Legacy of Thanksgiving

November has always been one of my favorite months and this one we've just turned the page on is no exception. Ushered in by the waning days of fall and ending by catapulting us into my favorite season of the year—Christmas—it's not a stretch to understand my affinity for this eleventh month of the calendar year.

But it's more than that.  And last week's Thanksgiving Day celebration helped to clarify why this month is so important and meaningful to me.  Well beyond the glory of fall with its captivating moments of observing castaway leaves dancing in the currents of winds, crispness due to falling air temps, and the increasingly pressing awareness of the diminishing days that stand between now and the celebrated birth of the Christ Child, November reminds us to be thankful.

Though it shouldn't be that way, it is.  It's so easy to live entitled rather than grateful in America.  The simple things—like food, shelter, and freedom to worship—are hardly occasion for thankfulness.  We “deserve” those things.  The occasions for genuine gratitude are reserved for really big things we don't deserve . . . like winning the lottery or the World Series.

This month reminds us that being thankful is really, really important to God.  "In everything give thanks . . . for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you."  (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)

I've pondered how a thankful heart is cultivated, since this is "the will of God"—making it much more than a suggestion or a good idea when you want to feel better.  

And that's where legacy comes in.  Though not the only factor, it is a significant contributor towards our hearts being inclined towards entitlement or gratitude.

We've both reflected especially this month how profoundly we have been influenced by parents who loved the Lord above all else and who modeled thankfulness. Who taught us to appreciate the small things and to not take them for granted. Who showed us through example that giving to and serving others would produce more joy than living self-indulged lives. Who lived sacrificially and responsibly, who worked hard and made no excuses, who loved one another faithfully and prioritized their family.

A sweet but short visit with my parents reinforced the goodness of
being with ones who truly have hearts of gratitude.

On the family farm in Pixley for Thanksgiving Day, we were with four of the five original Friesen siblings and some of their progeny.
It was easy to reflect on our heritage with such gratitude for the values Paul's parents instilled in their family.

As life moves on, our awareness of the rarity of this kind of legacy grows.  And that deepens our gratitude and compels us to pass the mantle to the next generation, whose challenge to live this out is greater than ever.  Our prayer is that we would cultivate thankful hearts year round, 24-7.  That will contribute greatly to our growing Christlikeness.

We've had a great month, which has included time together in three states and four countries.  And, Paul has been in an additional 12 states on his own, and no, he's not running for office.  And we've relaxed.  And been renewed.  This is how:

We spent the first week of the month celebrating my birthday and the Patriots’ bye week on a Caribbean cruise.  There were many firsts for us on that cruise, including having our minds changed about cruises in general.  Naturally, we got a great "couldn't pass up" deal and spent 7 days resting, relaxing, enjoying the beauty of the Caribbean, reconnecting with each other, and eating delicious food. We got a lot of exercise, basked in the majesty of His creation, and were renewed.  It was a wonderful gift.  We also met a couple on the tender going to port on Grand Cayman Island, and we clicked immediately.  We ended up spending our day with them, making an unforgettable excursion to Stingray City together.  We are looking forward to continuing the relationship.  

Leaving Tampa on the first day of the cruise, we had no idea how many delights
the Lord had in store for us on this cruise!

On the ministry front, we had a great Engagement Matters weekend, Nov. 16-17, and spoke at the Arabic Evangelical Baptist Church of Boston for an evening of marriage and family encouragement during that same weekend.  It was a true delight to partner with Pastor Khaled Ghobrial and his wife and to get a glimpse into the relevant work this church is engaged in.  The New England Patriot studies have been going well and have been well attended.  We have seen God work through our counseling in moments of breakthrough and hope.  We also had the privilege of doing two chapels for the UCLA women's basketball team during a recent tournament.

Standing with Pastor Khaled Ghobrial and his wife, Manal,
after speaking on family and marriage to their congregation.

A highlight of the month was hosting Pastor Wilberforce Okumu, lead pastor of Pearl Haven Christian Center in Mbale, Uganda.  He was the featured speaker for an H.I.M. donor thank you dessert evening and knocked it out of the park. Everyone was inspired by the work he's engaged in and his vision for the Kingdom.  We loved having him in our home for a few days as well.  Partnering with him in Mbale these past couple of years has bonded us in Christ and we love his heart!

Nov. 14th was a significant day for Home Improvement Ministries as we launched our first software app:  "The Marriage App."  After months of development primarily by Doug Macrae and assisted by Guy and Barbara Steele and Richard Hendricks, the app (based on our newest book, The Marriage App) hit cyberspace with the aid of tweets by Elizabeth Hasselbeck, Richard Dahstrom, Shaunti Feldhahn, Don Davis, Gary Gaddini, Ray Johnston, and David Hegg (to name a few).  Along with lots of Facebook traffic, the app soared to the top of the list of new apps on marriage downloaded over the weekend of  Nov 15-17.  We have been humbled by emails and Facebook posts which have affirmed the value of this app and are praying that God will use it to give hope to marriages and contribute to them thriving.  If you haven't downloaded this free app yet, we'd encourage you to do so at the App Store.

Most recently, we flew back out to California for the Thanksgiving holiday.  Well, I flew out.  In order to visit those additional 12 states I mentioned, Paul decided to deliver the used van that Gabe and Kari bought from (east coast) friends of ours, making his second cross-country road trip in 2 months time. Confirming his introversion, he loved every minute of it and made this trip between Friday morning the 22nd and Sunday night the 24th. He's amazing.  

Our days in California included some time with Gabe, Kari, Brandon, and Ana in their home in Santa Clarita; attending a UCLA vs. OK women's basketball game to watch the athletic trainer (the game was great, too: a big upset victory for UCLA!); visiting my folks and sisters in San Diego with Lisa and then Paul; sweet visits with two other special families to welcome newborns; and a short but wonderful time in Pixley for Thanksgiving Day with Paul's extended family. In between all those visits, we managed to walk to the setting and rising sun on various California beaches.  Heavenly.

UCLA Head Women's Basketball Coach, Cori Close, with me and her parents, Don and Pat Close, and her sister Amity Wicks,
in Pauley Pavillion following the UCLA win over OK.  GREAT family.

We flew to Florida on Black Friday, missing the shopping and the crowds, but making it just in time to see UCLA women play in the Gulf Coast BB Tournament.  Though disappointing results on the court (we went 1-2), Paul and I loved being with the girls and the staff and feel we have such a better understanding of Lisa's new life in California.  Many in the system are coaching or playing for more than just records, and their hearts for the Lord are obvious.  They are struggling currently with a depleted team due to injuries, but the month ahead should see their bench increasing.  We are so thankful Lisa is part of this effort.

While in Florida, we also managed to walk a few beaches and to visit our dear friends Don and Yannette Davis, who extended warm hospitality to us as we concluded this all-over-the-place trip.

One last walk on the beach (Siesta Beach near Sarasota, Florida) before returning to Boston.

Though the delights this month have been many, the sorrows have also been present.  We've walked with several dear friends through the deaths of beloved parents and with couples through marital and family crises.  Life is often hard; sometimes because of choices we've made, but other times just because we live in a broken world and sin and evil takes its toll on all of us.  And death is a reality that no one escapes.  Each time death steals away one we love or one loved by ones we love, we are reminded in grief that we weren't designed for death and therefore it will always be excruciatingly painful.  

That's why the 1 Thessalonians passage says "In everything give thanks . . ." not "for everything give thanks."  There are many things we can't give thanks FOR, but we're called to give thanks IN.  

A very dear friend who lost her father and her mother-in-law within the space of 9 days this month, both unexpectedly, wrote:

Hello Friends,
It feels like I am writing from within a nightmare. We are working through the loss of my dear mother-in-law, and figuring out how we will care for my sweet father-in-law. These have been dark days, to say the least. 
This afternoon my father died suddenly at his home in New Hampshire. I am on my way there now to be with my sisters and my mother.  I have not yet told my children, and my sisters have not yet told my mother. Please pray for each of these situations, as they will be profoundly difficult conversations.
I want each of you to know how grateful we are for your love and support this last week. You have each pressed love into us and have been a source of strength and comfort.
I have been listening to a lot of music this week.  A song that I have come to love, "You Are Good" by Nichole Nordeman has these beautiful lyrics:
  When it's dark and it's cold and I can't feel my soul, You are so good
  When the world is gone gray and the rain's here to stay You are still good
  So with every breath I take in I'll tell You I am grateful again
  And the storm may swell, even then IT IS WELL and you are good.
It is well and God is good.

This friend is living in gratitude and passing on to her children a legacy of thanksgiving.  In the midst of deep and dark unexpected valleys, her comfort and source of gratitude is found in Him.  She is teaching all of us profound lessons.

In the month ahead, we will all experience the gamut of emotions, from the pinnacle of joy found in revisiting the manger, to the depths of despair as pain past and present weaves its darkness into our awareness.  Praying that especially in the moments of sorrow, we'll find our way to the cross and "in everything, give thanks."  That's the best legacy we can pass on.

Nathan at 2 months . . .

. . . and at 4 months. 

Brandon (3 years) and Ana (4 weeks)