No thanks?

Traditions. Our extended family used to celebrate both Easter and Thanksgiving dinners together, and we’d have to coordinate the menu in advance. I was typically the one responsible for the meat: a turkey, a ham, maybe a pork roast. At Thanksgiving, I’d often be late to the gathering as I babysat the bird. It was a perpetual juggling act trying to get the turkey to just the right temperature and keep it there as I made gravy from the juices, then packed up the bird and brought it with me to the dinner.

A lot has changed, though, since the beginning of the pandemic. My son and daughter-in-law had already moved to Seattle years before. But more of the family moved away in 2020, and on Christmas that year, my mother died of COVID. Now there’s just three of us at Thanksgiving: me, my wife, and my daughter. We’re trying to invent new traditions.

But none of us are thinking I should roast even the smallest of turkeys.

That’s probably a good thing, since my eating and exercise habits during COVID took a serious hit; I gained 20 pounds and my cholesterol and triglyceride levels went through the roof. I’ve been downright austere in my eating habits since then, and took all the weight back off. Go back to the traditional Thanksgiving food coma, even if I could? Not happening.

It has been — and in many ways continues to be — an odd season of change and uncertainty. So many of us have suffered losses of one kind or another. What does it mean to be thankful?

One thing I’ve realized is that it’s difficult to be truly thankful for the things I unthinkingly take for granted. Before, it was too easy to stress out over the dinner and getting the details right, while missing the privilege of being able to eat what we want, even to the point of gluttony. And more importantly, it was easy to miss the gift of being together as family, of having a family to be with in the first place.

I don’t know what if anything has changed for you. I don’t know what losses you mourn, or what questions still remain unanswered. I don’t know what still feels up in the air or precarious. Or perhaps you’ve been protected enough that everything still seems normal.

I only ask that you look around and discover one thing — or especially, one person — in your life whom you take for granted. You don’t even have to like them all the time (if you do, you probably don’t know them as well as you think). You only have to realize that their presence in your life has blessed you in some way. Who is it? What good thing have they contributed to your life?

Whatever it is, tell them. If you can do it in person, great. If not, send a card, an email, a text, a video chat. Make it specific. Don’t just say, “Thanks for being a good friend.” Tell a story about when they were a good friend to you when you needed it. And please don’t hedge your thanks with qualifiers; don’t say, “Well, thanks, but…” Say it and mean it. If you still have a bone to pick with them, fine, but do it some other time. Now is the time for gratitude and appreciation.

We don’t need a turkey for Thanksgiving.

We only need a humble heart and open eyes.

Thanks be to God.

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