years I spent many Thanksgiving Days with my roommate's family—a family who made the dinner table just a little bigger each year to accommodate the college friends of their children—those of us who were not by our own families and had nowhere else to go. I remember one year they went as far as rounding up sawhorses and plywood, just to make eating space for all who came! And it wasn't just a dinner, it was a full day of activities and fun—truly something to celebrate and to be thankful for.

I lived on my own for three years in the U.S. and never spent a Thanksgiving alone. The hospitality of my fellow employees and friends always gave me a "home for the holidays." It wasn't right for a Canadian-rookie-single teacher to be alone for Thanksgiving, and each year I was blessed beyond measure by their generosity and kindness! Good food, good friends and good fun. I have so many wonderful memories!

Thanksgiving has looked a little bit different for me in the past few years. It's obviously not the grand celebration that it has been in the U.S. I definitely miss the extravagance of those days—pretty much the beginning of Christmas! In my experience, here in Canada, it is celebrated on a much lower key. Thanksgiving in my house is even less of an ordeal. My husband is a firefighter and the long weekend is the perfect opportunity for those guys to test equipment and hoses to ensure safety and ease when fighting fires. It is a few extra days wages for my husband. For that I am thankful . . . but it makes for a L-O-N-G weekend for me and the kids. To add to the mix, the church my family is part of is a little lacking in their Thanksgiving Day services. By lacking, I mean, lacking childcare. In the past I had enquired about it, was assured that there would be childcare, showed up and was pleasantly (note my sarcasm!) told there was nothing: my preschool (or baby) kids were to be in church with me, something quite out of the ordinary for them and for our church. And these services were not so "child-friendly" either—very much geared towards adults. To walk away or to grin and bear it . . . and I generally chose the latter. BIG mistake when you are acting as a single mom. You think I would have learned!

So this year was different. I checked with the church—was there going to be childcare? Only for the babies if enough people showed up. So, I made the decision to stay home. Please understand this is huge for me! I grew up as a faithful "twice a Sunday" attender. We try to go to church each Sunday. To miss church is a BIG deal to me! But this year I decided I just didn't want to pretend to be super-mom. I didn't want to go to church just to come home exasperated and very unthankful. And with three young children (one of them being 5 months old) and not near a full night of sleep prior, I knew that was probably going to be the outcome yet again. I had already played super-mom on Sunday for church. Monday's Thanksgiving service would have to take place without us.

So here I was, a little sad about missing church, a little deflated (I mean, my parents had us sit through church and we didn't make a peep! Why can't I do that with my kids?!?), a little defeated (Other parents can do this, why can't I?), and a lot tired! So, I printed off some thanksgiving pictures, got some books ready and prepared myself to stay home.

And then my son looked at me on Thanksgiving morning—of course there had been fights and tears and overwhelming moments that had taken place already—but he looked at me with big, sad eyes when I told him we were going to stay home, and he said he really wanted to go. {Break my heart!} And here was my fatal mistake: I asked him why he really wanted to go to church. I repeat: fatal mistake! And his answer—in his very-mature-five-year-old-voice—was, "All I want to do is praise God."

An hour later, me and three kids were on our way to church. How do you say no to that? (I know, I know, I'm a sucker for my kids. I was definitely showing them who was boss!)

It turned out there were enough babies, so I was able to drop off my crabby 5 month old with some loving ladies for a cuddle. And my kids had been warned: if they don't listen to me, we go home. If you want to praise God, that is what we are going to do. (Of course my theology was a little off here since there are far more ways to praise God than to sit quietly by your mom so she feels like she has it all together. But I'll correct that in the years to come.) And they actually were amazing! Maybe my threat worked . . . or maybe . . . they were just good. I didn't even have to pull out the reinforcements (aka: books, crayons, etc.), I didn't have to give them "The Look," and I didn't have to pull them out of the service. They sang, they listened, they sat, they watched. I was in awe.

But here was the big moment for me; the part of church that stood out. There was this time of sharing. You know, when people could come up to the microphone and share how God had blessed them this year. At one point, an older woman who was unfamiliar to me came forward and said she was thankful for the families in church that morning. She said that she knew that many, many things had already happened that morning in the homes, that for families the morning had probably started much earlier than it did for most, and that it may have been a tremendous struggle just to get to church that morning. It would have been easier to stay home for most. But the fact that she saw so many parents with children sitting in the audience showed her that there were some parents who cared deeply about teaching their children about God, both today and every other Sunday morning. There were parents who wanted to pass on the tradition of church and the love of God to their children. And for that she was thankful.

When we came home, I thanked my kids for acting so good in church. They shrugged it off as if they didn't know what the big deal was. And I thanked my son for asking to go to church. Again, he shrugged it off as if it was no big deal. And I realized too, that I was thankful for the first time in a very long time for going to church on Thanksgiving Day.

Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it. ~Proverbs 22:6

Jesus said, "Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these." ~Matthew 19:4

One day some parents brought their children to Jesus so he could touch and bless them. But the disciples scolded the parents for bothering him. When Jesus saw what was happening, he was angry with his disciples. He said to them, "Let the children come to me. Don't stop them! For the Kingdom of God belongs to those who are like these children. I tell you the truth, anyone who doesn't receive the Kingdom of God like a child will never enter it." Then he took the children in his arms and placed his hands on their heads and blessed them. ~ Mark 10:13-16

(image from here)

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