"What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he loses one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness, and go after the one which is lost, until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, 'Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost!'"
November 23, 2011
I admit that writing for holidays is not generally my favorite newsletters to write because you can only do so many subjects relating to a particular holiday. This is the annual Thanksgiving newsletter, so once again I've been trying to come up with an appropriate topic, other than the normal "giving thanks" or "being thankful" theme. I began researching and found an interesting article about Thanksgiving traditions, and found that the US is not the only country to celebrate Thanksgiving. There are conflicting reports on exactly which countries have their version of Thanksgiving, but I did find that Canada and Liberia were two countries who yearly celebrate much like we do. In fact, our original traditions were taken to their countries by Americans.
After the American Revolution, American refugees who remained loyal to Great Britain moved from the newly independent United States to Canada. They brought the customs and practices of the American Thanksgiving to Canada. Starting in 1879 Thanksgiving Day was observed every year, but the date was initially a Thursday in November. The date changed several times until in 1957 it was officially declared to be the second Monday in October. The theme of the Thanksgiving holiday also changed each year to reflect an important event to be thankful for. On Thursday, January 31, 1957 the Canadian Parliament proclaimed: "A day of general Thanksgiving to Almighty God for the bountiful harvest with which Canada has been blessed -- to be observed on the 2nd Monday in October."
I found Thanksgiving in Liberia very interesting. It is celebrated on the first Thursday of November. Liberia was founded in the 19th century by freed slaves from the United States, so Liberia never knew the colonial power of European countries like other African countries. Liberia's name comes from the Latin word "liber", meaning free. Liberia was founded as a colony by the American Colonization Society between 1821 and 1822. It was intended to be a place for slaves freed in the United States that wanted to immigrate to Africa in search of more personal freedom and equality as citizens. Also the capital city of Liberia, Monrovia, was named after the fifth president of the United States, James Monroe, who was a supporter of the colonization of Liberia by free slaves. And so the free men brought with them many of the United States traditions and kept them as to honor their humble beginnings. Thanksgiving Day is one of them, and Liberians still celebrate it, the same way as Americans do it, but of course with Liberia's unique cultural touches. Thanksgiving is celebrated to give thanks to God and to Americans for freeing the slaved and granting them Liberia in Africa to live as free men. Thanksgiving is also an opportunity for Liberians to recognize the good things that life has to offer them, even though the country has been troubled by internal conflicts. It is a day celebrated with families gathering and eating chicken and green bean casserole and mashed cassavas. Liberians like their food hot and spicy, so cayenne and other peppers may be added to their Thanksgiving dishes. As with all Liberian celebrations, there is plenty of music, song and dance during Thanksgiving Day.
President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, speaking of Liberia's Thanksgiving Day which was Thursday, November 3rd, 2011, noted that "it is befitting that a day should be set aside for the nation and its people to go into the House of the Lord and give adoration for His dispensation of grace, and for preserving our lives." In the Proclamation, President Johnson Sirleaf, called on all Liberians and foreign residents, bishops, clergy and all religious organizations to gather in their respective places of worship, wherever that may be in Liberia, to pray for peaceful and violence free elections as well as to give thanks and praise to the Almighty God, that His manifold blessings and mercies may continuously rest upon us as a people, the nation, our families, and for each one in the country. The Proclamation noted that the continuous protection and blessings of the Almighty God, in times of peace, disaster and other natural phenomena have sustained the nation politically, socially and economically over the years.
President Johnson Sirleaf joined Liberians in worship. In that Thanksgiving service, Rev. Lawrence Bayusie, the Executive Mansion Chaplain, said in his invocation, "If Liberia puts Jesus in the right place, all will be well with the country." Another minister spoke on the theme, "I have just come to tell Him thank you." He gave thanks to God, the Deliverer, for where He had brought Liberia from. He thanked the Almighty for the leader of the nation, for her health and strength, and prayed for God's merciful hand upon her, as Liberians elect the leadership for the next six years. He also gave thanks to God because Liberians no longer have to run from conflict. Special prayers were offered up for the nation, the election and the President. In her prayer for the President, Rev. Cooper celebrated a woman for whom God had a plan even before she was born, a woman whom God had always guided and had used from her childhood until now. She gave thanks for the sacrifices the President made, never flinching or running away from challenges, and for staying the course. "Her life is in Your hands. Grant her the desires of her heart that she prays only to You." She concluded, "This nation is in her hands. Lead and guide her. When a leader goes right, the nation follows. Thank God for a woman called Ellen Johnson Sirleaf." Songs of praise and worship were sung during the Thanksgiving service.
Here are parts of the Presidents Thanksgiving Day remarks: "Thank you for joining us in praising God for His wonderful blessing. As I listened to (various speakers, prayers, and songs) I reflect upon my life, and I know each and every one of you reflects on your life. You reflect upon those difficult moments when maybe you didn't know whether you would live of die; when you didn't know where the next meal would come from; when you didn't know whether you'd be able to find the money to pay your child's tuition; when you were sick, and you didn't know if you'd be able to be cured. In those particular days, I'm sure you experienced, like I experienced, that voice that says: 'Be still and know that I am God.' We look at the last eight years, and we look from whence we came. What else can we say, but 'Thank God.' And so we come today to say what all of you have said, to say God, we thank You. We thank You, from where You brought us to where we are today. And I know that He is going to take us through. I'm convinced that He has a plan for this nation, and that the difficulties we went through were to make us a better people; to make us know that unless we do the things we're supposed to do, we won't get there. Love and reconciliation cannot be legislated. Love and reconciliation cannot be mandated. It's got to come from the heart of each and every one of us. And so I just pray God for all of us. I pray God for the nation, and for the people all over the nation, and all of those who are praying for us today in the churches, in the mosques, in their homes, even on their sick bed. We thank them, and we pray to God, we thank God for His wonderful blessings. May we have a God-filled day. May you all be blessed. And may God lead us along the path that he has chosen for us. God bless us all."
The boldness of the Liberian President to be so outspoken about her faith blessed my socks off. I thought, "If the United States were to have a President who stood up and made those exact same remarks to our country, he would be labeled as a fanatic by many, and be accused of offending others. He would be ridiculed by the media and TV personalities, and mocked by many Americans. Many seem to be of the opinion that a relationship with God is something that should be kept secret and not talked about publicly. We want God to protect us as a nation and don't want anything bad to happen to us, but we don't want to have much to do with Him otherwise. And it saddens me to hear the blatant remarks of so many who will criticize anyone who has anything to do with God and who try to live their faith boldly. We do those things and have those attitudes, as a nation, but then when anything bad happens or disaster strikes, we are so quick to blame God. Thank God, there are still those who are willing to stand up for their belief in God and boldly speak of their faith in Him. And thank God our religious freedoms haven't been taken away from us and we are still free to attend church and worship God. Not all countries have that freedom allowed them.
Perhaps the attitude of the President of Liberia comes from seeing her nation being torn apart a few years ago by a civil war. From 1989 to 1996 one of Africa's bloodiest civil wars ensued, claiming the lives of more than 200,000 Liberians and displacing a million others into refugee camps in neighboring countries. Liberia is still recovering from the ravages of war; pipe-borne water and electricity are generally unavailable to most of the population, especially outside the capital city, and schools, hospitals, roads and infrastructure remain derelict. President Johnson Sirleaf was elected in 2005 and has done much to improve Liberia and is working diligently to reduce poverty. She has lived through her country being devastated by war and seeing the people suffer greatly. She recognizes that they would not be where they were not today, if it were not for God.
Could it be that we've been so spoiled as Americans and have enjoyed so many blessings that we now have the attitude that we somehow deserve them? We deserve a good job, big paycheck, nice home, new car, good health, vacations, etc. Some of us may be more limited on money than others, but most of us find a way to buy most things that we want. We think we have to have all the latest technology. It amazes me when I read comments on facebook at times. Young married couples raising small children will go out and purchase a new iphone every time a new edition comes available, or buy new ipads, or kindles, or whatever the newest "in" thing is at the moment. Jon and I don't have kids and he makes decent money but we don't have the extra funds to go out and do all that, and I think, "How in the world can they afford to do that?" Do they put it on their credit card, thinking they can pay it off later or hope they get the year-end bonus and can pay for it then; or do they even consider how they'll pay it off? I don't know! But we have the mentality that we have to have what everyone has. We have no thought or regard for tomorrow.
Thanksgiving Day comes and goes each year and many think of it as just another holiday; a day off work or a day to feast with family. Some are so busy planning for Black Friday and are so anxious for the day to end so they can go shop, that they neglect to stop what they're doing and enjoy time with their family. In fact, the Black Friday sales are beginning earlier and earlier each year where many stores now open Thanksgiving evening. I daresay that millions will feast and watch football and spend the day without giving God a single thought. Some parents may try to go around the table to have each one share something they're thankful for, but more than likely they'll have kids who will roll their eyes and say, "Do we have to do this? You make us do this every year. I'm thankful for the same things I was last year. Let's just eat!" Honestly, we Americans have grown into a bunch of spoiled rotten brats who are ofttimes ungrateful for the blessings of God in our lives. In fact, we take credit for what we have instead of acknowledging it as gifts from God. Most times, it's only as we lose something or face a dire situation that we realize just how blessed we've been and how much we took for granted. Trials and hardships can make us more thankful, many times.
The last thing Jon and I do each night before going to sleep is to cuddle and each say a prayer out loud. I don't know if Jon has noticed or not, but one of the things I daily thank God for is our health. After watching Mama suffer for those 7 years with cancer, it makes me grateful for good health. I've had many loved ones and friends die from cancer and various other diseases, and I know that each day of being healthy is a gift from God, and I don't ever want to take that for granted. But I know that there are other areas in which I'm often neglectful and fail to acknowledge God.
This past year I watched my brother-in-law and sisters lives change drastically as he was unexpectedly and surprisingly diagnosed with a brain tumor. I drove them to the airport on a Thursday morning, and they were excited to be attending the A/G General Council and spending a week in Arizona. Exactly one week later, he was taken to the ER and diagnosed with a brain tumor. The past 3 1/2 months have been life-changing for them. I was visiting with my sister recently and she told me that one thing this has made her realize is to not put off doing those things you want to do, because you never know what can happen. Don't say, "Some day we want to go there or do this," and always put it off to a later date, because you have no guarantees. Enjoy life and pack it as full as you can, enjoying each and every moment.
I have often wondered what my reaction would be should I ever be faced with persecution or if our nation were to suffer in one form or another where everything was stripped from me. How would I respond if I were faced with devastating health news or if I lost Jon or one of my sisters, nieces or nephews? If Jon and I were to lose our home and everything we owned, how would I respond? Would my faith in God be strong enough to sustain me, or would I grow bitter and gripe at God for not doing a better job of protecting me? I hope I'm never put in that position, but I'm not guaranteed a lifetime of bliss and blessing. But regardless of what happens, I pray that my faith will keep me strong and I'll keep my eyes on the eternal prize of heaven. I want to always have a heart of gratitude and not be a complainer. I want to be thankful to God every day, not just one day a year on Thanksgiving. I hope I always have an attitude of gratitude. My life hasn't been perfect, but I have been very blessed and I never want to forget that.
I pray that each of you have a blessed Thanksgiving. But I also pray that you will also take time to remember God. Acknowledge Him and His blessings in your life; not only on Thanksgiving but every day of the year.
One of the things that impressed me about the president of Liberia was that she focused on what God had done for them, even with the civil war so recent.
Part of our spoiled nature is to focus on what we've lost, what we don't have, or what we wish we had. We tend to say those are things we deserve or things we should have. We might even blame God for keeping or taking them from us. It's amazing to meet someone who is really well off (or maybe even rich), who is so focused on what they don't have that they are miserable; and to meet others who struggle to keep their house heated in the winter who are so focused on the loving family God has given them that they are happy.
Our circumstances might make it easy or difficult to be happy. But when we are thankful, we can always be happy.
1 package fresh cranberries
8 oz. Cool Whip
3 cups sugar
1 cup chopped pecans
3 cups seedless red grapes, sliced
The night before serving: grind or chop cranberries. Add sugar; stir and refrigerate.
The next morning: drain cranberry mixture. Add sliced grapes, Cool Whip and pecans. Stir together and refrigerate at least 2 hours before serving.
Today I'm going to talk about my family's infamous baked bean disasters, as well as other mishaps. Many times when my family have got together for Thanksgiving or other holidays, someone will generally make baked beans. And I think most of us have all had baked bean disasters. I cannot tell you the number of times I've had the juice from baked beans spill over onto the floor of my car. It seems no matter how carefully I pack them, someway, somehow I will always end up with them getting on the carpet of my car's floorboard. Janie has also had baked beans spill over onto the carpet or seats of her vehicle numerous times.
One time my sister and brother-in-law had cooked some food to take to a church gathering. They had just got the carpet cleaned in their downstairs family room. My brother-in-law was carefully carrying the pan of baked beans down the stairs from the kitchen, through the family room, to their car. He tripped on one of the stairs and dropped the whole pan of baked beans onto the newly cleaned carpet.
Several years ago, our family had a 25th anniversary celebration for Daddy and June. Afterwards my sister and I were visiting as we carried leftover food to our cars. She had a crock-pot with leftover little smokies in it (okay, so this isn't completely about baked beans) and the next thing I know she is on the ground, covered with little smokies and chili sauce. Her glasses were covered with the chili sauce and she was a mess! Of course, right at that moment several other family members walked out and saw her. It was one of those moments you wished had been captured for America's Funniest Home Videos, because it was pretty funny. Of course, we made sure she wasn't hurt before laughing (at least, I think we did!). We still laugh about that today.
At another family get-together this past summer my sister made a cake. She rode to our family home with her daughter. My niece had a book lying in the back window of her car. On the way to the family home, the book slid off, right on top of the cake and smashed the top in.
No matter how good of a cook you are, cooking disasters and mishaps happens to us all! So if you should experience any such things this Thanksgiving, see the humor in it and enjoy your day!!
An optimist is a person who starts a new diet on Thanksgiving Day.
We love you!
Loretta & Jon