The leaves have changed and are at their peak. There is a sugar maple tree on the south side of our house that is glorious in its expanse of pure yellow. I like to sit under it and just soak in the color. I don’t do it enough, but every year I make myself sit in its splendor at least once even if it’s just for 10 minutes. Fall is welcoming. It calls us home to crackling fires, warm soups and stews, and extended family time at Thanksgiving. It’s my favorite of the year.

Thanksgiving is simply a time to give thanks. But do we do that? And better yet, is the giving of thanks to be reserved for only this one time of year?

As my children were growing up, I wanted them to know the real story of Thanksgiving, the history of the Mayflower and the people who sacrificed so much to come to the new world. Mostly I wanted my kids to know about their faith; faith that inspired great courage and modeled heroic lives of gratitude and thanksgiving for generations to come.

In 1620 and 1621 the Pilgrims had nothing but gratitude. Today we have everything but gratitude. Thanking God is, for a Christian, a reflection of a heart that trusts God. The Pilgrims had much to trust Him for and much about which they could have been fearful, but the overriding lesson of their lives is one of gratitude which is an expression of great faith.

Reading the stories of their journey over the Atlantic, their first winter without shelter, and their severe lack of food and clothing and protection is almost shocking to our modern way of thinking. But in the midst of it all they expressed gratitude to God. They understood that being grateful is a choice. We think being grateful is a result of being happy. We believe if circumstances are good, then we can be grateful. But they understood the biblical truth of “giving thanks in all things for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:18, emphasis mine).

In the midst of a struggling economy and a new administration in Washington we have national difficulties for which we should give thanks as the Pilgrims did. Closer to home, each of us needs to give thanks for the abundance the majority of us in America live with every day. We should even give thanks for the air we breathe and the light we enjoy every day even when it’s cloudy. They are daily gifts from the hand of God. And we need to guide our children and grandchildren into the habit of giving thanks in all things. This is not just for adults.

But the greatest gift for which we must give thanks regularly is our freedom. We are free to worship and speak and go and come as we please in this country, and that alone is a gift we do not adequately appreciate. My prayer is that we will grow in gratitude in this nation and that we will value our freedom more highly, always giving thanks to God, for it is all from Him.

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