But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and reaching forward to what is ahead…” Philippians 3:13
It was a Thanksgiving to remember. Throughout the years, Thanksgiving has been a big deal in our family. Growing up, it was a time when Mama would buy a huge turkey and cook it all night in the roaster oven that set by the stove for such an occasion. It was a time when pies were cooked, ambrosia was made, and giblet gravy simmered on the stove. It was a time for two kinds of dressing—cornbread and cornbread with oysters. I’m not sure where that came from, but it was pretty popular. Then, of course, it was a time when most everyone would come home, and we would feast—on good food and enjoy family.
When I graduated from high school and enlisted in the Air Force things had to change. My first duty station was about an hour from the Canadian border in a town called Minot—Minot, North Dakota. I arrived there in October and it was already too cold for a Florida boy. The holidays were looming ahead and it looked like Thanksgiving was going to be a solo flight. But then something happened. Somehow, remember this is long before cellphones, my brother Jimmy, who lived in Amarillo, Texas, called and invited me to his house for Thanksgiving.
Again, somehow, someway, it happened. My base pay of $320 per month didn’t allow for plane tickets, so it meant a trip to the credit union to see if I could get a loan. They granted it and I bought the ticket, got my leave approved and had someone haul me to the airport. So, like the song says, over the river and through the woods, I was on my way, not to grandmother’s house but my brother’s. I can remember flying down to Amarillo in that two engine, piston driven, plane feeling excited and afraid all at the same time. What in the world was I doing?
Soon enough, I was on the ground and there was my big brother and a couple of his kids waiting for me. The best I can remember he worked, maybe managed, a ranch of sorts. It seemed we drove a long way out into the Texas countryside before finally arriving at his house. The next day was Thanksgiving and it was so much like the one at home. We ate well and enjoyed good family fellowship. The thing that was so different was that in the past I was treated as the baby of the family—which I was. But that day—I was his peer. I was a man.
As much as I enjoyed Thanksgiving Day, the next couple of days were also awesome. We went jackrabbit hunting. It was cold with snow covering the ground, and we would jolt and bounce through the fields in his old Willis Jeep. Back at the house we drank hot coffee as he would spin tales about his time in the Air Force. Jimmy was always bigger than life and he was that day too. We also put up the Christmas tree while I was there. One of his favorite Christmas songs was Charlie Pride’s “Christmas in My Home Town.” We played it over and over again while I was there. To this day it is still one of my favorites.
Soon it was time for me to head back to the far north. We headed back to the airport and soon those piston engines were shaking and vibrating the old plane again as I flew back to Minot. I’ve had many good Thanksgivings over the years but that one stands out for me. It was a time when my brother made sure I wasn’t alone at a time when too many were. That was back in 1972 so a lot of water has flowed beneath the bridge. I’m decades older and he is now in heaven. But I am left with the memories…memories that still refresh my soul and make me smile.
To be honest, there are other Thanksgivings that were not so easy…times when another brother and his family were not on speaking terms with the family, times when Daddy was sick and times when the family went separate ways. But I have grown to realize that each of us have a choice. We can choose to remember and relish the good times, or we can remember and dwell on the hard times. The choice is ours. Paul, the guy who wrote about two-thirds of the New Testament in the Bible had plenty of hard memories. He was a pretty bad guy before he met Jesus. After Jesus, he began to write some new stories in his life and he made the decision to leave the past in the past. We should too.
I know holidays can be hard because of the past, or maybe the present. Let me encourage you to choose to remember the good and let go of the rest. It’s not easy but it is possible—with a little help from God. I know these days He’s getting a lot of bad press, but trust me, if you don’t know Him you should get acquainted. He loves you more than you know and He wants to help you do life here. He can even help with those difficult memories.
One of the things that is a staple of mine in life is to eat and nap. Today, Lord willing, I will eat a very good meal, and I will take a very nice nap. Try it—you’ll like it. Also today, I’m going to take a nap of sorts with my best friend Jesus. I’m going to pull aside, rest, and just chat about all the ways He has blessed me. It might take a while because I’m pretty blessed—and so are you. We also will probably talk about some of the hard things going on now. He won’t judge me—He will just love me. You know, that Thanksgiving so many years ago my brother treated me as his peer. Today Jesus treats me as a friend—a friend closer than a brother. He’s a friend that can handle my past and my future. A friend I can trust. That’s why I know…He’s got this.