On Thanksgiving Day, American families gathered together all across this great and diverse nation to share a meal and give tribute to the One who ultimately provided it. That is simply what we do on this day.
Like other American families, my family has our own Thanksgiving traditions. They are, however, what you might call non-traditional traditions. For more than 30 years, we have celebrated in a unique and personal style in setting, food, and dress.
When asked by strangers how my family celebrates Thanksgiving, I often struggle for words to explain what it is that we actually do. My story is generally met with amusement: “What! No turkey, no dressing, no cranberry sauce!”
It is true nonetheless. Five generations of non-traditionalists converge on the side of a mountain at a deer-hunters cabin in the pine-covered mountains of Southeast Oklahoma. We arrive on ATVs, Jeeps, and 4-wheel drive vehicles to share in the family fun on this day. We come decked out in camouflage and denim, and everyone who can grow a beard has one. The cabin’s open fireplace assures that everyone and everything will soon smell of smoke.
The food menu hasn’t changed in 33 years—venison, wild turkey, mashed potatoes, beans and cornbread—cooked by the hunters who have camped there for the entire week of deer season. Over the years the menu has grown to include a few traditional side items brought by those who don’t appreciate the non-traditional cuisine (like me); but regardless of what tops the home-built table covered with an orange Oklahoma State University Pistol Pete tablecloth, no one leaves hungry.
When my pastor-son was asked to bless the food, an immediate hush fell across the room. Whether it was kids running to and fro, age-old stories being told and retold, or last minute efforts to put the food on the table, it all ceased for the Thanksgiving prayer. I won’t soon forget my son’s words—they were a testimony of who we are.
In his prayer, my son gave thanks to God for all who had gathered there and for His many blessings to our family during the year. Then he said, “I thank You that someone in this family made the decision many years ago to live godly….” He finished his prayer, but my mind lingered long on the thought, “made the decision to live godly.”
This family was truly blessed to have godly grandparents who blazed the trail before us. They have long departed to heaven, and through the years other family members have joined them there as well. Yet every Thanksgiving, we meet once again to cherish those we can still hug, lavish love on the newest among us, and to remember those who left us this godly heritage.
So what does “live godly” mean anyway? Oh, don’t get me wrong—we are not a perfect family—by any stretch of the imagination. We have our faults, our failures, our sins, and our wounds. Being godly doesn’t mean that we haven’t sinned; it means that we know the Savior who takes away the sin of the world.1 It doesn’t mean that we haven’t made mistakes; it means that we trust in the blood of the Lamb that washes white as snow.2
Deciding to live godly simply means choosing to be like God—
We choose to extend grace to undeserving people, because God extended grace to us when we were undeserving.
We choose to forgive those who have hurt us, because God forgave us when we were guilty of hurting others.
We choose to love the unlovable in the world, because God loved us when we were unlovely.
Perfect people—not by a long shot! But we are people who live by our faith in the God who forgives,3 whose mercies are new every morning,4 and who has promised to take us to heaven when we die.5
At the end of the day, a group of full and happy family members who smelled of smoke gathered into a huddle for the annual photo shoot. There we stood—five generations of imperfect godly people enjoying our non-traditional Thanksgiving traditions. ~Janie Kellogg
1John 1:29; 2Isaiah 1:18; 31 John 1:9; 4Lamentations 3:23; 5John 14:2-3