What Mama Taught Me About Giving Thanks…

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God never meant for children to receive underwear for Christmas.  The Wise Men did not bring Jesus underwear as one of their gifts.  Christmas is for toys and joys.  Underwear falls into neither category.

Yet every year of childhood, one of my aunts seemed designated to give me underwear.  One year it might be Aunt Mildred; another year, Aunt Lola.  At least those years were better than Aunt Bill’s year; she would give hand me downs from her son Bob (and yes, I have an Aunt Bill.  Her name is Billie Jean.  It’s a Southern thing).  I never knew if this was orchestrated by my mother or not.

There was less money those days.  Mama knew I needed underwear more than toys.  I already knew enough Bible to know Adam and Eve didn’t wear underwear.  I told Mama I didn’t need any either, but she told me they sinned and God made them wear underwear.  Then she informed me I had sinned also, so I needed to wear underwear, too (“Let him who is without sin among you not wear underwear?”).

One Christmas, my underwear frustration reached its peak.  I think it was Aunt Iris’s turn to buy me underwear.  I opened the package and saw six pairs of white Fruit of the Looms.  In disgust, I threw down the box and exclaimed, “I hate getting underwear for Christmas!”

The crowded room of aunts, uncles, and cousins went quiet.  In a low lethal voice, my mother approached.  Hissing through clenched teeth, she told me to go outside with her.

My previous experience taught me going outside would be detrimental to my backside, since last year’s Christmas gift was not padded in that particular area.  I shook my head “no” whereupon my mother seized my ear, twisted it and lead me through the living room and the kitchen and onto the back porch. Parents were more direct then.

Once the door closed, my mother began to instruct me on the finer points of etiquette.  She told me Aunt Iris didn’t have to give me a present, underwear was something I needed, and it was kind of Aunt Iris to spend her hard-earned money on me.  Then to drive the lesson home, she applied her hand to my bottom and sent me back into the living room to tell Aunt Iris “Thank you.”

My face was flushed red as the entire family watched me approach Aunt Iris, head lowered, ready to mumble my “thank you.”  Before I could stammer out any words, Aunt Iris said in her no-nonsense voice, “Look me in the eye, son, when you talk to me.”  Apparently, she was in on me learning this lesson as well.

I lifted my head, looked at her steely eyes, and said, “Thank you Aunt Iris for the underwear.”  Then, she smiled, and said, “You are welcome.”  I thought I saw her throw a conspiratorial wink at my mother, but I’m not certain.

Mama and Aunt Iris taught me one of my most important life lessons that Christmas:  Give thanks to the giver, not thanks for the gift.

This Thanksgiving families will gather and express thanks for food, blessings, and each other.  That’s fine.  Just remember, it’s not about the gifts.  It is about who gave them to you.

Remember to look God in the eye and say, “Thank you.”  Still your soul long enough and you might hear, “You are welcome.”

Maybe you’ll catch God winking.

When Jesus Gave Thanks…

Jesus gives thanks

It’s strange to think about Jesus giving thanks.  After all, Christians believe he was the God in flesh.  It seems odd for him to thank his Heavenly Father for anything.  But Jesus did give thanks.

When he fed the five thousand, he gave thanks for the five loaves and two fish.  I wonder why?  I know I would have been filled with anxiety: “Father, don’t fail me now!”  Jesus had such a sense of himself and his power that he approached the challenge with gratitude.

Would my approach to challenges change if approached them with gratitude instead of anxiety?  What if I started each day by giving thanks for what I have been given, instead of focusing on what I lack?

One of the oddest times Jesus gave thanks is recorded in Matthew 11: “I thank you Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants.” Before this, Jesus spoke about cities that wouldn’t listen to his message.  I think he is giving thanks to God that even though smart people can make things so complicated they are hard to understand, the good news that God loves you can be understood by any child.

What if I stopped worrying so much about what I don’t understand about God and savored what I do understand about God?  How would my life change if I spent time focusing on the amazing reality that God loves me?  What if God’s love was the basis for trying to understand everything else about him?

After they rolled away the stone from Lazarus’s tomb, and before Jesus told Lazarus to come out, he prayed a prayer of thanks: “Father, I thank you for having heard me.  I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me.”  Jesus thanks his Father for listening, which is a little like me thanking you for breathing.  Listening is is what our Heavenly Father does.  Jesus then offers the odd phrase that he’s praying this prayer of thanks so people believe.  Jesus knew people needed to understand the source of the miracle about to happen.

Do I tell God “thank you” enough for being who he is?  God could have been cruel, deceitful, and heartless.  God is not.  An old song said, “Not because of what you’ve done, but because of who you are…”  Maybe Thanksgiving is a time when I can speak my thanks out loud so others can believe.

When Jesus interrupted the Passover to introduce a new covenant meal, he gave thanks for the bread and the cup.  He did this knowing full well what waited for him the next day.  Why did he give thanks for the symbols of his own body being broken and his own blood being poured out?  Could it be that Jesus so trusted his Heavenly Father’s plan, he could be grateful in the face of pain?  Could it be that Jesus was able to give thanks because he knew whatever he faced, His Heavenly Father would on the other side of the pain?

What if I became like Jesus?  What if when faced with a crisis, I gave thanks that God would be there before the crisis, during the crisis, and after the crisis?

Jesus paused to give thanks to His Heavenly Father.  If it was important enough for him to do, shouldn’t it be important enough for me to do, too?

How to Start the Week After Thanksgiving

 

Most of us come to the Monday after Thanksgiving with looming dread.  We’ve been on a four day orgy of food, shopping, and football.  People who really have it together also have their house decorated for Christmas.  But Monday comes knocking relentlessly, telling us that school has to be finished, projects put on the shelf must be brought off and pushed to completion, and deadlines still loom.  Monday has a way of squeezing gratitude out of our souls.

You and I need to rebel against letting Monday rob us of gratitude.  Everything you were thankful on Thursday is still in effect:

  • God is still in control.  He is gracious and kind, forgiving and patient. Aren’t you grateful?
  • You are still alive. Your life is gift, every day of it.  Aren’t you grateful?
  • Not only are you alive, you still have mission, a purpose.  God made you for a reason.  That reason still stands.  Aren’t you grateful?
  • God is putting people in your life to care for you and for you to care for.  Aren’t you grateful?
  • Our good God made the world to have colors like orange, yellow, and red.  Autumn is the time to remember to thank God for unnecessary colors.  Aren’t you grateful?
  • Our good God also made food taste good.  Think about it.  He could have made everything taste like liver.  Instead, He made: sugar to sweeten tea with; guavas; ribs; steak; potatoes that can be mashed, baked, or boiled; oranges; tangerines; peas; chocolate; chicken that can be baked, fried, or grilled; butter; bread; corn on the cob; broccoli; tomatoes; cucumbers; and my sister’s coconut cream pie.  Aren’t you grateful?
  • Our good God made you so you would recognize a loving touch, be wary of an angry voice, and want to smile at babies.  Aren’t you grateful?
  • For both Gators and Gamecocks, God made next year a hope.  Aren’t you grateful?

The point of this is to remind you to stay grateful my friends.  Thanksgiving isn’t just a day; it’s a way of life.