Praise God. For What?

This Thursday, I will celebrate Thanksgiving with international students who’ve come to Massachusetts for graduate school.  We’ll board a bus in Harvard Square and head to New Hampshire for two nights of pies and hiking and board games. This will be my family’s fourth year of hosting this get-away, and it has become my favorite holiday.

Each year we read Lincoln’s Proclamation, an invitation for the entire nation to observe the last Thursday of November as a day of thanksgiving.  It’s a remarkable piece in many ways, most remarkable perhaps because it was ordered just weeks before he delivered the Gettysburg Address. How do you order a day of “Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father” during the biggest blood bath in your country’s history?

For ten years now, instead of going around the table to say what we are thankful for on Thanksgiving, Jeff and I have asked people to share one of the most difficult or painful experiences of the past year. When the person finishes his or her story, those of us gathered around the table lift our glasses and say, “Praise God.”

Over the years, we’ve witnessed stories of lost faith and lost marriages. Spiritual desolation and fear.  Illness, addiction, and failure. Loved ones who died and other who are not speaking to them.  I always feel honored to hear and hold these stories.

It can be hard, though, to lift my glass after hearing them.  “Praise God for what?” I want to shout.

Last week, I watched The Hiding Place, which chronicles the lives of Corrie and Elizabeth ten Boom, who were sent to a concentration camp for hiding Jews in their house during the Holocaust.  At one point, Elizabeth thanks God for her lice because the lice have kept the guards out of her bunkhouse.  Really?  I mean, really?

When it’s my turn to share this Thursday, I’ll talk about homeschooling.  For the second year in a row, I’ll talk about the dread I often feel as I head down the stairs to meet my ‘students.’  About the awful things I never knew I could feel toward my own children. About the rage I experience when they won’t play along with my inspiring plans.  About the multiple diagnoses we received last year, each of which make homeschooling even more daunting.

Some of the grad students there will likely talk about the spouses and children and sick parents they left behind to come here.  About the lonely hours they spend in their rooms.  About how deeply afraid they are of failing.

Our sorrows will likely be small in light of the ten Boom story, in light of other stories we’ve heard over the years and struggles happening all over the globe. Still, pain is pain, and I imagine that I will find it difficult to lift my glass as I listen to my new friends share what has been hard this year. I’ll do it anyway, trying to live into what I believe: that somehow all of this pain and horror and loss is being redeemed, that the world is being put right, and that goodness and mercy will follow us all of our lives – even when we don’t see it.

You may not believe that right now.  You may even find my praise insulting. I understand.  I was there once too.  Please know that I am praying for you as I type this, and I hope you’ll understand…

…Praise God.

  • Kathy Tuan-Maclean

    Have a terrific retreat! Thanks for reminding me of your tradition–I’m thinking of suggesting it this year. Wonder how my mother and sister who can’t remember anything negative in their lives will respond??

  • http://www.facebook.com/jbarneson Jeff Barneson

    I like what my pastor, Bishop Brian Greene, says on occasion: “If you can’t say, ‘Praise God!’ try ‘Praise God anyway.’ ” That helps me anyway.

  • Cheryl Pfingsten

    In difficult times we hang onto those promises because our lives depend on the faithfulness of God.

  • kimberlee

    Wow. This has changed my perspective deeply. Last year Thanksgiving fell less than 2 months into grieving our baby. I remember just sitting there at the meal both our families, my favorite holiday, feeling so empty. It was so opposite of all the other Thanksgivings we had celebrated together. You could see the missing gratitude on everyone’s face. We didn’t even bring up what we were thankful for. I will never forget that thanksgiving and grateful that a year later my heart feels lighter and I look forward to the holiday.
    Right before last year’s Thanksgiving I had started a gratitude journal and was diligent to journal in it. I know it helped me process my beliefs and how different God seemed to me through it all, even though He is unchanging.
    Holding onto the promise that our Savior is returning to redeem it ALL keeps me going, the only thing I have hope in, when this world is so daunting and dark.
    And I can relate to you about the homeschooling. ;) Every homeschooling mom can! Sally Clarkson of WholeHearted Ministries has helped me keep perspective in the short-term drudgery and long-term rewards.

    • Tara Edelschick

      Kimberlee,

      I’m so sorry about your baby – death sucks. I’m also glad to hear that you feel better this year. And I’m humbled that you would share your story here. Thank you.

      Tara

  • Theresa Bouey

    I love that tradition! We may have to steal it for our annual Thanksgiving dinner! We will pray for soft hearts and open minds, as well as a sweet time of fellowship. Thank you for reminding me of Paul’s writing in Philippians 4: “…I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.” Happy Thanksgiving! May the Lord continue to supply you with the strength you need to do all things through Him and to be content in whatever circumstances!”

  • Deb Webber

    Deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls; all your waves and breakers have swept over me.
    Those words from Psalm 47 occured to me as I read your words. There is a deep seriousness to praise and a true sacrifice. And after that, joy.

  • Chelsea Buhrman

    Tara, this the best/most meaningful Thanksgiving tradition I’ve come across. Brought tears. Not only does a tradition like this strike the heart, but it seems that is cuts past all the silly, surface things that we might say (or feel like we have to say) and has the potential to create a real sense of community around the table.

    Thank you, really, for giving us this peek into your world. Your words, and this tradition, are beautiful. Rick and I are definitely considering beginning this tradition this year. Grace and peace to you.

  • http://geezeronthequad.com Dave Swartz

    This post made a poignant upgrade to my latest entry at geezeronthequad.com. Internationals are “ghost people” on most campuses so thank you for highlighting them during this season. And for a worship idea we can all entwine with our own holiday traditions.

    Patheos is a fascinating forum and I’m glad you decided to do this. You will add a unique flavor to the mix – someone intimately familiar with the texture of human hurt, engaged with real life, who understand the joy and satisfaction of thinking – and loves Jesus! Write on!

  • Liz

    I am grateful for my dear friendship with you, Jeff and the boys. Love you!

  • janis henning

    Happy Thanksgiving, Tara! Praise God!

  • http://olderthanjesus.blogspot.com Alison Hodgson

    I love this. It’s lament at it’s finest: acknowledging the loss and trial and choosing to praise God in the face of it. Too often it’s either for Christians which grieves me. Trusting God is not ignoring or minimizing life’s sorrows but looking for his presence in the darkness.

    This is a lovely, lovely tradition. Thank you for sharing.

    Incidentally, I think our extended family hosted your group.


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