My paternal grandfather was born in Denmark in 1879 and immigrated to America with his parents as a child. My many-times-removed maternal grandmother was born in 1620 in the Massachusetts colony to an immigrant couple from England. Her parents may have been among those who shared the first community celebration that we commemorate as Thanksgiving Day.
The families came for similar reasons — the opportunity to follow their religious beliefs. In between those ancestors’ arrival, many others immigrated to America for a variety of reasons.
The decision to come was not made lightly, as it carried with it some serious challenges. Some did not speak English while others had little money or education. Few had relatives or acquaintances, a job or a place to live. And most realized that they would never return to their homeland or see their families and friends again.
People continue to come to this country, often at great personal risk. Unfortunately, the reasons remain much the same: political or religious persecution, war, famine or other economic crises, and natural disasters. The result is an increasingly diverse population with a variety of cultures and beliefs.
Over the past 20 or so years I have written (and read) many Thanksgiving and Christmas columns, and most have had a common theme — gratitude. Originally a harvest festival, a successful harvest and good prospects for the coming year were the themes.
Gradually, the day expanded to a recognition of blessings too numerous to count. Blessed with a land of opportunity and expansive freedoms, we are grateful for food, health, family, jobs, homes, friends, and the amazing bounty of this land.
If we are truly grateful to God for the richness of life and the blessings that are ours, we should express our thanks not only in word, but in deed. Expressing gratitude verbally is always appropriate. It seems to me, however, that He would be more pleased if the verbal thank-you was accompanied by action.
I think God would like us to pay it forward. We have been blessed, and we should do what we can for others. I firmly believe that we are often God’s answers to prayer, by serving where and when we can.
Just thinking this is a good idea and that you might try it is not enough. Good intentions too often fail to bear fruit. Instead, I encourage you to make a definite commitment to serve this year.
Think about what you can do — or realistically will do — and make a plan to follow through for a year. Help in your neighborhood. Commit to shovel two walks each time it snows. Or rake the leaves for someone in your neighborhood. Volunteer regularly at the Foodbank (once a month) or school, or perhaps at The Idaho Youth Ranch or Salvation Army. Listen patiently to a new immigrant struggle to speak in English. Or carry a bag for an overloaded mother dealing with a wiggly child.
For other suggestions, read Anna Webb’s Helping Works column in the Statesman, as well as her volunteer profile. Me? I don’t want you to be doing this alone, so I will commit to two extra nights of tutoring English at the Learning Lab each month this next year.
The scriptures contain Christ’s admonition that if we really love Him, we will keep His commandments. And He has commanded us to love one another. He has made it clear that all people are equal in His sight and should be treated with love. In Matthew, Christ describes to his disciples an interview in which the King tells them that they will inherit the kingdom because of their service to Him.
The disciples didn’t remember that service, and asked, “Lord, when saw we thee an hungered, and fed thee? Or thirsty, and gave thee drink?
“When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee?
“Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee?
“And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” Matt. 25:34-40.
Celebrate Thanksgiving. Enjoy friends and family, or share a meal with a community group. But don’t forget to pay it forward — make a plan to show your love and gratitude for your blessings by serving others.
Glenna M. Christensen is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
The Idaho Statesman’s weekly faith column features a rotation of writers from many different faiths and perspectives.