Thanksgiving memories conjure up a lot of memorable stories. Not all good, not all bad, but all memorable.
I want to tell you a bit about my grandfather.
I almost never talk about him, and people who know me well may never hear this story
My grandfather struggled with alcoholism and so we didn’t see him very much. I remember the last time I saw him, I was about 7 or 8, and it was Thanksgiving. He picked me up, told me how big I was getting, tussled my hair and gave me a kiss. His breath was terrible.
In the car my parents argued about how he had promised to be on good behavior and he broke those promises.
The next year he wasn’t there, but he bought the turkey and all the fixings so that we would have a nice meal.
Soon after that we learned that he had ruined the family business and was living off of food stamps. He called my mom, broke, alone and crying, saying that he was sorry, and that he was going to buy the turkey and have it shipped to us. We forgot about it, shrugged it off, knowing that he was full of promises that often went unfulfilled.
But three days before thanksgiving we received a package from him. It wasn’t big enough for a turkey. But inside were a month’s worth of food stamps with a note that said, “I’m thankful for you”.
I don’t know how he spent that thanksgiving, but I do know that it was his last.
Families, man. Can’t live with ‘em, can’t be thankful without them.
I went back and forth on whether or not to share this story of my Grandfather with this room of strangers and I decided to for two reasons:
1) Some people find holidays a difficult time and might appreciate such a story and
2) Life is messy! And even when we’re not perfect, or even passable, we’re in it together.
I think- actually I know- that the reason he loved Thanksgiving was that for one day- one grand gesture, he could be in relationship with us, and be thankful for what was good, even if just that one day. For one day, he lived the life he always wanted for himself and us.
For one day, he could tussle our hair, hold our hands, and give thanks to his creator for a life full of blessings.
For one day, he could send the message to his family that he loved them and cared for them.
And we heard that message, and that one day reverberates in my head on the fourth Thursday of November each year.
There’s a story in the Gospel of Luke about 10 lepers who are healed by Jesus and only 1 returns to give thanks
That’s about right. Not one in 10 people, but I’d say we’re all usually 1/10th as thankful as we should be.
For my grandfather his 1/10th was one huge gesture, but for others, it’s simply the act of regular worship. CS Lewis said that worship is the most perfect thing we could do as imperfect people and I think that’s right.
In our worship we have an order of confession and forgiveness in the beginning of the service, and a Eucharist- which means thanksgiving- at the end and it serves as a reminder that being forgiveness naturally leads us to giving thanks.
I have forgiven my grandfather as I hope others have forgiven me.
So this week, I pray that you have a memorable thanksgiving. Not good, not bad, but memorable. I pray that you do so with people you’re thankful for, and I pray that those who have gone before us continue to teach us life’s most valuable lesson:
Life is short, and yet full of thanksgiving.