Thanksgiving of 1998 found me on a tour bus headed to Normandy, France. I was deployed to Germany and had a four day holiday weekend so I was going to take advantage of it. This was one trip of a long list of trips so while I was excited about the opportunity the experience wasn’t so new to make me not grumble a little about not having a traditional Thanksgiving meal.
This wasn’t my first Thanksgiving away from home since I spent Thanksgiving at Fort Lee, Virginia doing my advanced training right after joining the military yet it was my first Thanksgiving out of country and without the traditional United States holiday fare. We were going to eat, the food was going to be good and we all know when you want one type of food nothing else quite satisfies.
Not being a great history student in school it was a blessing to me that I was able to see the movie Saving Private Ryan right before going on this trip. When we got to the beaches at Normandy and I remembered the scenes of that movie I realized this was no ordinary sight-seeing trip. When I stood in the Normandy American Cemetery where every direction I looked all I could see was the crosses that represented the men who died during the D-Day landings I repented for my grumbling about missing turkey. The men buried there gave their lives and their families not only lost their loved ones they were also left without a place to mourn those loved ones close to their homes. When I put it into perspective I wasn’t actually sacrificing during my military tour.
And the people of Normandy may not celebrate the American Thanksgiving yet I can share you that they showed their gratitude for what the American people had done for them daily. They do not take the sacrifice those men made lightly, and I never will either.
Thankfulness is a choice. There is always something to grumble about and always something to be thankful for. Grumbling never lifts my spirits or improves my day yet the practice of being grateful makes each day easier to face.
No matter what challenge I am facing there is always someone dealing with something much worse. The most heartbroken I have ever been was when one of my Sunday school students shot and killed himself (may have been an accident yet it was ruled a suicide). I felt like nothing could be worse, and I struggled both with guilt and despair. Not quite a year later two young men killed five people at their school. I realized as heartbroken as I was that it could actually be worse. It has been seventeen years since I lost that young man, and I have seen so many examples of what worse looks like.
I started to write that no matter what I think I lack there is someone with less yet the truth is that I don’t think I lack anything. It is not because I have every single thing that I could think of to want but rather my habit of being grateful for what I have that allows me to feel the abundance of my life rather than what is missing. And this pertains to relationships, health and much more than just money and physical possessions.
I won’t pretend to be super spiritual and tell you that I am not looking forward to this year’s Thanksgiving meal. It always will be one of my favorite days of the year (or several days of the year depending how many dinners I can crash and how long the leftovers last). I love that we have a holiday to remind us to be thankful. And if there is one holiday that I wish would extend throughout the year it is Thanksgiving. I don’t see any reason we can’t be thankful Jesus was born on Christmas, thankful we get a fresh start at New Year’s, thankful we have someone to love on Valentine’s Day – you get the idea. The practice of thankfulness or gratitude is life changing and I know that firsthand.
Jolene Staker lives in Conway, Arkansas with Cowboy (cat that thinks he owns the place) and a few other furbabies and is pursuing a Master’s Degree in Professional Counseling from Amridge University. She served in the military for 17 ½ years before being medically retired. Her favorite job while in the military was being a photojournalist which became possible when a unit was going to Germany and needed extra people so they accepted her college writing experience of being the managing editor of her small college’s paper as qualification to go. She was also deployed to Guantanamo Bay Cuba for 18 months where she did back to back tours, one as a photojournalist and one as a Chaplain Assistant (although not actually military trained in that capacity they asked her to stay when they needed extra people because of her dedication to the chapel programs during her first tour). She is now exploring all possibilities for how she might use her writing to glorify God and encourage others in addition to counseling and /or life coaching opportunities after she completes school and training.