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At my house we’ve started the Thanksgiving conversation with mashed potatoes. Next, the pies. My sister is going to a “Friendsgiving” Gathering in which she has to make the mashed potatoes in advance, but we’ve learned from our mom that you do the mashed potatoes last, for best-quality, fluffy potatoes alongside the turkey. What to do? We discussed at length and decided Mashed Potato Casserole is the way to go. As for the pies, it’s always a bit more complicated. Everyone has their favorite, their expectation. (And what if Dad wants Mincemeat Pie this year? Insert my husband’s grimace here…) After much ado, we usually end up with four pies too many, reminding ourselves that cold pie is also good pie.

At my house the Thanksgiving meal is highly favored; spoken of and dreamed about year-round. My dad even adopted it as his preferred Father’s Day meal, so we do a repeat in June, every year. We love the meal. We love to be around the table together, often with a range of family, friends, and international guests. At my house Thanksgiving is all that is good, around a table.

There is another thing that generally happens around our table, after we’ve eaten turkey and mashed potatoes, but before the smorgasbord of pie. At that point, we pause from our feasting and we say thanks.

It is pretty simple, really. You may do the same. Around the table, everyone is given an opportunity to share what they are thankful for that year. As you would expect, many of the words point to the simplest and kindest things in life- thanks for family, thanks for friends. Some years, thanks for a healthy baby, a new house, maybe a new job. Thanks for a special pet. With children you get a few, “Thanks for giraffes; Thanks for hot dogs,” but our range is pretty small and sometimes seemingly uncreative, though its sameness points in every way toward a healthy, hopeful, steady life. And our gratitude to our good God is as sincere as it is simple.

The thing is, despite the simplicity of our practice and the “ruts of gratitude” that we roll through year after year, I have developed a bit of pre-Thanksgiving anxiety. I worry about my gratitude. In fact, some years I have worried whether I have gratitude. Because some years are hard. Hard all year.

I remember quite well the year I struggled so hard, that as my turn came round the table, there was a long, uncertain silence and I admitted I couldn’t come up with something I felt thankful for. And it crushed me.

On that beloved holiday in which we gathered to give thanks, I was lagging through the day, weighed down by the long exhaustion of personal hardship and hurt. Everything had crumbled around me that year, and the rubble of the collapse had filled me full, grit between my teeth. There were no words of thanks at hand, including the normalized, “family, friends, warm house, good health.”

Every year since then, I’ve worried. In advance I’ll prepare my thoughts and check-in with myself, poke at the thankfulness, be sure that it’s there… because I’ve learned that hidden beneath the rubble, if I look closely, I might find a gem.

This year, we’ve discussed the mashed potatoes and planned the pies. And I have considered my thankful heart. This year, like so many, has seen hardship. This year, wars are waging. I see leaders and institutions teetering. Good people are sick, and some are dying. I’ve seen relationships crash and burn, and friendships die a fighting death. I see kids not living their best lives and not getting help they need. I’m sad about people who are lonely, ostracized, locked out. Sometimes I think the world is crumbling to pieces, pulverized by the weight of these many hardships.

How do we speak words of thanksgiving with the grit of collapse between our teeth?


Well, for one, and I don’t think that we should expect it to be easy. For me, as much as it has prompted some anxiety to have this annual “opportunity” to publicly proclaim words of thanksgiving, it has also been helpful to be reminded that we are to give thanks in every circumstance.

Because it prompts me, then, to kneel down in the rubble of life and begin sifting through the dust, and the grit, and the pieces of things that used to be beautiful and whole. In that sifting and sorting, I feel the granularity of life. I can turn it over in my hands, inspect it, and really look for the good, the colorful, the valuable and fine. And, eventually, in the sorting of particulars, I come across one small thing and place it in the center of my palm.

I gaze upon that one small thing resting there, whatever it is, and I sense that it simply would not be there without God. If I can, despite the grit between my teeth, I say thank you.

If I can’t say thank you yet, I close my fingers tightly over that tiny, valued thing, and I hold it there. I remind myself that thanksgiving can, and should be, every day and not just feast-days.

So then one day, sometimes after many, many days go by, I realize that my awareness of the one valuable thing clenched in my fist was a seed that has grown a little leaf of gratitude. And I see that God is always, always making all things new. Out of the rubble, a leaf grows. From the grit between my teeth, a dusty “thank you” leaks out. And that is a beginning.

Header photo by Davies Designs Studio on Unsplash

Table setting photo by Jordan Arnold on Unsplash

Thanksgiving dinner photo by Jed Owen on Unsplash

Give Thanks photo by Simon Maage on Unsplash

Growing plant photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

Katy Sundararajan

Katy enjoys writing here at the Reformed Journal about the small things that give us pause and point us to great wonder, the things that make our hearts glad and remind us of where our hope comes from. You can find more of Katy’s writing through Words of Hope free daily devotionals, and in Guideposts’ All God’s Creatures: Daily Devotions for Animal Lovers. Give Katy a good book, a pretty view, or a meal around the table with laughing people and she’ll say, “All is well.”


  • Daniel Meeter says:

    As usual. And I will not forget to do this eucharistic thing.

  • RZ says:

    And we readers are all thankful for writers who can be honest, deeply spiritual, yet human in their wondering. If it takes potatoes to get us there, so be it.

  • Jeff Carpenter says:

    No pressure at all for the introverts in the family who just may be more adept at showing and living thankfulness than by expressing it. Thanks for this article — it will make the rounds in my family, present and not present this holiday.
    And this dad loves mincemeat pie also! :?)

  • Sandy Price says:

    Beautifully written and a wonderful message.

  • Marc Nelesen says:

    A great reminder that we need to help our families issue invitations and not expectations – especially around the holidays.

    For the gritty, imagine what it would look like when it was our turn to say, “I’m thankful for your gratitude.” Next….

  • Christopher Poest says:

    It is easy to say “Thanks” to you for this beautiful gift, Katy.

  • Gloria J McCanna says:

    Thank you for kneeling, sifting through the grit and offering this beautiful gem.

  • Emily Jane VandenBos Style says:

    What Gloria said.

  • Sally Hoekstra says:

    Thank you, Katy.

  • Marie says:

    Thank you for this. On those days when I have a hard time finding something to be thankful for, when I’m in the rubble, I look at the sagebrush or pinons and thank God for photosynthesis. It’s a gas, not a grain, so it hits the senses in a different way, but it gives the same message the God is present in the small ways, in the foundational things.

  • Marilyn Paarlberg says:

    Beautifully written, evocative, transparent and vulnerable. Those qualities and more enable my sincere thanks for this piece. I will think of it when I can’t quite muster “gratitude platitudes.”

  • Paula Nieuwsma says:

    Thank you Katy! You are a blessing and God has given you such a gift. Sharing what’s in many of our hearts as well. When we go around the table, we ask what 5 things each one of us is thankful for. Mine will be the tiny seeds that that soon flourish to much thankfulness.

  • Joan Williams says:

    Thanks, Katy, so well said! Bob also loves Mince pie and gets a whole one each Thanksgiving, as no one else cares for it.

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