For two years, my husband’s job afforded us the opportunity to live along the southern coast of Spain. We were part of a small group of Americans residing in a mainly British community, and we enjoyed the opportunity to participate in customs and traditions belonging to a variety of cultures. But we also clung to some of the traditions that we had brought with us.
Especially important to us were the celebrations of Thanksgiving and the Fourth of July, truly American holidays. So during the second year that we were together in Spain, the small American contingency decided to share a covered dish Thanksgiving meal at our home on the Sunday prior to the actual holiday. In making our plans, one of the other women and I each offered to prepare a turkey, while the other families agreed to bring side dishes.
I considered myself a seasoned pro (of sorts) at turkey purchasing in Spain, after my experience the year before. While whole ducks and rabbits were common at the meat counters, whole turkeys were rare birds, even in the modern SuperMercado. So a week prior to that first Thanksgiving, I made a special trip to the city of Algeceiras to place my order for a whole turkey with the grocery store’s meat manager. Returning to the store the day before Thanksgiving to retrieve the turkey, I was excited to be handed a turkey that was plucked and nicely packaged.
Actually, the meat manager and I were both rather pleased with ourselves, he for being able to fill my special order and I for having successfully accomplished the entire transaction in Spanish. I was ecstatic to see that I was actually getting what I had intended to order, even though it had one drawback. The turkey was very small, more the size of a big American chicken (which I would later learn is the typical size of Spanish turkeys). But the small size did not deter my exuberance. At least I had a turkey, and we could have a “real” Thanksgiving dinner.
But the next morning, I was reminded that things are not always as we think them to be. Unwrapping the turkey from its packaging, I lifted it up and flipped it over. As I did, the turkey’s bald head, dangling by its long neck that was still attached to its body, came swinging out from underneath the turkey like a pendulum, putting both a startled look on my face and a little panic in my voice. So much for me thinking that I had everything under control.
So the second Thanksgiving, as I agreed to prepare one of the two small turkeys that would be needed to feed the dozen or so Americans who would be present for the dinner, I determined to avoid any further Thanksgiving surprises. This time I specifically ordered the turkey sin cabeza (without head) and checked it thoroughly for any “extras” after getting it home. Relieved not to find any surprises, I once again felt in control of the situation, pleased that everything was going according to plan. The illusion would not last long.
When the Sunday of our big dinner arrived, warm temperatures and typical cloudless skies of southern Spain made the day appear promising. Walking into the small, local chapel that morning for English services, we greeted our friends and were discussing the upcoming dinner, when someone suggested that we invite the Anglican priest, who led the worship service, to join us for our meal.
Agreeing that the idea was a good one, my husband and I proceeded to invite the priest while we were waiting for the service to begin. Surprised and delighted, he accepted wholeheartedly. Then, a few minutes later, he turned the tables, surprising us. Standing before the congregation, the priest announced with great enthusiasm that the Americans had invited everyone (e-v-e-r-y-o-n-e) to join them for an American Thanksgiving dinner following the service!
While most of the chapel erupted in applause, the Americans were shell-shocked. Their jaws dropped open as they turned their eyes in unison to stare at my husband and me in disbelief. We were all wondering the same two things: “Where had that invitation come from?” and “How in the world would we feed everyone?” We didn’t even know how many “everyone” would be. All we knew was that company was coming to dinner, and we were unprepared. So much for thinking (once again) that we had everything under control.
Scurrying home after the service, we began preparing the best that we could. The Americans arrived right behind us, carrying folding tables and lawn chairs, in addition to their food contributions. Right behind them, our guests began arriving, carrying customary bottles of wine for their hosts.
Entering the house via the front door, our guests proceeded through the living room to the turkey carving table that began the buffet line. After receiving some turkey, they helped themselves to the side dishes and then departed out the kitchen door to sit and eat at the tables and chairs that had been set up in the backyard.
As the meal got underway, the Americans were a little nervous, to say the least, not knowing what to expect nor how many people we might be able to feed. With guests arriving faster than the buffet line was moving, the line soon backed up out the front door. Even friends who had not been in church that morning came, somehow having received the invitation from others.
As the line increased, so did the nervousness of the Americans. Casual chatter among the hosts decreased as we practically held our breaths in trepidation of running out of food. At one point, an American friend pulled me aside to ask the question that we were all wondering: “What are we going to do?” Looking at the line that was still increasing, I could only shrug. I had already checked the refrigerator and the freezer for any foods that could be prepared quickly, and there were none.
Meanwhile, my husband, carving one of the two chicken-sized turkeys, asked each guest if he or she wanted white or dark meat. To the occasional reply of “Both, please,” he would just smile and say, “Sorry, it’s one or the other,” trying his best to graciously stretch the turkey.
But as conscientious as he was in the turkey’s distribution, it and the rest of the food continued diminishing as the line kept coming. From outside, I could hear pieces of conversations regarding men getting more tables and chairs, as the ones on hand were filling up.
Finally, though, the end of the line did appear, and eventually the last guest was served. With sighs of great relief, we rejoiced as we proceeded to fix our own plates by picking the turkey carcasses clean and scraping out the remnants of the side dishes. We could barely believe our “good luck” in everything having turned out so well.
But when we stepped outside to join the others, our self-congratulations turned to disbelief. The backyard was literally filled with people, who were sitting and enjoying one another’s company as they finished their meals. Don’t ask any of us who were present how it happened (we only know that it did), but seventy people ate Thanksgiving dinner that day from two small birds and a handful of side dishes.
Seventy! The mathematics just did not compute. There was no way that we had prepared enough food to feed seventy people. We could only conclude the seemingly impossible: God, not we, had hosted the meal. He had provided.
While we had perceived the priest’s error to be our problem, God must have seen it to be His opportunity to adjust our thinking and to reveal His glory—–a scenario that has played out innumerable times between God and man. The real error had been ours, not the priest’s. While we had focused on our limitations, issuing an invitation to a single individual, the priest must have heard God’s invitation welcoming everyone to come to God’s Table, where the supply is without limit.
The blessing to us who were “in the know” on that day was that God had allowed us to witness His Provision in such a dramatic way. Had we purposefully planned to feed dinner to seventy people, we would have undoubtedly prepared the meal for days ahead of time, wanting to be “perfect” hosts. After accomplishing such a task, we would have also undoubtedly patted ourselves on our backs, taking the credit for all of our hard work. We would have still said grace and blessed the food, thanking God, but not with the same awe that God generated in our hearts at this Thanksgiving meal. Nor would we have had the same recognition of God’s Goodness and intentions toward us.
While our plates did not overflow that day with the gluttony that has become synonymous with Thanksgiving in this country (both at our tables and in our stores), everyone had sufficient. There was enough to meet everyone’s needs. No one was left out. By contributing the food that we had on hand to the welfare of all, God returned the blessing of our offering back upon us all. Freely we had been given, freely we gave, and freely God multiplied.
As we ate and communed together that day, unity enveloped us. We had come from various nations and geographic locations, but we were like-minded, of one accord with one another and with God. The camaraderie was God-created, as He filled our hearts, as well as our stomachs. We were truly brothers and sisters in Christ, as God had made us to be.
The experience of God-reality is a gift from God that comes through God’s Provision of Jesus Christ, the Bread of life, who is life. By communing with God through the body (bread) and blood (wine) of Jesus at the Communion Table, which has been prepared by God, we gain greater insight into the love of God for all of mankind. Our minds are opened and our hearts are filled as awareness of God’s Presence unites us in singular purpose: the worship of our most generous God.
God conquers our meager thinking with His generosity, revealing the Truth of who He is: the Provider of all. His Provision to us is more than enough, empowering us to share with one another as God shares: from the heart, without selfish ambition.
Unity with God in our thinking and purpose is all that mankind ever really needed to live God’s way, and God knew/knows it. That is why He gave Himself to us, placing Himself both among us (Jesus) and in us (Holy Spirit) to provide what the world cannot: abundant Life. Through our acceptance of God by the Truth of Himself that He provides, our lives are transformed one at a time, making the world a little more like its Creator. We are compelled by our awareness of God’s generosity to give what is needed, where it is needed, when it is needed. In knowledge that God is caring for us, we are enabled to care for others, not from our meager rations, but from God’s ample supply. We learn to depend upon God to fulfill His desires that He implants in us, allowing us to experience the joy of both receiving and giving without reservation.
God’s Presence, both in us and with us, is the most generous Gift that could ever be given or received. The Truth of the Gift of God may be more than the world at large can swallow, choosing instead to disbelieve the Goodness of God that He has set before us all. But to those who have believed and received God, the experience of His Goodness in this life is just a taste of what is yet to come.
I don’t know what God has prepared to serve at His Great Banquet Feast one day (See Revelation 19:9), as we come together from every tongue and nation before the Throne of God (See Revelation 7:9). But I am certain that it will be more than two scrawny birds or a few small fish (See Matthew 15:34).
And I won’t be surprised in the least if our mouths are too full of praise and thanksgiving to eat a single bite.
“May God give you of heaven’s dew and of earth’s richness-
-—an abundance of grain and new wine.“ (Genesis 27:28)
THOUGHTS ON “THE LESSON OF THE THANKSGIVING”
Louise Burkholder on April 12, 2013 at 9:49 pm said: “Cathy, Betty L. forwarded your lovely Thanksgiving devotion. It brings back warm memories of Spain and how time and again God provided so generously. Hope all is well with you and yours.”
Betty Lorick on April 12, 2013 at 4:58 pm said: “Your message is written so vividly that my stomach actually got butterflies for you as you tried to stretch your food to feed the 70 guests. This is a powerful message which I cannot wait to forward to my friends and family, just as soon as I return to my email. Thank you for sharing this story with all of your readers. We still miss you and your family but are so pleased to stay connected through your writings. Our love to you and to all of your family.”