My First Thank(ful) Thanksgiving

My Thanksgiving in 2008 was one of the most unique and painful of my life. I had come to the realization that my business was beyond repair. Having not pulled a check out for months on end, revenue had dropped to such a level that keeping the lights on and the rent paid in my office was no longer an option.

I had successfully rented half my office out to nice Indian man who brought along his Hindu idols and gongs into the office. To this day, I still laugh at the irony of my prayer room in my office becoming a shrine to some multi armed Hindu God. But hey, he paid cash and it helped my landlord out.

As I had not informed my landlord that I was not going to make the December rent, nor any rents thereafter, I decided to go early in the morning to pull out as many ‘valuables as possible’. Basically, I didn’t want my stuff to get locked up for not paying rent.

As shame and guilt were a huge part of my life at that point, it only made sense to empty the office then call the landlord for coffee to let him know what was going on.

So, there I was on Thanksgiving morning at 3 AM, folding the seats down in the mini van driving over to my office to start packing up. I figured no one was going to be around on Thanksgiving morning.

I packed up all my files, products, books, computers and nick knacks. Trudged them down the steps to my waiting car and loaded things up. Not wanting to get caught, I emptied my three room office in about 2 hours. Leaving only the heavy stuff, like my desks and file cabinets behind. Hoping that one day I’d be able to get these items. Especially my desk, which my wife Sarah bought for me on our anniversary a few years back. (It is a gorgeous mahogany hand carved desks that is just stunning.)

As I finished up my last load for the car and finished off dumping trash, I got in and started my drive home. There is no one on the streets at 5 AM on Thanksgiving morning. It was dark, cold and lonely. I felt like a huge part of my life was dieing. What had started as an effort to get my staff on the same page and in the same office to get more things done, turned into a $50,000 mistake. Staff gone, credit cards maxed out, revenue depleted and marriage on the rocks, I drove slowly home in shame, guilt and depression.

How could God allow this to happen? Didn’t he hear my cries? Wasn’t he impressed with my prayer room? Or the amount of money I gave to further his kingdom? And what about my kids and wife. It was fine for me to go through this, but why did they have to suffer so much?

As I drove I thought to myself.. “God, you opened the door for me to move into this office. It seemed like it was your plan, the doors opened perfectly for this to happen and now this!? Why would you do this to me? I am your servant.  I feel like the rug has been pulled out from under me. ”

At that point, as I pulled onto Rea Road, that I turned on the radio.  I had tuned into a show that was discussing what the Pilgrims went through that first year in the new world. Having departed Europe in late fall, not knowing where they were going, tossed about by the late fall storms at sea, they limped into land in late October.

Cold, beaten, a number of their fellow passengers dead or dying, they found land and eventually set up camp in the New World.

You would think it got better from there, but it didn’t. The next year was so hard, they lost more of their fellow settlers to disease and malnutrition. Their crops struggled, they had come to a place of total and complete brokenness.

The first thanksgiving

Here was a group of settlers who prayed, and worshiped God. They felt a call on their life to leave the oppression in England and the Netherlands to start a new life on their terms.  They had contemplated and prayed this to God for years before taking on this journey. You would think that God would make the way easy for them to succeed.

He did not. Their journey to the New World on the sea was horrible and horrifying. Rarely coming out from the hole of the ship. Then to get to the New World and struggle through the first years. Losing half their fellow settlers.  What a nice God.. eh?

When the fall came that next year in 1621, even though the times had been tough, they celebrated the small victory of making it a year. I don’t think there was a huge feast, nor was there any football, fried turkey, apple pie or late afternoon naps. No, according to the accounts it was a simple affair.  Much like my Thanksgiving was going to be that upcoming evening.

As I drove towards my house listening more intently to this program about the Pilgrims, it struck me how similar my life had been these past years. As they ended the radio program and I pulled into my driveway listening intently to the show, they shared one more interesting fact.

It seems one of the wives decided to place three small kernels of corn at each dinner place.  As the meal started and progressed, each person sitting at the table would take their kernel of corn and drop it into a bowl. They shared three things they were thankful for that year.

Can you imagine? Let’s say in the past year you lost your wife to the flu, your only son to another sickness. You have lost 40 pounds, went days without eating, struggled to provide food and you are going to share what you are thankful for that year? I would imagine most of us would flip God the bird or worse. No matter how strong our faith.

That night as my family sat down for dinner, with my in-laws who had brought a turkey so we all could enjoy a nice dinner, I decided to do the same thing. At each plate sat three kernels of corn. I explained the pilgrims of past and asked each person to take time throughout the dinner to share how they were thankful in the past year.

To this day, I can’t remember what was said. I think I was self confident that my wife, or in laws would think I was nuts. But looking back, I can tell you what I was thankful for. I was thankful my marriage, albeit rocky, was still together. Sarah and I had separated that summer. She took the kids to Michigan, I was left in the 3600 square foot house alone. That summer was long, lonely and hard. But it gave Sarah and I time to reset the clock and start again.

I was thankful for the small miracles God had done. Mailbox miracle checks to make the mortgage, the extra savings my wife had set aside, which allowed us to keep things current.

Finally, I was thankful for the man I was becoming. I was not thankful for what God was taking me through. Frankly, I was pissed off at him. The friendships lost, the shame, guilt and despair was more than I could bare. But my prayer for years had been “Lord show me how to become the husband and father my family needs.”

Little did I know he was answering my prayers. In a hard painful way… but my prayers were being answered.

And for that I’ll be eternally thankful.

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