It takes a lot of work to enjoy Thanksgiving. That sentence reveals that I am viewing this national holiday from one particular point of view. Right? Obviously, I am not the young child who will be called to the dinner table to “chow down” on all the goodies that someone else prepared. Obviously, too, I am not the honored guest for whom the banquet has been prepared. NO. I am ‘The Preparer’. I am the grocery-buyer, pie-baker, turkey-cooker, dressing-maker, table-setter, meal-preparer. And as I already said, “It takes a lot of work to enjoy Thanksgiving.”
Years ago, my mom was the host of the annual family Thanksgiving meal. She planned the menu and did most of the cooking. She always assigned me the pies. Somewhere between my teens and adulthood, my grandma taught me the art of making a flaky pie crust. And, when grandma entered the honored guest status, I was the next in line to be the pastry chef. I would bake a traditional pumpkin, a pumpkin chiffon with praline crust, an apple with a lattice crust, an apple with a crumble topping, and a lemon meringue. For many years, that was my contribution to our family meal. Turkey, dressing, and all the sides were thanks to mom.
Then the fateful day arrived when mom announced that she was ready to move to the honored guest status. My heart was thrilled to think that my sister, my brother, and I could repay her for all her years of feeding the clan, which had grown from a small two-parents, three-children, and one-grandma clan of six to three sets of married children and their children for a clan of over 50. No wonder she was ready to pass the tradition to the younger. It takes a lot of work to enjoy Thanksgiving.
My sister, who is the oldest of my siblings, decided to take her rightful place in the birth order in which authority should flow. Without hesitancy and with great conviction, she decided that she would pass and the I could be the new Thanksgiving family meal host. She appointed me to take mom’s place. My graduation day from pie baker to all around banquet maker had arrived. And with one retirement from my mom and one abdication by my sister, my reign as ‘The Preparer’ began.
Years have passed. Grandma has passed. Mom has passed. Many a Thanksgiving Day has passed. Many things have continued. Mom had a copper electrical skillet in which she always made the sweet potatoes. I still use that. The dressing recipe has passed down through at least four generations. I still make that. The wish bone breaking ceremony between the oldest male and the youngest boy is a steadfast tradition. The winner, who is the one with the big end of the bone and who is always supposed to be the child, will make his wish. I still insist on that. And our time of prayer is undoubtedly my most cherished continuing tradition.
When mom was ‘The Preparer’, she established the giving of thanks in prayer because her mom held that the main purpose of the holiday was remembering to be thankful. From grandma to mom to me, our family still practices thankful prayers. We thank the Lord that He has graced us to live in a nation that offers a chance for liberty. We offer praise for family and friends. We express gratitude for all the many benefits that the Lord provides for us. And – above all – we give glory to the Lord for salvation that is ours because Jesus did the hard work and became ‘The Preparer’ of the way to eternal life. Jesus prepared a table and welcomes us as His honored guest. Thanksgiving is possible because someone does the hard work, and the giving of thanks is our proper response. As we do each year, this year our family will again worship. I invite you to join in that most cherished of thanksgiving traditions.
My vocation as a preacher and teacher of the Bible has afforded me decades of opportunities to present the Word of God in pulpits and seminars not only in my own church but also throughout the States and in many countries. I view my work as both a privilege and an honor. For the past four years, I have had the amazing opportunity to travel to Germany each October to minister in cities around the southwestern part of the nation.
Germany has captured my heart. The first year I arrived, I only knew what I had learned from books. From that point forward, things began to change because I met the people. My hosts shared with me their life journeys, their family histories, and their soul ambitions. They took me on a few sight-seeing excursions and narrated the scenes with their childhood memories and adulthood recollections. German history and German experiences converged. Germany became personalized.
Throughout these years, I have met many more citizens of Deutschland and ministered in many more cities. I have eaten home cooking from home makers in home kitchens. What an amazing chance to be indoctrinated into culture! I’ve sat at the dinner table with moms and dads and their children as the events of the day have been rehearsed. We’ve laughed at life’s ironies and cried over life’s difficulties. German people have become specific individuals.
This past year, I ministered fourteen times in twelve days in five different locations. I rode several planes from St. Louis, through Atlanta, through Amsterdam, and into Stuttgart. There were train rides from Stuttgart to Bingen, from Bingen to Frankfort, from Frankfort to Wurzburg. I traveled hundreds of miles by car on the autobahn at exceptional speeds and on one-lane rural roads at a cautious pace. I lodged next to the Rhine River in Rudersheim and toured the 1,500-year-old city of Rothenburg. The still-life snapshots of Germany found in travel brochures became a moving landscape where real people live real lives.
Then, there was the language difference. I speak English – only. All of my hosts were bilingual – English and German. Most of the time, both dialects were included in every conversation. At times, it would take two listeners to make German sense of one of my English comments. Other times, it would take two sentences in English for me to make sense of one of their German thoughts. Then – there was the preaching. Every thought required translation. The Bible originally written in Hebrew or Greek translated into English and then read and explained in English had to be heard in English and then re-presented in German. If that explanation sounds complicated, then I have clearly communicated the complexity of communication that had to be overcome. In the end, diversity of languages did not hinder us, and the universality of people’s stories and biblical truth was communicated.
Germany is the land of automotive engineering exceptionalism, the home to around 25,000 castles, famous for pretzel breads and wiener schnitzel, remembered for Martin Luther and the birth of the Reformation, and historically tainted from Nazi days during Hitler’s regime. Across the world and for almost all people in our present day, everyone knows something about Germany. As for me, the sterile stories of history have come to life through vibrant lives of my German friends, and the vacuous information about a nation and nationality has been transformed by intimate familiarity. Thanks to all my hosts who gave me more than a trip of a lifetime. Germany has become engraved upon my heart.
I arrived home late at night from a week out of town. My husband picked me up from the airport and drove me home. It was dark when we pulled into the garage. I could only see what the headlights illuminated, and that was nothing more than the road directly in front of me.
Morning arrived all too early. I could smell the coffee as my husband had gone into the kitchen before I awakened and hit the brew button. I shuffled out of the bedroom. He had coffee mugs in hand and was ready to head to the back deck and our favorite swing to greet the first rays of sunshine. Although everything within me wanted to return to bed, I succumbed to his charm and our morning ritual. Outside we headed.
I settled into the swing with my eyes barely open. Travel fatigue was causing me to scarcely see anything except that which was right in front of my face. My husband talked about his activities while I was away. I listened and sipped my hot coffee. Before long, his enthusiasm and the caffeine began to work their magic. I opened my eyes and looked up. I looked up and looked around. I looked around and gazed in wonder. Something marvelous had occurred. Fall had come to the Midwest.
Just one week out of town, and the maple tree in the neighbor’s back yard had become bejeweled with red foliage. Across the lake, I could see tones of bright yellows and vibrant oranges. The water acted like a mirror, reflecting the images along with their pallet of colors. The darkness of the previous night had concealed the pictography. The dullness of my morning fatigue had veiled the portrait. But there, waiting for me to wake up and look around, was the beauty of the season.
All throughout the day, I purposefully observed the many sights of Fall. As I drove out of my neighborhood, I noticed the large tractors and combines in the fields garnering the corn. The air was saturated with tiny particles of stalk residue generated from the harvesting, which triggered many memories of growing up in Illinois and October. I passed the Farmer’s Market and saw pumpkins lining the front of the store. Images of Jack-o-lanterns and pumpkin pies danced through my head.
I stopped at the grocery store where my attention was arrested by a kiosk loaded with caramel covered apples. I decided to ignore the calories and indulge myself with the once-a-year, fall-time treat. I could not go to the checkout line with just the items on my list. I had to purchase a small jug of apple juice and some cinnamon sticks because the season demanded that I fill my home with the aroma and my taste buds with the flavor of hot spicy cider so characteristic of Fall.
I spent the whole day with my eyes and my heart open. I thought about the number of times that I allow the darkness of a difficult situation, the gloom of a problematic circumstance, or the night of a challenging trial to make me look down and only see the road in front of me. How often had life made me weary causing me to become so myopic that I missed the beauty that surrounded me? Well, not that day.
Ecclesiastes 3:1 states, “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven.” (NIV) Thankfully, the morning after my dark night and my fatigue, I awakened and found that all around me was the beauty of the God-appointed season, the beauty of Fall.
My husband and I have taken up bike riding. I guess I should add the adverb ‘again.’ We have taken up bike riding, again. Several years ago we purchased those guaranteed-to-make-your-cycling-easier-kind of bicycles. They have hand brakes, 21 possible gears, extra padded seats, handy-dandy water bottle holders and gadgets to tell you trip information. They did not come with motors. We would supply the energy to propel them.
The first few months after our purchase, we discovered the bike trails of Madison County. We worked our way up to several hours of pedaling before the legs gave out. We were on our way to becoming decent middle-aged, low-to-average speed, short-to-medium distance, semi-casual to casual bike enthusiasts. Then, winter came and the bikes were put in storage.
Cold days passed and the spring thaw arrived, but our enthusiasm stayed in the deep freeze. Last summer, the only things that got exercise on our equipment were the spiders who had spun webs on the pedals. Resolve, determination, ambition, tenacity: those words that mark the extraordinary achievers were not to be found in the Amsden world of cycling. Nope – we had moved on to motorized vehicles with air conditioning and automatic transmissions.
One more candle on the birthday cake, five extra pounds, and a little warning from my husband’s heart doctor have renewed our vision. Yes, we again see the light. Ah, we again have heeded the challenge. Definitely, we have taken up bike riding – again. Challenges for summer riding include sweat dripping into your eyes, the hot sun baking your exposed skin and saturating your back, and warm air caking the perspiration into layers on your brow. Lest I be a glass half full kind of rider, there is also the beauty of the landscape, the freshness of summer fragrances, and many wonders available in the great outdoors. (Disingenuous? Maybe!)
However, now that fall has arrived, a few new challenges have presented themselves. Pollen, pollen, and more pollen! Then there is the sun coming up later and going down earlier. We are squeezing in our cycling before hurrying off to work or after close of business hours. One night the sun dropped before we could finish. That night I needed a special soap to remove the bugs that had hit my human windshield.
Last week, there was the memorable evening that we thought we could beat the impending weather system that the local meteorologist had forecast! We chose the bike trail nearest our home. We were a little over three miles down the path when we felt a few droplets. Dew from heaven – one of those many wonders available in the great outdoors – began to fall. It rained; it poured; it drenched us. We turned our bikes back toward the car and began to pedal for all we were worth. The musical accompaniment for the Wicked Witch of the West from Wizard of Oz played over and over in my thoughts. Soaked and exhausted we ended another wonderful day in the world of cycling.
I suppose I should end this rant with some inspirational thought. If truth be told, I am still looking for that inspiration. Until then, I will just smile through the irony and laugh through the absurdities. Bike riding is only for the strong of heart. (Allusion intended!)