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This Thanksgiving Day...

Thanksgiving Day is a favorite holiday for many people.

I suspect a big reason is the simplicity of Thanksgiving.

Yes, the consumer orgy called "Black Friday" is spreading into Tuesday and Wednesday of Thanksgiving week, and even into Thanksgiving Day itself. (Which really is obscene, if you think about it for a minute: the one day set aside to give thanks for what we already have, we go out and buy more of what we don't have?! Ugh.)

But for most of us, Thanksgiving Day remains, for the most part, a day for the simple joy of getting together with family or friends for a meal.

Even if your way of observing the day involves stress - travel, complicated recipes, or customs you've added or inherited - chances are the day itself is one of simple pleasures: cooking, eating, relaxing, watching the Thanksgiving Day parade and/or football, catching up.

This Thanksgiving Day, I hope you'll stop at some point and do what the day calls us to do: give thanks. (It might help to recall that "thanksgiving" is a compound word. We "give" "thanks.")

When we "give" something, it implies a giver, and a receiver. There is a transaction going on: someone is giving something, and someone is receiving something.

The transaction might between you and another person (such as your spouse, or your child, or your parent, or your friend) or it might be between you and a whole group of people (such as your church, or the men and women of the armed forces who are observing Thanksgiving far away from home, or teachers), or it may be between you and God.

Thinking about thanks-giving as a transaction helps us to make an important distinction I've written about many times before: the difference between "feeling grateful" and "giving thanks."

The classic biblical teaching on this distinction is in the gospel of Luke, in which ten men are healed of leprosy. In this story, Jesus tells the ten lepers to present themselves to the religious authorities, and as they went on their way, they were made clean. All ten were probably grateful. But only one of them gave thanks.

Giving thanks means moving from an ethereal, vague feeling or emotion within us to a tangible, visible, concrete action.

The leper who gave thanks stopped doing what he was doing, went out of his way, made an effort.   So the elements of giving thanks that make thanksgiving different than mere gratitude are:

1)      Stopping what you are doing 
2)      Going out of your way/inconveniencing yourself temporarily 
3)      Taking some concrete, tangible, visible (or at least audible) action.   

Stopping what you are doing means pausing amid the activity of Thanksgiving Day. It means deliberately stopping what you are doing for the purpose of giving thanks.

Going out of your way or inconveniencing yourself means getting everyone's attention by tapping on a glass, or pulling someone aside so you can have a moment alone. It means sitting down with pen and paper, or finding a quiet moment for a phone call.

Taking some concrete, tangible, visible (or at least audible) action means offering a few words - they do not need to be eloquent, only heart-felt - prior to eating your feast. It means putting both your hands on someone's shoulders, waiting for eye contact, and saying, "I appreciate you so much and I hardly ever say so, but thank you."

It means supporting our veterans who are suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress or Traumatic Brain Injury by supporting organizations such as Operation VetsHaven, and in so doing go beyond "thank you for your service" to getting veterans Individual Counseling, Legal advice, Financial Advice, Marriage and Family Therapy, and Career Development services.

It means writing a note to a teacher who had a big impact on you, or who is having one on your child. 

So: have a happy Thanksgiving. AND make someone else's happy, by giving thanks. 

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