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Going Deeper in Your Spiritual Life: Thanksgiving Reflection

Today is a little bit of a special episode. We’re continuing our series on going deeper in your spiritual life, and we wanted to pull something forward. Since this happens to be the week of Thanksgiving we have some Thanksgiving stories that we want to share with you looking at how to handle things when circumstances don’t go the way that we hope. How can those things actually teach us some really important lessons when it comes to walking more closely with God.

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Julie Lyles-Carr: You’re listening to the All Mom Does Podcast. I’m Julie Lyles car, your host, and today is a little bit of a special episode. We’re continuing our series on going deeper in your spiritual life, and we wanted to pull something forward. Since this happens to be the week of Thanksgiving.

I have a couple favorite Thanksgiving stories that I wanna share with you when it comes to thinking about how certain circumstances that don’t exactly go the way that we hope and maybe don’t even make Thanksgiving look exactly like we thought it was going to look, just how those things can actually teach us some really important lessons when it comes to walking more closely with God.

So take a listen and I hope that you and yours have an amazing Thanksgiving. We sat down and we had our Thanksgiving prayer. And McKenna, who is my second child, she was about six years old then. She’s always been a stickler for detail, and she was sitting next to Mike’s precious grandmother, who we called Grammy, who at this time was in her late eighties.

Now, this particular Thanksgiving I had offered to do it at our home. And I had three, four little bitty kids somewhere in there. So you know how it goes. I mean, it was pulling out the wedding china and trying to make sure that all the stickers were off the back of the wedding china, you know, do you relate? Get all this china for your wedding shower and then you know, you don’t break it out for a while.

Well, I was getting out all the wedding china, making sure I had enough for everyone. We were gonna have Mike’s parents and Mike’s grandmother. I was doing real napkins, you know, cloth napkins, and I was getting those ironed and I switched around all the furniture in our house so I could have the bigger table in our family room and spread it all the way out with all the chairs.

I’m telling you, I went all out. This was one of the first years that Thanksgiving was going to be at my house, and I wanted it to be as big and beautiful and crisp and all the things as possible. And so when we finally got to sit down at that table after all those days of work, I know you can relate , I thought, oh, I’ve landed the plane.

I have done the thing. This is amazing. I did it. I have pulled off the perfect Thanksgiving. And then we sat down for that prayer with McKenna next to Grammy. Now, right before that prayer, we had done another thing which had everybody in kind of a teary frame of mind, I had printed out these little pieces of paper.

It looked like scrolls. You know, the kind of printed paper that has a design on it and you can make it look like something. And so I had had each of the kids talk about what they were thankful for with their grandparents and with Grammy. And so Madison had said something, you know, oh, I love Papa because he’s so generous and he’s so loving.

And then we’d done another one. I love Mimi because she’s so sweet. I’m so thankful for Mimi. I’m so thankful for Papa and, and we’d done one for Grammy. You know, I’m so thankful that Grammy’s so much fun. I’m so thankful that Grammy’s here with us. So that had been what we had put together as part of this Thanksgiving experience for everyone.

And we get ready to do that. We read all of the things we’re thankful for, for everyone around the table. We have our prayer, and then McKenna, in this teary moment that’s so sentimental. I see her get up from her chair next to Grammy and she gets up from the table and she goes back into the master bathroom and she comes back with something in her hand.

And I’m not really sure what she has. Now McKenna is my child who’s always paid attention to details. She’s always thinking about the little things that make up all of the components of something being big and successful. She makes sure that all of the T’s are crossed and all of the i’s are dotted. And so I didn’t think too much about it because she wasn’t one of my kids to just go rogue or something.

But as we continued being thankful and talking about what we were thankful for, McKenna wields what’s in her hand and what is in her hand is a shiny pair of silver tweezers, and she proceeds to reach up to Grammy and pluck a hair from Grammy’s chin. Yeah. Now, let me tell you, Grammy was one of these women.

She always looked like a million bucks. She always had her lipstick on, even if she was just going in for a doctor’s appointment, you know what I’m talking about? And she was completely blinged out for the entire Thanksgiving deal. So it was the thematic outfit with, you know, the fall leaves all on it.

And it was the earrings that matched the outfit and the cute shoes and the lipstick, all the things. And this is the person that McKenna decides it’s time to exfoliate her at the Thanksgiving table. I’m telling you, I had no contingency plan whatsoever in my Thanksgiving for this kind of event. I didn’t know what to do.

I was so horrified. And thankfully Grammy and all of her graciousness just said, well, I’m thankful McKenna is making sure that I don’t have chin hairs at the Thanksgiving table . So that’s how she handled it. But I gotta be honest, I was horrified. I mean, I was laughing, but I was also horrified because have you ever, have you ever been there?

Have you ever had a Thanksgiving just go a little bit awry? Not the way you planned. I was reading through some memes of people talking about how Thanksgiving went rogue on them, and it was everything from people saying, I completely forgot to turn the oven on. And so we had no Turkey whatsoever to all kinds of other disasters, things falling on the floor or the water pipes going out, or whatever the thing was. All these different experiences that sometimes people have at Thanksgiving, even in the midst of such solid planning, even in the place of spreadsheets, even in busting out the good china, sometimes things just don’t go the way that you planned.

Well, here’s the deal. We’re in good company . It is actually in the history of the holiday itself, so let me take you on a little history tour. We have this little vision of Thanksgiving in 1621 of these darling little pilgrims, and they’ve got bleached white starched colors, and they’re hanging out with these Native Americans who’ve been helping them, and they’re just having this big old feast, and it’s all cute and quaint, and it’s in this little village and everybody’s got little apple cheeks.

Well, the story of the first Thanksgiving actually began many years previous to what we think of as Thanksgiving, and that was in 1609. So in 1609 there was a group of people and they called themselves saints or separatists, and they wanted religious freedom .And so they left Scrooby England. Yes, that is the name of a real place, Scrooby, England.

And they went to Leadon Holland because it was there that they felt they were able to experience a little bit of religious freedom from King James, who was determined to keep both the crown and the church all intact under his power. And so they go to Leadon Holland and this group of Saints of Separatists.

They’re doing pretty well there. They got comfortable with their religious freedom and so comfortable did they become that their leader, A guy named William Brewster began to write some really tough articles about King James and what he considered the condition of the present day church. And these articles were very clear and very pointed about his opinion.

Now, here’s the deal. Leadon, Holland is not very far from England. And King James was not really delighted with what William Brewster was writing. He was frankly quite upset. So if you tick off the King of England bad enough, he can just put some guys in a ship, and he can just send that ship over to arrest you in Leadon Holland.

Apparently King James was happy to do so. So they come to arrest William Brewster. He was able to escape at that particular moment, but it dawned on these saints, these separatists, that they are still a hair too close, if you will, to be able to express their faith with the utmost freedom that they wanted to.

So they found out about a group called The Merchant Adventurers, and this was a group that was set on going to the new world. And so they joined this group and they set off in 1620 in a ship called the Mayflower. You got it. That’s right. Now what’s also interesting is that I always thought that these pilgrims, because that’s what we call them, these saints, these separatists, we usually go by the name of pilgrims.

It was like this whole big group that went on the joy bus to the new world. But it wasn’t. They were set alongside a lot of people whom they called the strangers who were entrepreneurs, some of whom were indentured servants, and there were probably a few rogues thrown in the mix trying to get out from underneath some kind of arrest warrant.

In all, there were 27 adult pilgrims, Saint Separatists. There were 43 strangers on the Mayflower and of the 102 passengers who made the voyage, there were 32 children. And I just want that to soak down a little bit. 32 kids with no travel DVD players, no disposable diapers, no snack packs. You know, for me as a mom who’s crisscrossed the country with a bunch of kids in the 15 passenger van, those numbers with those circumstances have deep significance for me.

So these pilgrims and these separatists and this handful of rogues, they finally make it over to the New World in December of 1620, and their schedule was way behind. It had never been the intention of the Merchant Adventurers group to be coming into the shores of the new world in the middle of winter.

And they navigated storms. They navigated really difficult conditions. They finally arrived, and the pilgrims at that time were able to build a few inadequate shelters. Their supplies were dwindling. And that first winter of the saints, the separatists, and the strangers, when they were on American soil, 45 of them die that first winter, 45.

Of the 18 adult women who made the voyage three died that first winter and another one died in the early spring, and by the time we get to that first Thanksgiving in the autumn of 1621, there are only four women left. These exhausted gals who have been raising their kids, other people’s children who are now orphaned, all trying to support the needs of an entire group of what was now 53.

53 of the original passengers actually made it to that first Thanksgiving. And their stats were not the only ones that were extremely alarming at that first Thanksgiving. The Native Americans who were there at the first Thanksgiving table, they had experienced as the early explorers came from Europe, their region on the East coast just wiped out up to 90% of their population, wiped out by European diseases. Now, can we just say that’s a pandemic of numbers that we’ve never experienced since? So these Native Americans are coming through a pandemic season that is unbelievable in the preceding years of European explorers coming over.

You know the man we think of so often when we think of that original Thanksgiving table, Squanto, he had actually been taken captive several years previous and had been taken by Spanish monks as a slave to Europe. He had then traveled Europe, he learned English, and then he came back to what we call the New World.

And when he came back, he discovered that his entire family had been wiped out and his entire tribe. But you know, Squanto had something really unique. He had forgiveness and he helped those early pilgrims to plant crops to learn the customs and the languages. He acted as an interpreter. He was so critical to their survival, this small group of people that remained to their survival in this land in which they were so unfamiliar.

They were so ill prepared to come into. So, when those folks, those saints and separatists, when those strangers and when those Native Americans get to that first Thanksgiving table, they’re not sitting down going, what a great year. It’s been amazing. They’re sitting down to really what was a very somber occasion.

They’re sitting down to a table where people they thought were going to be with them, aren’t. They are seated next to people who have different customs and different lifestyles. They’re sitting next to people that they have bonded with in times of deep hardship. They are sitting down in a time of extreme uncertainty.

They are sitting down in which they have had to learn how to do all kinds of things in completely new ways. They are out of physical touch with much of their extended family who had remained behind. And they are in the middle of a season of various mysterious illnesses and conditions that take out some of their people, that have deeply impacted the Native American community.

It’s a somber time at that first Thanksgiving. You know, it makes me think about in the book of Jonah, in the Old Testament. In chapter two in verse nine, it says, I will with a Song of Thanksgiving, make sacrifices to you. Now, when do you think it was that Jonah said that? Do you think it was that once the big fish spit him up, then that was when he utters this, that he will sing a song of Thanksgiving?

Or do you think it was once he made his rounds back to Nineveh and things kind of settled down and he did what he was supposed to do and things were calm, that he said, okay, now I’m gonna offer up this song of Thanksgiving. No. Jonah offered up his song of Thanksgiving when he was still in the belly of the fish.

Jonah’s the guy that God put on assignment and said, I want you to go talk to Nineveh, this is a city of people who are sinning, they’re getting themselves into all kinds of trouble. And you need to let them know that if they don’t straighten up their act, bad things are coming. And Jonah really and truly does not wanna do it.

He has no desire to go do what he’s been asked to do. And so he boards a ship and he decides to take off in a different direction from Nineveh. And in the course of that, a storm hits and he realizes, This is on me. I’m gonna cost all these people their lives because I’ve walked in disobedience and he has people throw him over into the water in order to save their lives.

And when that happens, he’s swallowed by this big fish where he remains for three days until he spit up on land. And while he’s in the belly of that fish is when he offers a song of Thanksgiving. You know the forefathers of this country, the pilgrims, the saints, the separatists, the strangers, and the Native Americans did something very important that first Thanksgiving of 1621. 

They offered a song of Thanksgiving while they were still in the belly of the whale, so to speak. They had no idea how things would turn out. They were in the midst of loss, pandemic illness, warfare, economic suppression, uncertainty. But they took a pause and they said, I will offer a song of Thanksgiving.

The Mayflower Society keeps track of different people who came over on the Mayflower and they have been able to document 39 original passengers who came over and their lineage. And of those 39 that they can verify, there are now tens of millions of Americans who have a direct as descent to those 39 passengers, tens of millions.

And I don’t think that in 1621, those 39, were sitting around going, it’s been a little rough, but I’ve got a vision. There’s gonna be tens of millions of people in this country in just 400 years directly related to us and what we’re doing here today. Isn’t that great? But that’s not what happened. They didn’t know that.

And so the Thanksgiving that they were offering was very much still when they were in the belly of the whale. So many of us are finding ourselves this Thanksgiving with people missing from the table with our plans completely interrupted, but to my mind, it’s truest to what Thanksgiving really was established to be, that place where we give thanks, even in the uncertainty, even in the upheaval, even in the disagreement. That’s the place that we offer up a song of Thanksgiving, because that’s the purest form. When we can give Thanksgiving, even in spite of our circumstances. Thanksgiving requires that we look at abundance in a different form.

Can we be thankful when we feel lonely? Can we? I mean, it was lonely in the belly of that whale. I guarantee you. I don’t think Jonah had people hanging out with him in the belly of the whale. It was him. It was his situation, and it was God. Can we be thankful in that? I’m having to work on that. Can we be thankful when we feel uncertain?

Oftentimes gratitude and thanksgiving for us seem to come on the heels of when something works out the way we want it. When we finally see something move around the curve and it’s like, oh, there it is. Oh, now I’m so grateful. I have so much Thanksgiving because this thing I’ve been worried about or this set of circumstances that has seemed so wobbly has suddenly firmed up.

And now, now I feel thankful. But what if? What if at that first Thanksgiving table, we were able to say, I have gratitude. I have gratitude for this moment. I have gratitude for who can gather with me. I have gratitude for the food we are serving. Whether that is our usual Thanksgiving spread, or that’s something that we’ve had to abbreviate.

Can we be thankful in the uncertainty? If we follow the model of true Thanksgiving. If we follow the model of that first Thanksgiving table, we can. It may cost us something, but we can be thankful in the midst of uncertainty. And this is a question I’ve been puzzling about a lot. As I look at where things are right now, particularly in our country, in the US, there’s a prevailing emotion that I am finding. 

I find it in my social media platforms. I find it in the conversations I’m having. I find it in the emails I get. I’m finding it everywhere in a way that is very pronounced to my mind in a way that I haven’t really noticed it as much in times past in such technicolor. And that emotion that I seem to be picking up on just about everywhere I turn is anger.

There’s a lot of anger right now. Have you noticed that? Anger at circumstances. Anger at who is perceived to be in control. Anger at what is called someone’s ineptitude in dealing with a particular situation. Anger that there doesn’t seem to be a resolution for some of the issues that have been spooling for so many months now.

Anger, anger, anger. Everywhere. I look in my friends who are people of faith and in my friends who are not. This is a resonating tone right now, anger. So here’s the question. Can we still be thankful even when we feel angry? Sometimes we seem to believe those two things can’t coexist. And here’s the deal, the emotions you may be feeling, whether that is feeling lonely or uncertain or wobbly or angry, those are valid emotions.

They’re important indicators. They are things that help you understand how you are processing the things that are coming at you in your world. And for some people the uncertainty and all of the upheaval leads them to an emotion of anger. Now, should we react out of anger? Should we make others pay for it out of our anger?

Should we be short with people? Should we be rude? No, those things aren’t okay. But it is important to recognize if we do respond to this season, you know, it’s okay if there’s a sense of anger. God’s word doesn’t say, never be angry. It says in your anger, do not sin. So that’s been having me puzzled. Well, sometimes I seem to think that my Thanksgiving is only valid if all these other emotions are resolved.

If I have any emotions that seem what we would put in the negative column, loneliness or upset or feeling down or depressed or angry, well, if those things exist, then I can’t have real Thanksgiving in my heart on the other side. , But what if we can? What if we can acknowledge that yeah, there are some things we may feel angry about, things that don’t feel fair, and yet we can still be thankful?

I was reading an article out of, and this is the real title out of a book and out of a website called Anger Management for Dummies. So sign me up because let’s just break it down and keep it simple for me. Right? And one of the things that was stated that I thought was really interesting is that anger has a lot to do with feeling that you’re not getting what you want.

I’m gonna, I’m gonna read that again because I think it’s really important. Anger has a lot to do with feeling that you’re not getting what you want. Let’s face it, over the last many months, how many times have we been faced with not getting what we want? And the resulting emotion very validly can be anger.

But in that same article I was referring to about anger management for dummies, there was a great little quote that I thought was interesting. The authors are talking about how to use gratitude to manage your anger. Wow. I never really thought about gratitude and Thanksgiving as a management tool, and yet I’m buying in, I gotta tell you because I think this is just brilliant.

And one of the stories that they share is some years ago there was a man named Dr. Gentry and he had been reporting that he was trying really hard to overcome a major episode of depression, accompanied by lots of anger. And he decided one morning to no longer ask God for anything for himself. He continued to ask God to watch over his children as they learned from their successes and failures over his wife, over his brothers and their families, over his friends, over his clients, even over his Bassett Hounds.

But he figured that God had already given him more than he ever expected in life. His thinking was that if God wanted to bless him with more good things in the years he had left okay, and if not, that’s okay too. Either way, he felt grateful and rarely got angry after that. What an interesting way to adjust our meter on what we want to adjust it to think about, wow, if God never gave me anymore, he’s already given me so much. And so if I can live in that space, that place of Thanksgiving for what he’s already done, does it help me manage the anger from a better place?

To be able and capable of giving true gratitude and Thanksgiving, even when there’s an emotion of anger, even in the midst of a really strange year. Is that the very tool I need Thanksgiving in the midst of something that seems so uncertain? I think we always think of Thanksgiving as a response to what we’ve received, but what if Thanksgiving could be something that it’s a precursor?

It is something that is not a response, but is actually a state of mind, that Thanksgiving becomes a place where we just live in it. That no matter what is swirling around us, whether things are going the way we wanted, or whether things are going completely off path, that Thanksgiving is our constant. An attitude of staying in gratitude is the place where we stay planted.

And so instead of who’s not at the table this year, it’s gratitude for who is there. Instead of anger that things aren’t working out the way we wanted, the gratitude that we have another day and we draw another breath. What if Thanksgiving is the way to deal with the anger that this year has caused for so many of us?

I don’t think it’s off page. I think it is part of the secret of that first Thanksgiving in 1621. The secret of how these people who had started out with such high hopes and who ended up walking through far more challenge than they ever could have imagined. I think it’s the tool they used to navigate and to begin to build a new life.

In spite of incredible uncertainty, both the pilgrims and the Native Americans who were faced with such devastation as the result of a pandemic. Isn’t it amazing that here we are almost exactly 400 years later and we are coming into a Thanksgiving in which so many things sound so similar, so we have an opportunity.

We have an opportunity to offer up true Thanksgiving this year. It’s the challenge I’m giving myself. It’s the challenge I wanna give you. I can see the hurts you’ve been through, the challenges you’ve been through the hard times, the juggling the kids, the career uncertainty, the economic uncertainty, all of that is valid and it matters.

And how about Thanksgiving becoming a fresh start? That when you gather at the table this year, whatever that looks like for you, what if we got back to the truest form of Thanksgiving where we offer a song of Thanksgiving while we’re still in the belly of the whale when we gather and we give gratitude, even in the midst of uncertain circumstances?

Hmm. What might come from that? What harvest might there be on down the line? I wanna make sure that you are tapping into all the goodness that is part of AllMomDoes. So, go to Check that out. Check out AllMomDoes on the socials. I’m on the socials too as Julie Lyles Carr. I’d love to hear from you and I can’t wait to see you next time on The AllMomDoes Podcast.

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