By Laura L. Shaw
We were "stuffed as a tick on a coon dog's belly," and the lethargy had kicked in--must have been from the chemicals released in the turkey. It couldn't have been that we'd gorged enough carbs and sweets to send our bodies into a diabolic crash, no!
As for me, all I really wanted to do was slide into a pair of stretchy pants and lie in a reclined position until I fell into a dreamy sleep, but family tradition would rule otherwise.
It was time for the "blessing circle" to form near the fireplace in the living room. The football games: paused. The cleaning of the kitchen: halted. All the kids called to come in from playing wiffle ball on the front lawn.
It's funny because no one in our family can even remember when this custom was brought about or why, but my aunt Millie said she was going to make sure it didn't die out on her watch. Every Thanksgiving, since she could remember, the blessing circle had formed, and "This year will be no different," she scolded.
So we gathered--resistant and a tad resentful--into our round, robotic ritual of raving over our good fortunes from the previous year.
Aunt Millie introduced our tradition as if we had never heard it explained before. She said it was a time to "count our blessings one by one, and if we don't take the time to do so, then we just don't deserve them."
While Uncle Paul began to belt out the Count Your Blessings hymn in the background, Aunt Millie rattled off her thank-yous with very little expression, until she ran out of breath.
Mama eagerly chimed in. "I'm grateful for my good health and my beautiful grandchildren," she said proudly.
"Count them one...by....one." Uncle Paul nodded off, though still barely rocking in his wooden chair, head cricked over and with the snap of his overall imprinting his face.
Then there was a long pause, until Mama elbowed Daddy in the rib cage. That spoke him right up. "I'm very blessed to have a woman who keeps me in line," Daddy poked at his other half. We all chuckled.
All of us were awake by this time, and we started to enjoy spewing out our blessings sprinkled with a little satire. Laughter filled the room, and even Aunt Millie's upside-down smile wrinkles were turned a little sideways.
Second to last, we got to Tammy, my niece's roommate and friend. In a quiet, croaky voice she asked to pass. She was not smiling or laughing like the rest of us.
'What's her deal?' I wondered. Surely she had some blessing to boast about. Why, her very roommate was a jewel of a gal, that's for sure. My niece Vickie was as Christian as they come.
Vickie recovered for her friend. "Well, I am thankful for a new roommate who doesn't snore like my last one!"
Everyone got a chuckle out of that--except for Tammy.
* * *
Dusk snuck up, and all the family began to file out one by one, each with Styrofoam plates piled high with leftovers. It was then someone decided that Tammy had been silent long enough.
Out on the dusty, gravel driveway, Aunt Millie took hold of Tammy's arm as she passed by. "It must be a pretty miserable existence not to have any praises on your tongue," she remarked.
Tammy looked up. "Excuse me?" she asked in a bitter voice.
"Everybody's got somethin' to be thankful for, darlin'," Aunt Millie retorted.
Putting her hand gently upon Aunt Millie's shoulder, and with the most fortitude I had ever seen anyone dare, Tammy looked her straight in the eye and asked, "Millie, is it?"
"Aunt Millie," she corrected.
"That's right." Tammy slumped down and paused. Then all of a sudden she blurted out, "Taboo!"
Mama and Daddy grabbed Aunt Millie's arm to hold her stance steady.
"My blessings are taboo. They're not the kind of thing you talk about around such lighthearted folks," Tammy explained.
'How can a blessing be taboo? This girl's got a screw loose, I thought.
Uncle Paul had slid into the driver's side of the car and was pretending to drive.
Aunt Millie was stunned by Tammy's last statement. "Why, I'll be!" she bellowed.
Tammy snickered, "See? I knew I was wise to keep quiet."
"Go ahead, Tammy," Vickie prompted.
She took a deep breath. "OK, here goes. One year ago today I lay in a hospital room with bruises and cuts all over my body. They said I was lucky to survive. This year has been one of major tragedy, bringing out memories of younger tragedies, all of which I've had to come to grips with. And up until your niece took the time to care, I didn't have a single person to turn to or even a place to sleep."
All of us stood speechless.
Except Aunt Millie.
"Oh, child." She had streams of tears streaking down her pruned face. "If I'd only known."
Tammy sobbed alongside. "People don't wanna hear about these kinds of blessings."
I wondered what "blessings" she was referring to.
She continued with emotion. "That night, when I lay in that cold, empty hospital room, with nothing but my pain to keep me company, God gave me a gift."
Uncle Paul was trying to get the car radio to work.
Vickie wrapped her arms around Tammy, who had lost her voice, and finished the story for her. "She's talking about the moment she received Christ as her Savior. I was her nurse on call that night. When I came into her room during my rounds, she told me she wanted to die. I didn't know what to do other than to ask her if she knew who Jesus was."
"When she told me..." Tammy regained her composure, "when she told me about this Jesus that SHE knew, He was so much different than the One I had heard about growing up."
Tammy went on to describe the "hellfire and brimstone" she had been taught from her abusive father, as well as from the pulpit of her small hometown church. Never had she ever heard of the grace and love that Vickie shared about that night.
"I was totally amazed when she told me that Jesus wanted to be my friend," Tammy concluded, barely getting the words out. "My FRIEND."
It was as if the radio turned on inside the speakers of my Uncle Paul's mind just then. "What a friend we have in Jesus. All our sins and griefs to bear," he belted out.
Tammy began to laugh through her flooded eyes. "Now that's the blessing I wish to speak of. The day that Jesus became my friend."
We all gathered around her as if she were a part of our family. Well, I reckon she actually was, and we were so blessed to have her. She reminded us where true blessing is found.
In unison, all of us joined the choir in Uncle Paul's head: "Oh what peace we often forfeit. Oh what needless pain we bear. All because we do not carry...everything to God in prayer."
Right there in the driveway, as darkness fell, a new blessing circle was formed.
* * *
Count Your Blessings--text by Johnson Oatman, Jr.
What A Friend We Have in Jesus--text by Joseph M. Scriven
LAURA L. SHAW is currently the Kids Praise Ministry Leader at Bent Tree Bible Fellowship in Carrollton, Texas. She also has an online devotional ministry for adults and kids to encourage spiritual growth in the family of believers: http://www.lovinthearts.com