Thanksgiving was the first holiday we celebrated after moving to this old red-brick farmhouse in southeastern Pennsylvania. Tomorrow, we will celebrate our fifth Thanksgiving in this place. Is it any wonder I am looking back?
Every year, we have roasted a turkey bought from a local Lancaster County farmer. I no longer attempt complicated new recipes because these turkeys are so flavorful. There are many reasons to take good care of animals, only one of them that our food will taste better and be better for us.
Our families live too far for Thanksgiving travel, but every year, we have enjoyed our turkey with friends. Some years, we have placed one extension in the dining-room table. Other years, we have used all three and turned the whole thing on the diagonal. But always there have been friends.
There has also been darkness. Our American holiday ushers in the darkest season for the northern hemisphere, but darkness comes in many forms.
That first Thanksgiving, I was half-paralyzed by anxiety. I knew the infant daughter in my arms was a good gift, but it would be a long time before I would be able to feel my own gratitude.
Since then, friends have brought sorrows of their own. The sharing of a sorrow is as much a gift as pumpkin pie carried in a box.
So many of the faces I am remembering were struggling with loneliness or depression. Others had just received a difficult diagnosis, as if their sinking ship had been christened with a name. Friends who will join us tomorrow arrived last year with three children, but this year their arms hold only two.
You do not share gratitude like a Thanksgiving party game when there is a sorrow like that in the room.
Gratitude is no game. It is a lifeline. We all live in sinking ships, but when I give thanks there is an anchor.
Scripture says we should “rejoice inasmuch as [we] participate in the sufferings of Christ” (I Peter 4:13).
I rejoice because our suffering is not pointless. It matters. It has meaning. And I rejoice because God’s goodness and comfort is as near as a table set before me. I may not always feel it. My first Thanksgiving here, I could feel only numbed and overwhelmed, but five years later, I can say with confidence that I was never alone or abandoned.
This year, I am grateful to live in a house of mourning. I rejoice because God has given me the great privilege of sitting at tables with others who suffer. Though our sorrows may be unresolved, though our hope hangs on the promise of another day and another table, that one set for a wedding feast, there is still comfort on this day.
Every Sunday, the children in my young daughter’s Sunday School class sit at a table and enjoy a paper napkin pile of goldfish crackers. But before they eat, they sing: “God our Father, God our Father, once again, once again, we thank you for our blessings, thank you for our blessings, Amen.”
Like those four-year-olds, I remember my anchor every time I sit down to eat. On ordinary Monday nights, I sit “once again” with my children at the dinner table. Tomorrow, I will sit “once again” with grieving friends at a table set with a Thanksgiving feast.
Once again, we will receive the grace of heaven in bread and wine.
Once again, we will taste it in cranberry sauce and a Lancaster County turkey.
Once again, and always, God is so good to us.
There is abundant grace in the simple pleasures of the table. Last Thanksgiving, I attempted to replicate something I had seen on Pinterest, convinced that it would fail. I baked my usual stuffing recipe in a bundt pan. My two friends stood, one at each elbow, while I turned the stuffing out onto a glass cake stand with a great deal of fear and trembling. We shrieked with delight when we saw a perfect fluted ring. It was only stuffing made to look pretty, but it was also a gift on a day when my friends and I sorely needed it.
- 1-2 lb chicken wings, each cut into two pieces
- olive oil
- bread stuffing made according to your favorite recipe, but not yet baked
- Poke holes in each wing segment. Saute in olive oil in a large skillet, about 5 min. for each side, until golden brown.
- Set wings aside.
- Transfer prepared stuffing mixture to a well-greased bundt pan. Arrange wings on top.
- Cover well with foil and bake on rimmed baking sheet for 45 min. to an hour, or until cooked through.
- Remove wings. Set aside for another use (I use them to make broth).
- Slide a spatula between stuffing and pan in case of sticking. Carefully turn stuffing out onto a platter or cake stand.