One of my most memorable Thanksgiving experiences didn’t take place in the midst of festivities, family, and friends. It didn’t even take place on Thanksgiving Day.
My memorable Thanksgiving began as an ordinary day in the fall of 1992. At the time, my husband was working for a police department in a small tourist city in Arizona. I was supposed to drop him off at the station early in the morning so he could take a patrol car to a three-day seminar in Flagstaff.
While he gathered his belongings, I loaded our four small pajama-clad children into the car. Then off we went. I was expecting the trip to the station and back home to take about an hour, but when we arrived at the station no patrol cars were available, so I had to drive him up the mountain to drop him off at the seminar. I hated driving the road through the canyon. I also wasn’t thrilled about having another hour and a half of drive time.
On the way back down the mountain, the children started poking each other and whining, “Moooom, how much longer!” Since I had been teaching the kids about being flexible and practicing thankfulness, I figured it was a good time for a life lesson. At the time I had no idea that I was the one who needed the lesson the most. “Guess what kids! I exclaimed. This is a great opportunity for character building.” They knew when Mom mentioned character building it meant that we would try to make the best out of a frustrating situation. It also meant that at any moment Mom was going to erupt in song. As expected, I began to sing praise songs and practice thankfulness, which basically means saying your thankful when you don’t feel it. My six-year-old son Joshua and my four-year-old daughter Shanna sang along with me as their toddler sister Rebekah and baby brother Caleb expressed themselves by making joyful noises.
I was thankful that the kids were having fun and the ride was going smoothly, that is until I heard a guttural noise and a gushing sound. I looked over my shoulder at Joshua. He was covered with vomit. His little sisters were echoing each other with sounds of disgust. Because of the sharp curves, I had to keep my eyes on the road, but I kept my ears tuned in to the commotion in the back seat.
It wasn’t long before I heard a second guttural noise. “Oh no, Joshua! Not again!” I shouted.
He shouted back, “It wasn’t me, Mom!” As I approached the next curve, I glanced back just in time to see Shanna empty the contents of her stomach. With two of them throwing up, the stench in the car was awful. Rebekah was fussing, and baby Caleb started crying. I wanted to cry too.
I rolled the windows down and I shouted toward the back seat. “It’s okay kids. We will be home in 50 minutes. We will just keep worshipping. Let’s count our blessings!” I then began to sing another praise song. I was hoping that Joshua and Shanna would sing along, but they both threw up again. After we rounded the next curve, Rebekah joined them, and by the time we got to the base of the mountain the baby was also puking. I continued singing and offering words of encouragement, wishing that home was around the corner instead of 40 more minutes away. “Lord, help me!” I begged.
The drive seemed to take forever. I kept telling myself, “Stay focused. Stay thankful. Even if you don’t feel it, practice thankfulness.” At one point I quit singing and began laughing. What were the odds of four small children puking at the same time? I looked back at my four very unhappy vomit-encrusted passengers. The entire situation was ludicrous.
After what seemed like an eternity, I parked in front of our apartment. One by one I carried the children inside, stripped off their jammies, rinsed them off, and laid them on blankets on the floor. After placing a puke bucket next to all but the baby I removed the car seats and hosed them down and then cleaned up the car.
I then went back inside to tend to my children. A few of them had continued to vomit. Thankfully, they were using their buckets. Taking the baby in my arms I sat down in my rocking chair and prayed. I felt sorry for my sick children. I felt even sorrier for myself.
I got up and laid the baby on a blanket and emptied and resituated the buckets. Before sitting back down, I grabbed a book to read to my pathetic little pukers. I figured reading them a book might distract them from how awful they were feeling. The book I chose was one I had recently purchased about the Pilgrims and Thanksgiving.
I had learned about the Pilgrims in elementary school, but that day I got a lot more insight. I was fascinated by the information the author had accumulated from journal entries as well as history books.
The Separatists, later known as Pilgrims, had endured persecution, imprisonment, and poverty before they had been given the opportunity to establish a colony in America. They had fled from England to Holland, but their desire to spread the gospel and for their children to prosper pushed them toward more.
They paid a high price to fulfill their God-given dream. Half of them would lose their lives before the first harvest. Some of them would die before they even reached the shore.
A couple of chapters into the book, Joshua had asked for something to eat, so I gave him a little bit of flat soda and a couple of saltine crackers. Then I sat down and resumed reading. The next chapter was about the voyage. I read about horrible sea sickness and food shortages. I was sure that my two oldest could relate a little when they heard that the Pilgrims survived on ale and stale bread.
At the request of my children, I continued to read. We learned about how Squanto had been kidnapped as a youth. After he had been educated in England he returned to his home to discover that his entire village had been wiped out from disease. God had positioned him for such a time as this to help the Pilgrims. The Pilgrims had a dream, but God had plan-not just a plan for a new colony but a new country.
When I finished the book, I thought about the sacrifices and the blessings surrounding Thanksgiving. Squanto had lost all of his family and friends. The Pilgrims had lost many of theirs. But in the midst of loss they celebrated together. As two people groups united with thankful hearts they ushered in a new beginning.
When I closed the book, I looked at each of my children and whispered a prayer of thanks. “Thank you, Lord, that they only have the flu. Thank you for our freedom. Thank you for your care. Thank you for everything!” A frustrating day had turned into an amazing one. For most, Thanksgiving was just around the corner, but in our little apartment it had already arrived. I no longer had to practice thankfulness. It was overflowing from my heart and coursing through my entire being.
May you be overwhelmed by the goodness of God!
“In everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” 1 Thessalonians 5:18 (NKJV).
photo by johnhain – pixabay