In this story from November 2005, singer and songwriter Amy Grant, who was born on Thanksgiving, shares why, for her, giving is an especially important aspect of that holiday.
I’m a Thanksgiving baby. At 2:00 a.m. on November 25, 1960, just a few hours after Thanksgiving dinner, my mom went into labor and had me, the fourth daughter. Some years my birthday actually falls on Thanksgiving Day itself, which makes the day feel more significant...a reminder to be thankful for being alive. And I do have so much for which to be thankful. My family is at the top of the list.
I cannot remember a Thanksgiving meal that I did not share with my family. For a time in my life, we had five generations of our family alive, celebrating the holidays together. Then for many years it was my mom and dad, my three sisters and our husbands, 17 grandchildren, along with a few spouses and two great-grandchildren.
Add in extended family and friends and you start to get the picture of the planning and preparation that went into our gatherings.
I can remember being a teenager and appreciating the good meal, but mostly wanting to eat and run, to go be with my friends. I see that same look in some of the kids’ eyes now, but not mine. I’m right where I want to be...sharing these moments and remembering years past.
One moment of our holiday that I especially loved was hearing some thoughts from my dad’s tender heart. Before we began filling our plates, all of us gathered in one room and held hand in an extended circle. Then before he led us in a prayer, he always said a few words to the family about the importance of Thanksgiving.
Life lessons are learned in bits and pieces over time. And like a puzzle that slowly comes together, we eventually become who we are.
My parents have always taught us by example the importance of giving back. I learned a kid version of this lesson early on. Every summer our family drove 13 and a half hours to Sarasota, Florida, for a week or so of fun in the sun. The year that I was nine was no different.
We arrived at the beach. We dug our bathing suits out of our bags. At some point, my mom gave me my vacation spending cash (a whopping one dollar...of course, it was 1970.) I had a pretty good idea where that money was going.
Sarasota had a five-and-dime store called Klauck’s, located on the shopping circle of St. Armand’s Key. Klauck’s sold Sea-Monkeys, which were all the rage in the summer of 1970. First thing Monday morning, my plan was to buy some.
Almost every Sunday of my childhood my family went to church. Vacations were no exception. We would put on our Sunday clothes and drive to a nearby church and file in. On this particular summer Sunday, after the sermon, the collection plate was passed around.
As it moved slowly toward our row, I thought about those four quarters in my pocket. Even as a child I had been taught to give back to God. It only made sense, since everything we had was a gift from him anyway. That was just a natural cycle of receiving—giving back.
So, I knew one of those quarters was headed for the offering plate. That would drastically alter my vacation budget. I might not have enough money to buy the Sea-Monkeys. The plate got to me. I dug down, fished out twenty-five cents and dropped it in. Tough decision, but it felt right.
When the service was over, we went back to the place where we were staying, changed into our swimsuits and went out to the swimming pool. At some point, I got up on the diving board and looked down at the drain. Something next to it was shining on the bottom of the pool.
I took a deep breath, dove down and felt around until I got it. Guess what I found? A shiny new quarter.
Don’t get me wrong. I didn’t come away from the deep end of the pool with the idea that every time you give something away, God’s supposed to give it right back to you.
The fact was, it felt good putting that quarter in the collection plate, every bit as good as it did buying the Sea-Monkeys at Klauck’s later that week. But somehow, finding that quarter the way I did, I was reminded that giving and receiving are somehow connected.
Years ago, my niece Caroline decided to get married over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend. Everyone, including the groom’s family, was coming to town. Caroline was the first of the grandkids to get married, so Thanksgiving was going to be an even bigger celebration than usual.
There was some serious cooking to do. Fine by me. The kitchen is my home inside my home, from the pots and pans that have cooked up so many years of family meals, to the little olive green recipe box holding my grandmother’s cherished family recipes.
My husband Vince and I were responsible for several of the dishes, including the mashed potatoes. It’s hard to estimate how many mashed potatoes 75 people can eat. But, I thought 40 pounds would be about right.
Have you ever washed, peeled, cooked and mashed 40 pounds of potatoes? By 3:00 a.m. Vince and I were tired and delirious (though I must admit I was enjoying the middle-of-the-night uninterrupted conversation with my husband).
You know what? The next day, there was so much food, the potatoes barely got touched. We had enough potatoes to spackle an entire wall. I imagined building pueblos with all that starchy mess. Oh, well.
Somebody in the family suggested loading up the pans and taking them down to the Nashville Mission. I hoped that somebody down there had a big appetite for potatoes. I guess I’ll never know, but it did feel good to share the bounty of our table with other people in our town who needed it.
I think that sometimes we can over-think giving. It should be as natural as breathing. You have. You give. You receive. You share.
I’ve had another reason to be grateful. I’d been given the opportunity to host a show on NBC called Three Wishes. Each week we got to grant wishes for deserving people all across America, all kinds of wishes, many of them asked on behalf of a friend or a loved one.
I never really pictured myself as the host of a television show. But a show that’s all about giving, one that helps dreams come true for different people every week, well that’s an opportunity I couldn’t pass up. And I’ll tell you the truth. The one who has received the greatest gift from this work is me.
I’ve realized that any act of generosity, large or small, truly makes a difference, becomes a strand of hope woven permanently into the fabric of life.
When you give something, you become a part of something bigger than yourself. And both the person who’s giving and the person who’s receiving feel equally blessed. That’s a beautiful cycle if you ask me. One that’s worth celebrating all year.
Thanksgiving Day is a good day to recommit our energies to giving thanks and just giving.
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