Keep a Thankful Heart - The Soul of Thanksgiving

We strive for gratitude and try not to be such babies.
Anne Lamott

Thanksgiving is one week from today.

Now don't panic. You are going to give yourself grace. Whether you are the host or a guest, you can simplify my favorite holiday and savor the chance to gather your people around the table and give thanks. Read on dear friend.

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday because of the swirling smells of cinnamon, nutmeg, pumpkin, brown sugar, toasted pecans and apples. It the holiday just about being together, gathering for a meal around the table and saying what you're grateful for out loud. I do love Christmas, I do!, but Thanksgiving is the holiday in the changing leaves of autumn with time around the fire without all the buying, shopping, wrapping and card sending.

I am working on making Christmas a simpler celebration, but Thanksgiving was born that way. Get together. Share food. Simple hospitality at it's finest.

We are in the rotating cycle with our married kids' families of having the whole family home every other year for either Thanksgiving or Christmas. This year we will be 10 around our table at Thanksgiving unless someone needs a last minute spot and then we'll pull up an extra chair around our old farm table.

Our Thanksgivings have gone through some changes in the last few years. After two weddings, Mike's surprise heart surgery, four vegan diets, one gluten free diet and the addition of not one, but two high chairs, our celebrations look a bit different than they have over the years.

We're trying a few new things this Thanksgiving. I call it unstuffing. Unstuffing is any creative way you make Thanksgiving easier, simpler and less hurried. Any strategy that makes you more present to your family and guests.

We love making everything from scratch and gathering our motley crew around the soft pine table, the one with pencil imprints from years of homework.

But this year we are making a few changes to keep it simple like this row of velvet pumpkins on the mantel.

To keep it simple we will:

1.Purchase a few ready-made items locally sourced.

After Thanksgiving last year, we decided we needed to simplify our menu a bit so we could be more present in the day to hold a child on our lap or sit and listen to a story. Mike wanted to order a few side dishes from our neighborhood grocery store to add to our own turkey and garlic mashed potatoes. So earlier this week we placed an order for three veggie side dishes and one of wild rice stuffing.

I resisted this idea with my guilt ridden thoughts of 'you should be able to do this. After all the side dishes can be so easy, especially if you start at the beginning of the week'. I am also the one who can feel like I'm cheating on the one meal you are really are supposed to cook yourself, from scratch.

But now I am giving my self some grace. (I hope you do too.) I am feeling the beauty of this hybrid idea of handmade, some my hands, some by other hands. I am accepting offers of bringing dishes or desserts too. Besides all these dishes being a fresh take on what we usually make, I can already feel the joy of a new dessert I will have time and space to enjoy making just because I let everyone help.

I meant it when I said I love all the Thanksgiving smells. And crisps are the simple way to get those smells wafting through the house. This recipe for Apple Crisp has all the smells with both Honeycrisp and Granny Smith apples and fresh cranberries. Here is the recipe if you need a simple dessert to finish off your meal. It doesn't have to be vegan. Just use real butter. Julia Child would be so proud!

Vegan Apple Crisp from Erin at Well Plated

Mike had another idea that I resisted for a while. (Uh-oh, I see a theme here.)

2.Get some fresh air while the turkey roasts.

"Terri", Mike said excitedly, "Let's run a race on Thanksgiving morning."

Ugh, I thought. No way! I want to sip coffee and stay home.

I thought he might forget about it. But then just this week a group text went out to the family:

Who wants to do a 5K Thanksgiving morning? There are other ones, but this one looks like a good cause. I'll buy breakfast afterwards.

I had already been thinking about how running has been part of his road to a healthier lifestyle after double bypass heart surgery two years ago. And I thought about how we have been doing it together which has been good for me too. Why wouldn't I jump at the chance to say yes? Wasn't I beyond thankfulness for his health and our time together? You might not know it from my heart response.

So now five of our Conlin Crew are signed up for the Give'n Gobble Turkey Trot and Run to benefit our local food pantry. Yah.

I'm complaining about the running part, not the giving part. That thrills me. Our entrance fee and donations will go to purchase perishables like eggs, milk and meats for families in need throughout the holidays.

Again, grace. This is yet another reason for #1. Pray for me not to be cranky pants. I will be trotting more than running, and really would rather be putting a dent in a strong pot of coffee.

Now, I am NOT saying sign up for a race on Thanksgiving Day. (I may never do this again.) What I am saying is be open to new ways of being grateful on this day. That is the heart of hospitality and the sacrifice of thanksgiving, to share yourself and God's goodness with others.

That brings me to this last most simple and so obvious way of keeping a thankful heart, so obvious we might miss doing it in our every day life.

3.Be thankful from the bottom of our hearts and say so out loud even when we're not sure about it.

Thanksgiving the holiday, comes but once a year. Thanksgiving the quality of a heart and soul, is for every day of the year. Thankfulness doesn't always just roll off the tongue. It takes practice and like any practice, it won't always be accompanied by a fuzzy feeling. To encourage gratitude in your heart and your home, keep it simple and practice it often.

It doesn't have to be eloquent. In fact, keeping it unfancy will make it more likely that you'll keep it going. I have kept a gratefulness list on and off for years. My heart is always better when it is on. I find I have to tell myself first, then I can tell my family and then my thankfulness will become part of who I am.

Oh, thank God—he’s so good!
His love never runs out.
All of you set free by God, tell the world!

Psalm 107:1-2

Here's a peek at the thankful things I wrote in my journal over the last several months. I like to just make a bullet list and be specific:

  • a weekend in the Cascade mountains
  • sunlight pouring through a dormer
  • horses on a dusty road
  • seeing spotted fawns in the meadow
  • a square log cabin in the woods
  • Mike playing guitar
  • snapping clean sheets on the bed
  • listening to "Old Man" by Neil Young
  • finally cleaning out our garage - the after feeling (Again with the resistance!)
  • weekend coffee with David
  • waiting for a yes on a writing submission
  • getting a no
  • Psalm 142:7
  • Laurel smiling so hard her face hurts (falling in love will do that)
  • Eliza hugging her dog Rowdy
  • Crosby saying "Heyyo Jojo"
  • quicos
  • a super moon
  • beautiful fog (so much I couldn't see the super moon)
  • knowing the super moon is there anyway
  • getting to run with Mike on Thanksgiving morning (quit being such a baby)

If you are going to be a guest this Thanksgiving rather than the host, you could make your thankful list about your relationship with your host or between the families gathered around the table. The only point is to notice the blessings and lessons in your relationships and say, "Thank you, God!". No matter how often I write out my list, I am still amazed at all the ways God is near, right under my pumpkin nose if only I will pause and notice.

Keeping a thankful heart is the soul of Thanksgiving.

Again Anne Lamott says it so well and true. She sums up her prayers in threes simple words, "Help, Thanks, Wow". I can already see that the Thanks lead to Wow.

Happy Thankful Thanksgiving!

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