The clock by the side of my bed beckoned to me as though the inanimate object had a relentless will to interrupt my night’s rest with an agenda so important that sleep had to succumb to the neon-illuminated hands of the night stalker. “Get up,” the clock demanded. “Hurry! The time approaches!” the timepiece exclaimed. Somewhere around 3:00 a.m., I submitted. Surely one so wise as to calculate passing seconds, mark the moments in which life is lived, or announce the hour when the appointment must be kept could not be wrong. I would obey. I would yield my will. I would arise.
“Honey,” I said to my husband as I gently stroked his back. “Ready to get up and go shopping?”
“Nooooooo,” he muttered. I paused for a moment and then tried again. My second call caused him to roll toward me and open his eyes. “Are you serious?”
We had discussed rising early for our first-ever Black Friday shopping experience. However, after a day of Thanksgiving cooking, eating, entertaining, cleaning, working, celebrating, and eating again, we had determined we were too tired to attempt the world’s most bizarre shopping experience. That was - - - until Mr. Clock worked his magic.
I suppose that the persistent nature of the clock had somehow transferred to me, because I convinced my husband of the urgent need for us to forego rest and arise to the challenge of shopping. We walked through the doors of our first store by 4:00 a.m.
When we saw the check-out line, we formulated a plan: he would stand in line, while I ran to find the items that were on the family’s wish list. We were armed with our cell phones. He would call me if he neared the check-out before I reappeared from amidst the masses of jubilant holiday shoppers with my early-bird priced treasures in tote. What a marvelous use of time. In under an hour, we were in and out of store #1.
Our successes suggested that we had chosen wisely. No wonder so many people with sweet holiday spirits elected to shop on Black Friday! Negative news stories about this day must surely have been reported incorrectly! We were confident that Mr. Clock had given us sound advice - - - until we entered store #2.
Three million people had decided to shop Target before sunrise. I might be underestimating – it could have been four million. We squeezed our way through an agitated crowd to get to that special doll only to find it already sold out. We maneuvered our passage around the swarm of less-than-cheerful shoppers toward the video games to discover empty bins. After several hours of arduous efforts, we had two gifts. Two!
We entered the check-out line that wrapped around the store three times. Then my wristwatch started to talk to me. It taunted me. It refused to tick tock on the regular pace. NO! It slowed to a crawl. Now I have experienced long days and endless hours throughout my life: studying for final exams in college, sitting in the dentist chair, waiting for tax-returns, flying trans-continental half way around the world, and laboring in child birth. To that short list of elongated time distortion, I was considering adding Black Friday.
What seemed like hours and hours later, we emerged from the store only to find the sun just rising on the horizon. The whole day lie before me. There was time for breakfast out plus time to return home and set up the Christmas tree.
As Black Friday ended and I climbed into bed, I came face to face with my alarm clock. It seemed to smile as though waiting for me to give adulation for its wisdom in time management. I smiled, nodded, turned its face toward the wall and said, “Merry Christmas to all and to all a Good Night.”
Recalling the Heritage of Thanksgiving
Within days, we will sit down to our decorated tables inside our comfortable homes and consume a scrumptious feast. We will probably eat too much. We may enjoy the fellowship of family and friends. We might even ‘veg out’ in front of the latest wide-screen, digital-display TV to cheer our favorite football teams to victory. Ah, Thanksgiving Day with all its modern-day festivities has become embedded within the American culture.
Heritage is important. Traditions matter. They bond a society together and ensure that the generations will remember. They produce a cultural and generational synergy that not only creates ethnic identity but also engenders national loyalty. They usually begin because an exceptional event has transpired or because a person or a people group has accomplished extraordinary achievements. For example, our nation’s independence is celebrated on the Fourth of July while Jesus’ birth is commemorated at Christmas. Accurately remembering the reason for the tradition guarantees the propagation and safeguarding of the heritage.
Thanksgiving was first celebrated by the Pilgrims in 1621. Its roots are firmly planted in biblical faith. In 1620, one hundred and three pilgrims departed England for America because religious persecution had brought harm to their persons, families, reputations, and livelihoods. The Pilgrims described their mission in their Mayflower Compact in the following words: “having undertaken for the glory of God and advancement of Christian faith a voyage to plant the first colony in the northern parts of Virginia.”
Throughout the first hard winter, fifty-one people died. In March of 1621, a Native American named Squanto joined the pilgrims. William Bradford, who was the governor of Plymouth Colony, wrote in his famous work, Of Plymouth Plantation, “[Squanto] was a special instrument sent of God for their good beyond their expectation. He showed them how to plant corn, where to take fish and other commodities, and guided them to unknown places, and never left them till he died.”
On November 23, 1623, three years after the Pilgrims landed and two years after their first Thanksgiving celebration, Governor Bradford declared the day an official holiday. “In as much as the great Father has given us this year an abundant harvest of Indian corn, wheat peas, beans, squashes, and garden vegetable, and has made the forest to abound with game and the sea with fish and clams, and inasmuch as he has protected us from the ravages of the savages, has spared us from pestilence and disease, has granted us freedom to worship God according to the dictates of our own conscience; now I, your magistrate, do proclaim that all ye Pilgrims, with your wives and ye little ones, do gather at ye meeting house . . . there to listen to ye pastor and render thanksgiving to ye Almighty God for all His blessings.”
For 390 years, Americans have feasted on God’s bounty and enjoyed His goodness as we have celebrated Thanksgiving. Some citizens have given thanks to God. Some have just given thanks while not identifying the one to whom the thankfulness should be directed. In order for our nation to fully commemorate this national holiday, we should be mindful of the biblical faith of the Pilgrims who, while suffering hardships, trusted in an Almighty God. “But these things did not dismay them (though they did sometimes trouble them) for their desires were set on the ways of God and to enjoy His ordinances; but they rested in His providence and knew whom they had believed.” (Bradford’s farewell address)
May your Thanksgiving Day be filled with abundant blessings and overflow with the goodness of God, and may you return your thankfulness back to the One from whom all blessings flow. In the spirit of the Pilgrims, Happy Thanksgiving!
When the Leaves Fall
I sat at my kitchen table looking through the window as the sun was rising and casting early morning rays upon the fall landscape. The beautifully-colored foliage, which had adorned the trees for the past few days, had endured a hard wind throughout the night. Many leaves had been knocked off the branches and were now creating a kaleidoscope of color on the ground. Almost immediately, my memory was flooded with thoughts of my childhood and snapshots of my children’s younger days when piles of leaves meant hours of play. My heart warmed at the reflections.
As I continued to gaze and reminisce, I became aware that I could see the neighbor’s home across the pond. Throughout the summer days when the trees were thick with foliage, that sight had been blocked. The plethora of lush green leaves filled all the branches creating sort of a barrier to that which lay beyond. The greenness of the grass, the looming 25 foot high maple, and the flourishing bushes of summer all told me that my immediate surrounds could fill me with abundance, fruitfulness, and bounty at my finger-tips. I did not have to look far or search for distant treasures when summer’s copious growth reached to my doorstep.
But that morning, I noted that the tree only sported about one-fourth of its leaves, the grass was faded and sparse, and the bushes only donned a few spots of brown foliage. Although the autumn colors were lovely, the landscape seemed to be testifying that the season of abundance was fading from view.
My reflections were almost immediately replaced with contemplations. I thought of the time when our family was in a major season shift. My husband’s career had yielded great satisfaction to him and a good income for the household. We had been able to build a new home that had enough bedrooms for our five children and even included a pool in the back yard. Each week the paycheck came. Life was full with that season’s proliferation.
Church ministry opportunities beckoned to both me and my husband. I was frequently being called upon to travel and teach the Bible. He was offered an opportunity to plant a new church and fill the senior pastoral roll. After much prayer and seeking counsel, we decided he would be bi-vocational until ministry could financially support our family. We planned to traverse the seasons without any change to our thriving environment.
Then one night, a hard wind blew. It came in the form of a fire that burned our business to the ground. As we surveyed our immediate surroundings, the lushness and the bounty of the past season had been stripped from view. The big warehouse, the stored inventory, the pending jobs, the stacks of contracts all lay in grey ashes on the ground. Before the fire, we had no need to look far or search for distant treasures because that season’s copious growth reached to our doorstep. But with the leaves of the former season stripped away, we were afforded the opportunity to look beyond and discover what had been formerly obscured from our view. For us, a new world of full-time ministry was on the horizon.
My morning reflections stirred me to think about the disciples and the death of Jesus. His followers endured the storm of the crucifixion and discovered that their booming, flourishing ministry was in ashes. But beyond the grave lay the resurrection. The falling away of the former season produced a view that was previously obscured. New days and new horizons became visible.
I arose from my window view on that fall morning with happy memories and hopeful expectations. No one can avoid the changing seasons. But when the burgeoning season begins to dry up and the leaves begin to fall, we have the opportunity to look beyond and discover a future of new possibilities.
A War of Words
The young man, David, stood before the giant. His mind was spinning. He must act and act quickly. He was keenly aware that his actions would result in life or death. When he awakened that morning to his regular routine of tending the sheep, he had no thought that the day could possibly be his last day alive.
Just after sunrise, David’s father, Jesse, had requested that his youngest son run supplies to three of his older brothers who were fighting with King Saul against the Philistine army. Loaded with food for his family and food for the captain of their regiment, David hurried to the front lines. He had arrived at the time when the two hosts went out to face one another with a battle of words. Insults flew even if ammunition did not.
David could feel his heart pounding within his chest. The very atmosphere felt electrified reminding David of the times when, while he was out on the field with the sheep, the sky pelted the earth with torrential rains and great bolts of lightning. Amidst the tumultuous noise of the soldiers’ shouts, David found his brothers. Barely had he begun to dispatch his father’s communiqué when the champion of the Philistines marched onto the field. The giant Goliath, who stood over 9 feet tall, hurled curses at the Israelites and the God that they served. For forty days, he had waged a word war, attacked with verbal insults, fought with spoken weapons. For forty days, the armies of the Lord had been thwarted at the sight of him, defeated by the threats he threw, and conquered by the fear of him.
David stood in dismay. None of his imaginings of the battle field had yielded this scenario. Israel served the God of their forefathers who had defeated Egypt in the mighty Exodus event, caused the walls of Jericho to crumble at the sound of a shout, and pummeled the armies of five Amorite kings with hail during wartime in Joshua’s day. When David was a young child, Jesse had rehearsed the glories of battle to his children. Dad’s words had struck David’s heart creating faith and had delivered truth into David’s soul securing hope. For the honor of his nation, his people, and his God, David determined he must fight Goliath.
His eldest brother, Eliab, accused him of vain ambitions of a youth; and the King, Saul, forewarned him that Goliath had been a soldier longer than David had been alive. Nonetheless, the word war launched from brother and King could not conquer his courage. David remembered his battle with a bear who sought to ravage his father’s sheep and a lion who tried to annihilate the flock. David had conquered. God had aided. Those fights yielded supernatural victories. Why should David expect a different outcome when the flock to be protected was the people of God? David’s courage mounted. He could go up against the Philistine.
There, on the field of battle, David stood before the giant whose armor weighed more than of David’s body and the head of his spear equaled the circumference of David’s torso. The sounds of Goliath’s threats to feed the boy’s dead carcass to the vultures became muted by the shouts of resolution emanating from David’s passion. He ran – not away from the threats to cower in fear – but toward the enemy. He ran. David ran while loading his slingshot with a stone from the brook. David ran while pulling backwards on the slingshot’s pouch. David ran as he released the pouch and fired the projectile into the air. It landed. The rock landed into the forehead of Goliath.
When he awakened that morning to his regular routine of tending the sheep, he had no thought that the day could possibly be his last day alive. But by the day’s end, David was alive and Goliath was dead. The war of words had ended with the victory of faith. The enemy of the Lord had become the conquest of the people of God.