Giving thanks with a truly grateful heart

Sally Oakes's picture

I’ve enjoyed some of the reality shows on PBS. They get some families together to reenact some of the American history. One series is called “Colonial House.” Producers found an undeveloped piece of land in New England and brought several families, couples, and single people together to build a colony, as the early settlers did in the 1600s. They wore the same kind of shoes and clothing, used the same kind of tools, and brought the same amount of food provisions.

The people who came represented a reasonable cross-section of those who might have come back then, too.

The Colonial House participants, like the earliest settlers, had only the provisions their business sponsors had given them. It included food, lumber, and hay for animals. They had to make it last while they worked to grow their own. If a garden didn’t produce well, or worse, if it failed, it would be a long, hungry winter. If they didn’t cut enough dry wood, it would be a cold one, too.

It brings me to mind of the winter of 1620-21. Legend has it that each member of the colony was alotted five kernels of corn per day. To remember our forebears, many families today set their Thanksgiving table with five corn kernels at each place, as a way of remembering the death and starvation that marked that winter.

The summer of 1621 yielded a good crop. We’ve known the story since grade school: the Wampanoag assisted the colonists, showing them how to make a more productive yield and at the end of the summer, they were rewarded. They celebrated with a feast together, with the Wampanoag bringing the piece de resistance — a deer. There might have been a wild turkey on the table, but ... well, let’s just say they didn’t call their thanksgiving celebration “Turkey Day” and a butterball was just a ball of butter.

Now, 386 years later, our country has grown coast to coast and then some! I’m not an idealist who wants to paint a picture of a country that has not been marred by human sin. There are some things in our past we ought not be proud of. Things like child labor, slavery, and the Trail of Tears are best left behind with the resolution to never repeat such inhumanity. However, I’m still captivated by those five kernels of corn and what has become of that colony.

That those meager seeds multiplied into a feast over a single summer is a miracle akin to the multiplication of the loaves and fishes. God provides when we step out in faith. Let’s look at that a moment.

Jesus uses a four-fold formula to distribute the loaves and fishes. He repeats it again at his last supper. Here it is in Matthew 14:19, “Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the people.” The same formula is repeated in Matthew 15:36.

He takes the provisions, gives thanks, breaks them, and distributes them. The loaves were multiplied and all were fed. There’s no such thing as a magical formula to produce God’s blessings, but let’s look at Jesus’ four actions.

(1) He takes them. He accepts what is given and the amount that is given.

(2) He gives thanks to God for what he’s given, acknowledging that God is the provider.

(3) He breaks it. Until a loaf of bread is broken, it’s pretty much useless. And

(4) he gives it away.

What can we learn from these four actions this Thanksgiving? Accept what you’re given. The early settlers had no choice but to accept very little, but it was multiplied. Then, give thanks to God for it. He’s the source of all your blessings — the source of the food on your table, the source of the roof over your head, the source of your clothing, your employment and even the TV on which we watch specials like “Colonial House.”

Next, break the bread. Don’t be so glad of what you have that you never use it! I had a friend whose mom never wore her good perfume and it eventually went rancid. She never got to enjoy the very thing that she treasured.

And last, give it. The loaves and fishes were not multiplied until they were given.

Most of all, remember. Remember what all of our fathers and mothers endured (mine endured the Great Depression), and what their fathers and mothers endured and survived, and what our great-great grandparents came through. And before we sit down to farm-raised turkey and pumpkin pie from canned pumpkin puree, as we adorn our turkey with cranberries (my favorite way), and before we pick the rosy-cheeked, chubby Puritan salt and pepper shakers, let us remember the Winter of 1620 – 21. And give God thanks with truly grateful hearts.

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