A number of years ago I learned the story of the true first and second days of thanksgiving in the New World. They were actually not held in consecutive years because there was an extreme food shortage the second harvest year after the Pilgrims had landed at Plymouth. In fact, the Pilgrims nearly died that second year as each person had to be rationed a mere five kernels of corn per day. Things were certainly not how the Pilgrims had expected or planned. The very first day of thanksgiving they had quite a good harvest (thanks to Samoset and Tisquantum). The Pilgrims, along with Massasoit and about 50 braves enjoyed a great feast. This is the story that we all know from grade school. However, the part of the story I didn’t know until just a few years ago is the story of the following two years.
The year that followed that first Thanksgiving, there was not enough food to go around because more settlers arrived from across the sea but they had brought no provisions like that first group of Pilgrims had. The second harvest year, instead of the abundant harvest they’d planned for, the Pilgrims were forced into grim rationing. When it came time to plant again, the Pilgrims needed a harvest at least twice the size of the first harvest. Not only that, but when it came time for the expected rains, there was a severe drought, the likes of which not even the native americans had ever seen. They once again faced dire circumstances, but they trusted God and prayed and finally came the most gentle rain for 14 days straight, exactly what their crops needed.
The annual harvest feast almost didn’t happen for a second year in a row. However, The Father graciously provided once again exactly what they needed when they needed it and that harvest yielded more than anyone had expected. Once again they celebrated their abundant harvest with Massasoit and this time about 120 braves who brought with them all the meat for their great feast. The first course of their banquet however was only five kernels of corn on each plate, to serve as a reminder of those hard and scary times The Father had brought them through the season before, and they were thankful.
Each Thanksgiving feast since I learned this story, I have recounted it as my own reminder of the abundance that I have. This year especially though, this story hits me a little bit differently. This year, we have faced a global crisis the likes of which we ourselves have never experienced. This year, my family is spread out across the miles for a myriad of reasons: some are quarantined, some remodeling, some had to change plans at the very last minute, some are heroically working hard to save lives. In my case, I decided to take a thanksgiving meal to a few family members that had no plans for a “typical” Thanksgiving due to a couple of these life events. Perhaps that is what got me thinking about those five corn kernels in a new way. Or it could be this global pandemic that has me pondering anew. Maybe it is because I’ve been able to look back on my last thanksgiving, remembering my own sorrow and need that was so great then and seeing how The Father provided for me and brought me through it. Perhaps it has something to do with watching my own children go through difficult disappointments this year. I know that in spite of the figurative “shortage” in their lives (don’t worry we have plenty of food), that The Father will faithfully get us through this year also, even if we are hanging on by the most meager of “rations”.
Whatever the reasons–maybe all of those reasons–I am thinking back on those five kernels of corn with a new intentionality, and I find myself even more thankful this year. Yes, its been a very difficult year for so many of us. We may find ourselves only able to muster up five very small things for which to give thanks – all the more reason to be grateful. This is not the end, by any means. We are still here and still moving forward. Maybe some of us have found ourselves looking back on what looked like an impossible drought that seemed it would not end in time for us to survive, yet we find we have all that we need and in some cases maybe more than that and we are able to share with someone else. Yes, this has been a challenging year, but what a great time to be thankful for especially the seemingly small things in our lives.
Maybe all we’re able to do is talk to our friends and family over the phone whereas last year we would see them every day. Let’s be thankful for such a small thing as that ability to talk to loved ones on the phone. Let’s be thankful these loved ones are still here.
Maybe we’re only able to gather with the ones closest in proximity to us. Let’s be thankful for such a small gathering where we are not alone and we have plenty to eat.
Maybe we’re not able to do the traditional things we’ve always done. Let’s be thankful for small traditions that are not gone simply because this year is different. Let’s be thankful for the small beginnings of new traditions born out of unexpected and unwanted circumstances.
Maybe our plans for this year have been overturned. Let’s be thankful for the small opportunities to make new plans for the future. Let’s be thankful that in spite of our own overturned plans, The Father still has plans for us, the likes of which are greater than our own, full of hope and goodness.
For me, this Thanksgiving looks a bit different than those of years passed, but after my own season of figurative shortage, I am setting five kernels before me and finding I have much to be thankful for:
- People in my life that I deeply care about and who truly love and support me.
- The freedom to move about safely and carefully being thoughtful of those around me.
- Abundant food to share, even with a small few.
- My overall health and safety along with the health and safety of my loved ones.
- The Father’s faithful presence, forgiving grace, and love for me.
Even as I write my short list, choosing only five “kernels” I find is an impossible task. There is so much more I am thankful for.
Dear reader, I know in the depths of my heart and out of my own experience that even if things are impossibly challenging right now, there are at least five very small things you can be grateful for. Those may be the only five things to give thanks for in the next days and weeks and months to come, but they are not insignificant. Hold on to them. Give thanks. The Father desires to give you (and all of His children) good things because He is a good Father. Look to Him and He will sustain you even in these mere five small thanks-givings until the day that you are able to add a sixth, then a seventh, an eighth, and so on until you too have more to be thankful for than these first five small things. And for those that find that you are looking back on a prior year with meager provisions but staring at a feast before you now, stop and give thanks for what The Father did to get you through that tough season. Then give to someone else who finds themselves in need now. You may be one of the five kernels The Father uses to get them through this difficult time.