Prager’s wisdom in The Pilgrims

What I Learned about Thankfulness from My First Thanksgiving Alone

“Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:18).

It’s often easier for us to look back on certain memories with happier feelings than we perhaps had at the time. And while we are certainly called to give thanks in all circumstances, it’s sometimes easier to see the ways God was at work in our lives after everything has played out.

So when I think back on my first (and so far only) Thanksgiving away from family, I can clearly see the ways that God provided for me, even if it wasn’t exactly what I imagined.

Let me set the scene, with a quick story:

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The Thanksgiving that Didn’t Go According to Plan

The Thanksgiving that Didn’t Go According to Plan

I was 24 years old and working nights at my local newspaper; my team was there 365 days a year. But my coworker and I made a deal that if I worked Thanksgiving so he could have off, then he’d work Christmas so that I could have off. Since my family lived in another state, it meant I’d have to get a bit creative with my turkey dinner.

The day before Thanksgiving, we saw a large paper bag in the break room fridge that said it was for the “Thanksgiving night staff only!!” The mystery of that paper bag, and the fact that someone thought to get us anything was so exciting! So the next day, I chose not to pack a dinner; we usually got off a bit early on holidays, and besides, there was good food in that paper bag. When we got to work and broke into it, here’s what we found: cheese and crackers, some salami, and cookies.

Very kind, but not much of a dinner.

No problem, I thought. My friends and I were going to meet up after deadline to do some Black Friday shopping (hey, if I had to work Thanksgiving, I might as well go keep the retail folks company too, right?) I figured I could subsist off crackers and cheese until we got to the mall, then I’d get a real meal.

Except everything – even the local fast-food joints – was closed. If you can believe it, apparently no one really wants to eat hamburgers on Thanksgiving night. So, after a few hours of shopping and my head starting to spin from lack of food, I called it a night and headed home to eat a can of soup while watching TV.

Happy Thanksgiving.

But before you feel too sad for me, know that I was off work the next day, and I hosted “Friendsgiving” for my other homeless friends. Instead of family, it was a mashup of me, a couple who couldn’t afford plane tickets home, a couple of enlisted sailors, and an Egyptian-American friend whose family also lived far across the US.

I cooked the turkey and everything. (I definitely burned it too.)

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4 Takeaways from My First Independent Thanksgiving

4 Takeaways from My First Independent Thanksgiving

1. God Always Provides for Our Needs

When I tell this story in person, I usually play it up quite a bit. It all sounds like such a bummer, having to work Thanksgiving Day, going hungry when the rest of the nation is stuffed, burning the turkey.

But the honest truth is, I didn’t go without in any way. I had food to eat, even if it wasn’t what I necessarily wanted. I had warm clothes and a home to go back to. I had a job that I really enjoyed and that paid my bills. I had family who loved me and technology that helped me keep in touch with them (where would I be if I couldn’t say “Hey Google, call mom” while I was elbow-deep inside a raw turkey?) And I had other friends who wanted to share their holiday with me too.

“Praise the LORD. Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his love endures forever” (Psalm 106:1).

God always provides for us. He will not leave us destitute or hopeless.

It’s hard to see this in the moments when our expectations fall apart, especially when those expectations surround a beloved holiday. But this is the season of giving thanks. May we each spend time in the weeks leading up to turkey day meditating on what we are thankful for, both big things and small. God has done so much for us, and we can take this time to lift our voices in praise and thanks!

In what way has God provided for you in this season?

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2. Be Thankful for the Kindness of Others

2. Be Thankful for the Kindness of Others

The kicker of my sad Thanksgiving story is that brown paper bag in the work fridge. I was expecting far greater things than it ended up holding. Maybe you can relate to this? You are anxiously awaiting something that you are sure is going to be amazing. But when you finally open it up, it falls far short of your expectations.

But you know what? To this day I don’t know who bought that food for us (although I have my suspicions). Someone graciously thought of my team, knew that we’d be working on a holiday, went out and bought some treats to brighten our evening and make us feel loved. And this person did it without expecting any thanks or accolades.

That’s not only a lesson in humility, but love. I’d be ashamed to look back on such an act only thinking “it could have been better.”

This reminds me to keep my eyes open to these random acts of kindness, and to always be thankful for them. God often blesses us through others, and that brown paper bag filled with snacks was a blessing to my team. I’m so thankful for that person’s kindness, for the excitement of opening up a mystery bag and pulling out some fun snacks, and for something to tide me over until I could get a more complete meal. I’m thankful that God can work through others to remind us that we are loved.

Have you ever experienced a random act of kindness like this? How did it make you feel?

“Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves” (Philippians 2:3).

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3. There Is Beauty in Diverse Community

3. There Is Beauty in Diverse Community

“Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling” (1 Peter 4:8-9).

Having Thanksgiving alone gave me a unique opportunity to open my dining room up to anyone who wanted it, something that I – and we as the church – ought to do a lot more of. Hospitality is an excellent way to grow deeper in community, and to share the love of Christ with others. This was especially true in this instance, when we were all planning to be alone on a major holiday. These are the times we can lean into community and treasure the time with friends.

But this Thanksgiving for me also stands out because of what everyone brought to the table – literally. My midwestern friends brought buttered noodles, something they apparently eat every year, but I’d never heard of. My Egyptian friend brought golash, a meat and phyllo dish that she made from scratch.

Now, if your family is anything like mine, then you have your holiday traditions and you stick to them religiously. So, I made a couple of my family’s favorite side dishes, but still, that table looked pretty different from what I normally have. And that’s ok. It was fun to see what my friends wanted to bring, and to share what makes Thanksgiving special for them.

When people come together, even within the body of Christ, they will bring unique cultures, traditions, thoughts and ideas. But there is beauty in this diversity, and coming together gives us a chance to explore and celebrate these differences! I am thankful for Christian friends of different cultures, and that while we share our faith in Christ, we can celebrate different traditions and tastes.

Is there anyone in your life that you could extend hospitality to this year? How can you use this to share the love of Christ with them, and explore new Thanksgiving traditions?

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4. Be Flexible

4. Be Flexible

“'For I know the plans I have for you,' declares the Lord, 'plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future'” (Jeremiah 29:11).

My plan is not God’s plan. And that’s ok, because His plans are good. That Thanksgiving wasn’t exactly what I planned. I was lonely for a good part of it. I was pretty hungry for most of a holiday focused on food. I was stressed with having to work and get a newspaper out, and trying to cook my first Thanksgiving dinner. I was tired from all this planning.

But God still took all those problems and made something beautiful. Being inflexible and clutching our best-laid plans never ends well. At best, we grow frustrated and discontent when things don’t go our way. At worst, we start to think that God doesn’t care about us because He isn’t doing what we want.

This Thanksgiving, I invite you to let go of some of those expectations. Have hopes and plans, but be open to the unexpected ways that God can bless you this season. Maybe the turkey is burnt. Maybe your uncle gets stuck in traffic. Maybe the power goes out and you end up at a Chinese restaurant. Before you get too flustered, take a deep breath and look for the little blessings. When we pray for hearts of thankfulness, we will remember what’s most important and roll with the punches that will inevitably come.

Thanksgiving this year doesn’t have to be perfect, but in Christ, we can still lift up thankful hearts for all that we do have!

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