Enjoying, Being Grateful for Our True Blessings
As we come to Thanksgiving 2020, I would like to share some stories that have meant much to me in the past and that others told me they have enjoyed.
This Thanksgiving will be different than any other. Some have said, “If you have a big family Thanksgiving gathering, you can also have a big family Christmas funeral.” I hope that’s not true. It does emphasize being careful and these are unusual times.
One of the national television news programs said that for the Thanksgiving week of shows, they were going to have several immigrants take the oath of citizenship for the United States. The truth is as far as I am concerned; we are all immigrants, except for the American Indians. All of our ancestors either came on the boat, or rowed the boat; some came voluntarily, others came forcibly kidnapped, some paid to come, others were paid for bringing them, but no matter — we are all on the same boat now.
Several years ago, three Soviet immigrants who had spent their first Thanksgiving in the United States said they were thankful for their new freedom to worship and travel without harassment. Thanksgiving “is a very, very good holiday,” said Lyuba Vashchenko, one of the “Siberian Seven” Pentecostals who took refuge in the United States Embassy in Moscow for five years. Through numerous, continued efforts, especially from the United States, they were finally allowed to leave the Soviet Union.
The majority of us who were born in the United States take our citizenship for granted. Others are paying a high price to get what we got free of charge, and sometimes we are not that thankful for the gift.
When naturalization ceremonies were held in Columbus, Ohio, for 53 new American citizens, they were told by Steve Lauterbach, an American held hostage in Iran, to appreciate their new status. “I am embarrassed” he said, “to admit I tended to take the privileges and responsibilities of citizenship for granted until I was put in a situation that forced me to become aware of them,” Lauterbach said. The former hostage was invited to the group by Judge John Holschuch, a U.S. district judge at the time.
A story that seems to bring it home to me is of two foster sons. They were taken in over 30 years ago and cared for as natural sons. Then, police say, Walter and Earl Scott repaid their foster parents by extorting the couple’s life savings — over $55,000 — in the last two years of their foster parents’ lives. The plot came to light, authorities said, when a suspicious bank employee notified police after the savings account of the elderly Bronx, N.Y., couple was all but drained. Police nabbed Walter, 37, and Earl, 36, at the home they still shared with the foster parents, aged 82 and 81.
The Scotts, biological brothers, used “physical intimidation” to force the retired couple to make huge withdrawals from the bank. “Sometimes, they took the father to the bank and forced him to sign withdrawal slips,” the police sergeant said. Other times, they went on their own, signing his name. Police said the brothers were 5 and 6 when they originally were taken into the home.
They were tremendously blessed, yet they were not thankful for the kindness.
How many of us have been truly blessed, but constantly complain about a number of things, some real and some imagined? It is said that during the last election, a number of Americans did go out to vote, a responsibility of citizenship. It was said to be the highest turn out in history. Whether your candidate won or lost, we should be thankful for living in America and having the privilege to vote.
Working in his office in Minneapolis, Jess Lair, 35, collapsed with a heart attack. He had been driving for success — and succeeding — in a job he hated. While in the hospital, the stricken executive reviewed his life and decided, “From now on, I am never again going to do something that I don’t deeply believe in.”
Mr. Lair and his family shifted to simple living. He enrolled in graduate school and earned a Ph.D in psychology. Then the Lairs moved to Montana, where he found a teaching job at the state university. For his students, Jess Lair wrote the story of how his life was turned around. He called his book, “I Ain’t Much Baby — But I’m All I’ve Got.” It became a bestseller!
It took a heart attack to get Jess Lair to evaluate and change his life. But things needn’t get that critical. Each day offers opportunities to choose to live life rather than to succumb to events. At least in some ways, the choice is ours-to live or exist, to be thankful or ungrateful.
When a person knows that death is near and inevitable, one of the most common reactions is regret over something they did not do. A dying person told how hard he had worked to provide for his family. But because he was working so long and so hard, he never really had time to spend with them.
Terminally ill, he said: “If I could go home once more, I would go fishing with my son. I always wanted to, but I never had time.” He did get a chance to go home again. When he came back to the hospital, just a few days before he died, he said: “I went fishing with my son. It was the best day in my whole life.”
Don’t put off acts of love until it’s too late. It is my prayer you will be guided into a life of thankfulness and a life that has avoided regrets. As we come closer to the end of 2020, we are hopeful to also come closer to the end of this COVID-19 pandemic. Let’s take time to learn the lesson from it and hopefully never repeat it.
Cummings is pastor of Bethlehem Temple in Wheeling and Shiloh Apostolic Temple in Weirton.