Thanksgiving, Traditions, Gratitude and Grace

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Every year, my family and I must make one of the toughest choices ever: where to eat Thanksgiving dinner – my siblings or her parents. I seldom see my brothers and sisters, so it is always nice to have a mini McCann family reunion. However, the Davinos sure know how to put together a food-filled traditional Italian Thanksgiving feast! It is a difficult pick – decisions, decisions, decisions!

Thanksgiving always reminds me of my need to look upward and offer my praise and thanksgiving to the One who provides those great family times that fuel my growing faith. My life is a journey through triumphs and trials, steps of faith that build on the traditions and the ever-unfolding graces that come my way. As all of us move along the narrow road to heaven, let us not forget to be thankful for all we have been given.

 

Family Traditions We Follow

We have a number of traditions we follow at Thanksgiving. For my family, we meet at my brother Tim’s, sample from a big buffet of foods my siblings bring and grab a seat around the house for beautiful recollections late into the evening. My wife’s family gets together and gathers around the extended family table to eat until we drop and laugh until we settle into a place of peace so wonderful we know we are home.   

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There is a realm that exists in the heavenlies where God inhabits the praise of His people, where joy fills our hearts and joins us to the grace that flows from the celestial city. When we enter those places of peace that have grown out of our traditions, we discover just how solid our faith is. The struggles of life are no less real in those moments; but they are given perspective from the vantage point of the rock of refuge upon which we stand.

Being with family is as real as it gets; and I know that not all family interactions are so wonderful. There are past hurts that may remain or personal struggles that are ongoing. There is the pain of loved ones lost or family members not present. Tomorrow’s tasks will still be there for us to face. Yet, in this precious moment of solidarity and love, we find the strength – the grace – that comes from the One who has knitted our family together and ever holds us in His heart.

 

Feasting and Memories

God has given us all stories to share and paths to follow. As we sit with our loved ones around the banquet table and remember the past, we join our hearts to the greater story of our salvation. We recognize that we are all on a continuing journey toward our heavenly home. Our memories bring to mind the struggles we have overcome and the blessings we have been given in one another. In our laughter we see our humanity. In our tears we witness the divine. As we remember, we connect those who have come before and those who will come after us, for we all share the same journey.

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The Thanksgiving feast is a place where the pain of our past can find revision and restoration as we heal our memories by the grace of the love we now share. It transforms us by opening our eyes to the miracles that have come our way. We look at one another and realize that our family is a great gift that has been given to us. Our stories help us to see the depth of the divine love that has held us together and continues to lead us forward day by day.

Being together with my family in this way helps me to hold each person in my heart. I bask in the warmth of the love we have shared in good times and bad. I discover ever-deepening understandings of just who these family members are and how much they mean to me. Our memories tie us all together and reveal the Savior who has given us all purpose in our common bond. Our journeys are intimately connected because of the past we share and the future for which we all hope.

 

God Moments and Goodness Given

My greatest joys at Thanksgiving, however, come in the new stories we share with one another. Hearing that my niece’s new daughter is beginning to walk recalls those similar moments with my own children. Learning about the achievements of my family members – everything from violin recitals to new jobs to home projects completed – brings me contentment. Even sharing our current struggles brings us closer as we lend our strength to one another and offer hopeful prayers and healing words.

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I see God’s presence in each word we speak and experience we share. His goodness lies in the reality that we are one in Him as we walk the journey together. We may not see clearly the road ahead, but we know we will make it because we have one another and we share a common faith that cannot be broken by trial or snuffed out by the world.

Like taking photographs at Thanksgiving, I know I must store up within my heart each conversation, every tender exchange and all the laughter that takes place. These are the God moments we must never miss or ever forget, the gifts of grace that pass all too quickly, but become a part of who we are and what we are to one another in Christ.

 

Gratitude and Grace

In the end, no matter where we choose to spend Thanksgiving, our family remains a vital link to the God who has made us to live and love in His name. Family is the great sign of our Savior’s love for the world and a reminder of the way in which He relates to His people of faith. This yearly celebration helps to ground me in the joyful reality of what family love is all about. I am grateful for my family members, their caring support, their wonderful spirits, and even their many flaws and failings. They are to me a conduit of the grace that is ours because of the God who created us for gratitude.

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This year, as you celebrate Thanksgiving with your family, take time to remember the past and find healing and hope in the future, to share memories and new happenings, and to bask in the joy of what it means to be grateful of heart. Give thanks to God who has placed you together on the road that leads to a wonderful heavenly home. Strive to overcome the hurts and seek the blessings that are the grace-filled inheritance of being part of a family under the care of our heavenly Father. Enjoy the feast and find peace and God’s presence in the prayers of thanksgiving you share. God bless!

I Know a Man: Gratitude and the God of Thanksgiving

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I know someone in Christ who, fourteen years ago (whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows), was caught up to the third heaven. And I know that this person (whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows) was caught up into Paradise and heard ineffable things, which no one may utter. About this person I will boast, but about myself I will not boast, except about my weaknesses. (2 Corinthians 12:2-5)

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Every year in November I look forward to that special Thursday when I get together either with my family or my wife’s family to celebrate Thanksgiving. I confess that while I miss my brothers and sisters and the craziness of a road trip to Pennsylvania, I truly enjoy when we choose to visit my wife’s Italian family for a loud and loving festival of food and fun that is their yearly holiday dinner. Such a joyful feast causes me to reflect on what it means to be truly thankful, truly forgiven in Christ, and truly caught up in the glorious journey that is my Catholic faith. This year, at this point in my walk of faith, I wanted to reflect on the life of a man I know and hope that seeing his struggles turned into strength in Christ will inspire you to experience the gratitude and grace of God.

I Know a Man, and the Boy He Was…

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I know a man who remembers a lost and lonely childhood without a father, a special box of secret treasures that only a boy could cherish being lost in a family move, and the struggles of coping with so many days of confusion, insecurity and uncertainty. But that man remembers also the father who worked so hard away from home to provide for the family he missed, and the mother who labored in love to keep her family together on her own. He remembers days when disaster struck, when lives were almost lost, and when there was little to go around. But he also remembers the strength that came from pushing through the hard times and holding onto hope that the days to come would be better.

I know a man who saw his boyhood home submerged in the waters of a local flood, who experienced the loss of material possessions, security, and safety. But the man also saw a refuge in the home of distant relatives who took his family in; and he experienced unconditional love, despite his misbehavior and acting out. I know this man experienced the challenge of helping his father and mother rebuild and resettle in their flooded out home, and deep down, learned the power and the joy of personal sacrifice for the sake of those he loved.

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I know a man who struggled with loneliness in school, as he tried so hard to fit in and to make sense of the fears he faced every day from bullies and those who rejected him for who he was. But this man determined to study hard, find true friends, and search for simple joy in the everyday experiences of adolescence. That man grew stronger as he attended daily Mass and learned to pray to the Savior who was becoming more and more real to him with each passing year. 

I Know a Man who Found His Way into Adulthood…

I know a man who stumbled his way into young adulthood, finishing his high school studies and attending college, where for the first time he felt truly connected to his faith and future. The man continued to learn and to grow, to stumble and to get back up again, and to seek his way in the world. That man made many mistakes and went down many wrong paths; but that man also found his way back to the things that meant the most to him: his family and his faith. That man experimented with bad behavior and saw the worst of himself; but he also discovered a deeper relationship with the God who had been carrying him through. He watched his parents part ways, but found ways to deepen his relationship with each of them. Day by day, he walked his way into a his grownup world.

I know a man who failed in many relationships, lost jobs, ventured away from home only to return a broken soul. But that man found new strength and new hope in the family who always welcomed him back again. And he found beauty in the woman he would eventually marry. Though he had many missteps on the journey of courtship and marriage, he experienced great joy in beginning a new life of joy, sharing his faith with the one he had come to love. And when there were no children due to unforeseen events, that man and his bride prayed and trusted in the God who never let them go. In time, a son was born. Then the joy that man knew was powerful and precious and perfect indeed!

And I know a man who experienced the loss of a mother, the struggles of a lost job, the fears of bills piling up, and the frailty of a strained marital relationship. That man became ill and discouraged and began to re-experience all the same fears and fragility of his early childhood all over again. But God spoke to that man through faithful believers and though that man found himself uncertain about his finances, his family, and his faith, he discovered an even greater stability in the strength that God provided in the woman he loved, and the miracles that came into his life one by one. And though that man strayed from his faith, he never lost hope in the God who never gave up on him.

I Know a Man Who Has Been Truly Blessed…

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I know a man who fathered two more children, who moved to an unfamiliar place and saw the sacrifices his spouse made on his behalf, though he was unworthy of the love she gave. I know how the man continued to stumble along the way, changing jobs, watching dreams fade away, and forgetting the things that were truly most important. But I know also how that man slowly came around once more to a place where his faith was central to his life. Though he could never take back the mistakes and failures, the unkind words and selfish actions, he found in the forgiveness of Christ a way to become a better man and to spend his days seeking to rekindle the love he and his family shared together.

I know a man who has regained a sense of himself, who has rediscovered his love for the written word, who has also reclaimed the incredible gifts of his family and his faith. I know this man has walked a lonely road, a rocky road, a broken road; but he has found the narrow way and planted his feet firmly on the path toward heaven. I know the man has set his face toward heaven, has recommitted his life to his Savior and his family, and has determined to never let the failures and fears of the past dictate the direction for his journey in the days to come. That man is flawed and often floundering; but that man is also graced and gifted. He looks back on his life and sees the blessings of eternity that broke into his life from the realms of eternity. The sorrow has given way to solace. The brokenness and bondage have given way to forgiveness and faith. The confusion has given way to courage and the regret to recommitment. 

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As you reflect this Thanksgiving on all for which you are thankful, perhaps you will remember a man – or woman – whose life has been guided every step of the way by the One who knew us from eternity, formed us in the womb, and guided our lives along the narrow path through Calvary to heaven’s joy. Happy Thanksgiving! 
 

Just for Fun: The Raken

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Just for fun, I thought I'd print the words to my "scary masterpiece," The Raken! It's a fun parody of Edgar Allan's Poe's The Raven! Enjoy! (PS - Catch the video as well!)

 

The Raken

Once upon an autumn dreary, while I pondered raking, weary,
Over this my summer’s browning and forgotten grassy shore.
While I labored, fairly hustling, suddenly there came a rustling,
As if something lightly bustling, bustling through my tedious chore.
“Tis a squirrel,” I muttered, “looking for some nuts to store –
Only this, and nothing more.”

How distinctly I remember, should have done this in September,
Not a dear longstanding member of the neighborhood’s décor.
Eagerly I wished to borrow, lawn machine brought on the morrow,
But had only rake and sorrow, sorrow for this horrid chore –
For the everlasting and back-breaking tedious garden chore –
Thrust upon me evermore.

And each leaf, so gently falling, job completion now forestalling,
Chilled me, filled me with such apprehension never felt before;
So I raked, my heart its beating, tempting my faint soul’s retreating
And with wife and child’s entreating, rake until my sinews sore
Bearing now their sad entreating, bones, and sinews aching sore -
Tis a job and nothing more.

But my pleas on deaf ears falling, kept this pace though it was crawling,
Yard my earnest prayer was that there be an ending to this chore;
Vainly was my nervous talking, for to me I felt a stalking,
And so faintly I kept walking toward the gloves I wore – 
Gloving now my hands and taking rake resumed my awful chore,
Raking piles of leaves once more.

As I contemplated napping, heard the sound of thunder clapping,
Wishing for the clouds to now descend and drenching rain to pour
But the thunder soon it ended, so my respite now suspended
Bade me come to spot untended, and to take up rake once more –
Vainly now I whispered, “Horror!” and I heard the sound once more –
Scraping, chanting, “Nevermore!”

‘Round the yard my head was turning, all my soul within me burning,
Still I heard the scraping voice say what it called out twice before.
“Surely,” said I, “surely that is, some young squirrel upon the lattice,
Or a bold stray dog or cat is, clawing at my cellar door –
Let my raking still itself now and this mystery explore –
But the sound was heard no more!

Then turned I to do some bagging, yet above my family’s nagging,
Was the cold hard sound of something, calling as it had before.
Wished that I had leaves been blowing, for the blower’s rage bestowing
Would have drown the sound now growing, growing as I raked some more –
Still its hideous form not showing, haunting now this wretched chore,
Calling, calling, “Nevermore!”

Gazed down toward my two feet trembling, clarity, my thoughts assembling,
Knowledge of the true cause mocking heart and mind and soul and core.
Long and jagged teeth descending, to the grass as I was bending,
So reproachful, my heart rending, as the stiffened rake began to roar
Scraping on the crimson foliage, causing stiffened form to roar,
Quoth the rakin’, “Nevermore!” 

Marveled I as wood and plastic, making sounds so brash and spastic,
Spoke its harsh reproof so coldly, into flesh and marrow bore;
Contemplated I the science, of this object’s gross defiance,
Yet on this was my reliance, still my darkest heart it tore,
This which lacked a soul or feeling, still it mocked me all the more
Scratching out its “Nevermore!”

But the rake it seemed so fitting, here to do my very bidding, 
That one tool, so fashioned thusly, did perform yet offer more.
“So absurd!” I came to mutter, “that this rake should choose to utter,
Cleaning yard and walk and gutter, could this implement implore?
And with such a tool before me, would I win this raking war?”
Then it answered, “Nevermore!”

Startled at the stillness broken, from a rake, a word thus spoken,
“Doubtless,” said I, “This is madness, my mind’s wanderings, nothing more.”
I this moment should be tarping, heeding not this objects harping
Else this siege of my mind’s warping, should delay this daunting chore,
‘Til the hope of job’s completion, should recoil in me no more.
Yet it called out, “Nevermore!”

But with all my futile raking, goal unmet and thirst un-slaking,
Straight I wheeled around this forest, gazing down at leafy floor.
There upon I set to thinking, and in horror set to linking,
Fancy upon fancy, thinking that this drama must mean more – 
Stuff of tales, so gruesome, ghastly, drawn from fearful days of yore,
Meant by rakin’s, “Nevermore!”

Thus I paused, my mind engaging, in a story newly paging
Here within my mind a tempest – leaves be gone and fall no more!
Fighting now a futile battle, herding leaves like many cattle
Hearing still that dreadful rattle, haunting me within my core.
Seething terror, my transgression, being frozen at death’s door
Shall it cease now? – “Nevermore!”

Then methought, the leaves fell thicker, causing me to rake much quicker,
Wondering if unseen hand hath shaken bough and branch once more,
“Rake!” I cried, “the ground is covered, with the leaves that one time hovered,
Respite, I am not recovered, thou dost vex me, wretched chore!”
Calling thus in desperation, to the sky I did implore,
Quoth the rakin, “Nevermore!”

“Prophet!” said I, “Demon garden. Rake, yes still, but without pardon.
Whether tool or instrument of hell I cannot now ignore
Your unceasing leafy taunting, filling this my yard with haunting
For the gruesome task so daunting – tell me truly, I implore?
Is there end to falling foliage – thus that I may cease this chore?”
Quoth the rakin, “Nevermore!”

Horror upon horror dancing, on my grass these leaves advancing,
By that Heaven there above us – by that God we both adore –
Tell this man with leaf piles laden, up to knees so he must wade in,
If I may with my rake made in, distant land triumph once more –
O’er this sea of leaves and pots of flowers dead by front porch door!
Quoth the rakin, “Nevermore!”

By that word, I thus departing, threw the rake and stopped my carting,
Shrieking now to lawn and branches, “Thou wilt have my heart no more!”
Let these piles stand as a token, of the soul that now has broken –
This my final word has spoken! Quit have I, to rake no more!
Take thy tines from out my heart, as now I leave you at the door!”
No more hear I, “Nevermore!”

But the rakin, never stirring, leaves by wind are still there whirring,
In the yard now buried under rustling rotting leafy floor.
There to mock my vain evicting, with now winter storm’s predicting
Flakes begin to fall convicting, endless shoveling in store…
Wilt there be an end to this my chilly wintry shoveling chore?
Quoth the shovel, “Nevermore!”

Click the Image to the right to watch “The Raken”