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Over the River and Through the Woods

By Missey Butler
Guest Writer -- To grandmother’s house we go!  My children and I used to sing that holiday song every November, as we ventured to “grandma’s” for Thanksgiving Dinner.

What started out as light-hearted jesting, turned into a fun loving tradition! After all, we certainly were not in a horse drawn sleigh, but rather a horse-powered station wagon!

And we weren’t plowing through large snow drifts, they were more like, cold drizzles of sleet and rain. But oh how we imagined ourselves portrayed in that “Currier and Ives” picture!”  Even though our destination was only a few miles down the road, we pretended like we were sleighing “over the river, and through the woods,” as we faithfully sang that song every year! 

As a little girl, I can still recall standing on the stage of our school auditorium. It was the annual Thanksgiving Day play. With flood lights glaring, and parents watching, I can still remember singing those lyrics to the top of my lungs, while mentally placing myself right in the middle of that sleigh.  

I could see myself wearing a long stocking cap that whipped around as the cold air nipped at my nose and cheeks. I could even hear the thumping of horse hoofs crunching through the winding drifts of snow, while the tall spruce trees brushed by swiftly.  My nose caught the scent of burning wood as it lingered downward from the stone chimney of Grandma’s blazing hot fire place, just waiting to warm our souls once we got there.

Fantasy and imagination! What a wonderful way to mentally escape to those “feel good” places at a moments notice!  But you know sometimes even our best fantasies can’t erase the real life situations most of us find ourselves in during holiday season. The stark reality of our less than perfect family members, less than perfect financial situations, and less than perfect circumstances! But you know what?  It’s really ok, because that’s where most of us live! 

You probably know what I’m talking about. The all too familiar scene of the loud uncle who insists on smoking his stinky cigar while passing the mash potatoes, the eccentric aunt whose voice is more like a shrill, insisting on boring the family once again, with the story of you as a youngster in your birthday suit.

The freckled face, once removed, cousin who politely lets you go ahead of him in the dessert line, only to remind you that “age really does come before beauty!”  Why even the always reliable family dog, is no where to be found, as you feel for that cold nose under the dinner room table, hoping he’ll intercept those awful asparagus spears before Aunt Martha notices. Yes, Thanksgiving Dinner in many of our home’s, is more often than not, anything but a Norman Rockwell picture.

The truth of the matter is, many families are not perfect! But it doesn’t change the fact that they are still, none the less, our families!  Warts and all!  And maybe the problem lies in the fact that we would rather run into a make believe, fantasy world of what we wish our family’s were like, instead of accepting and being okay with what they really are like.

The truth is, our ordinary selves in our ordinary lives, is exactly where God wants to work extraordinary miracles.  Maybe it’s time we begin to re-define ourselves as those who are totally loved and totally excepted by God, no matter what we look like, or act like outwardly!

We are all flawed, with conspicuous weaknesses and deep character defects, who have learned that brokenness is in fact the human condition. We must forgive ourselves for being inconsistent, unlovable, irritable and cranky! 

As Henri Nouwen so beautifully put it, “All I want to say to you is, ‘You are the Beloved,’ and all I hope is that you can hear these words as spoken to you with all the tenderness and force that love can hold. My only desire is to make these words reverberate in every corner of your being- ‘You are the Beloved.’

Author Brennan Manning adds: “Once we drop anchor in that reality, our true self doesn’t need a trumpet to announce our arrival or fireworks to hold people’s attention. People who know they are totally loved seem to honor God just by showing up every day as nothing more, or less than, themselves.”

How about this Thanksgiving, we truly “give thanks” for our family members…as they are!  And we learn to look past each other’s faults, as we ask God for hearts of compassion one toward another, he than opens our eyes to the unique worth of each person. We begin to see a little of ourselves reflected in each other. So we must even love those around us in their sin, as we were loved in our sin.

The Bible says,

But God commandeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8)

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