Paula Moldenhauer
The Key Ingredient for Thanksgiving

By Paula Moldenhauer

The aroma of pumpkin pie wafts through the air, mingling with the scent of baking turkey. You pause, smiling as you hear the sizzle and pop of the bird dripping into the roaster. Soon, real potatoes, creamed with milk and butter, will be added to the repertoire. Maybe you’ve pulled out a beautiful tablecloth and set the table with grandma’s china—or if you’re expecting a large group, it might be potluck style, served on paper plates, with friends and family tucked into every corner of your kitchen and living room.

As homemakers, we are in a unique position to make the Thanksgiving holiday a special time for our families. Thanks to the hard work of women in my life, Thanksgiving holds many special memories. Growing up it meant all the cousins at Grandma’s, tons of food, a game of “Annie Over”, and people with bulging paper plates in most every room of the house.

Since having children of my own, Thanksgiving has meant everything from a pilgrimage to family out of state to hosting in my home.

But as good as the memories are, there have been plenty of Thanksgivings that I didn’t feel too thankful as the holiday approached. Financial difficulties, grief, or strained relationships made it difficult for me to focus on creating something special for my family. Other times, I was just too worn out from the daily tasks of caring for small children to be excited about something that meant more work.

As the Thanksgiving season approaches this year, I’m thinking about what it means to be truly thankful. I’m digging for what I really want to give my family. As I’ve looked for this deeper meaning, I did a little research into the roots of the Thanksgiving holiday.

Thanksgiving didn’t simply grow out of the abundance the pilgrims experienced. It also grew out their suffering. The winter before the first American Thanksgiving, in 1621, about half of the pilgrims had died. They’d spent their first year in the New World praying for their very survival. When they gathered to celebrate a good harvest, the memories of great loss weren’t far behind them.

In 1777, General George Washington and his army paused to acknowledge the first Thanksgiving of the newly formed United States of America. They stopped in open fields in the bitter cold. They were on their way to Valley Forge where a winter of suffering awaited them.

In 1863, after the horrors of the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln asked all Americans to celebrate Thanksgiving on the last Thursday in November.

For our ancestors, Thanksgiving was not only a celebration of the good, but also a determination to honor God no matter the circumstances. In 1990, in President George W. Bush’s Thanksgiving proclamation, he said the first Thanksgiving was one of the “many occasions on which our ancestors paused to acknowledge their dependence on the mercy and favor of Divine Providence.”

Perhaps this is the deeper meaning my heart searches for as I embrace the Thanksgiving season—the determination to acknowledge my dependence on the goodness of God. I want to offer Him my thanks in happy times and sad, and to pass that on to my children.

For some people across our nation, Thanksgiving comes in the midst of personal wartime sacrifice. For others, it comes after they’ve suffered great loss in the devastation of a hurricane. For many of us, the daily grind of homeschooling, a season of financial difficulty, or unexpected sickness threatens our decision to spend this holiday in gratitude. And without a thankful heart we find it even more difficult to give ourselves to the task of serving our families this Thanksgiving.

Whether you are experiencing a time of abundant harvest in your life, or reaching for the ability to be grateful, let me encourage you to seek the Lord today for a grateful heart. Proverbs 15:15 says that a cheerful heart is a “continual feast.” In my experience, a cheerful heart is an outgrowth of a thankful heart. What more can I offer to my family this season than a continual feast of gratitude?

But how do we do that when the cares of life push us down?  It is necessary to remember that Proverbs 15:13 says, “heartache crushes the spirit.” We don’t have to feel guilty that we don’t have a cheerful heart, but we do need to take our cares to the Lord.

Recently, I sought to stand in faith during a difficult, heart-crushing time. I found it hard not to succumb to my emotions of despair as I tried to walk in faith. I was comforted when I read that the psalmist poured his complaints before the Lord (Psalm 142:2). This Scripture encouraged me to find a place by myself and I laid it all before Him. Through tears, I told Him how I didn’t like what He was allowing in my life. It was much easier to offer God my thanks AFTER I’d laid my complaints before Him. An important part of finding that “attitude of gratitude” is being honest with the Lord.

After we’ve allowed the Lord to carry our complaints, we can ask Him to give us a thankful heart. Here’s a simple illustration. As a young mother I was completely overwhelmed with the drudgery of keeping our home. I pushed through the many tasks that befell me and felt I would drown. I began to pray for a thankful, content heart.

One day a rush of pleasure flooded me while folding a worn-out, faded dishcloth. That sudden feeling of accomplishment made me realize that the services I performed for my family really did make a difference. I know God answered my prayer for a thankful heart. Never before or since have I rejoiced over a neatly folded rag!

While we surrender to God’s transforming power, we can also choose to thank Him daily, no matter what life brings us. In First Thessalonians, we are encouraged to “give thanks in all circumstances.” The very institution of our Thanksgiving holiday is a testimony to that verse. When I think of the suffering of the pilgrims or the soldiers at Valley Forge, I’m inspired by our forefather’s determination to bow their knees before the King of the Universe, whatever the situation.

Jeremiah says,  “Give thanks to the LORD Almighty, for the LORD is good; his love endures forever.” (Jeremiah 33:11b, NIV) No matter what we face, we can always thank the Lord for His goodness and His love.

As we prepare for our Thanksgiving celebrations this year, may the Lord give us the grace to not only peel the potatoes, baste the turkey, and made that pumpkin pie, but also to live and model a thankful heart. And as we offer sincere thanks to our Father, may we, like our pilgrim ancestors, be laying a foundation of faithfulness for our children to build upon.

Author, speaker, and mom of four, Paula Moldenhauer has published over 300 times. Her first two novels released in 2012. She serves as the Colorado Coordinator for the American Christian Fiction Writers and homeschools. Paula loves peppermint ice cream and walking barefoot. Her greatest desire is to be close enough to Jesus to breathe His fragrance. Visit her: