As a mother to three children under the age of 4, I am just beginning to establish meaningful traditions surrounding holidays in our home. Some traditions end up becoming more meaningful than others.
Over the month leading up to Thanksgiving, for instance, I am always bursting with gratitude and joy at my ability to Give Thanks to the Lord. I imagine sharing this joy and gratitude with my children while encouraging them to Give Thanks to God and to show His love to others.
Then Turkey Day arrives and my priorities shift. Suddenly, the holiday is more about the hustle and bustle of food preparations, coordinating and navigating family functions, worrying over whether or not my family will like the food I prepare, and of course stuffing my face with as much food as humanly possible before falling asleep in front of some football. Somewhere between the turkey and the mashed potatoes, I sometimes remember to mumble a “thank you” to Jesus, but all said and done, the holiday is still centered around me, myself, and I (and pumpkin pie).
This year I wonder: Are the traditions I have established on Thanksgiving teaching my children about Jesus and His love for them? Am I helping them to foster a spirit of gratitude? How can Christ use me through this particular holiday to reflect His love not only to my family, but also to my friends, neighbors, and even strangers?
One year ago, while enduring a difficult season of life, Jesse Hieb and his sister Kate found themselves alone on Thanksgiving asking themselves this same question. The answer came in the form of a challenge which they plan to expand with additional participants this year. If you would like to take part in the “Apple Pie on Fire 2013 Challenge” this year, join their Facebook event. The first person to post a photo of someone sitting in a fire truck gets a prize! Read their story below, written by Jesse, for more background information on the challenge and how it began:
“I had just been married about seven weeks prior. My wife and I were not doing well. In fact I had woken up one night to find out that she had left me. We managed to agree to work on it since we had only been married for two weeks... but there didn't seem to be much progress.
Thanksgiving was my favorite holiday of the whole year. More then my birthday, more than Christmas and more than Easter. I'm usually a pretty happy and positive person...and on Thanksgiving it's hard to be grumpy :).
My ex wife had agreed to go to church with me on Thanksgiving morning but she was not interested in spending the rest of the day with me. That was alright with me because I was just happy to get to go to church with her as she had refused to go ever since we got married. Then on the Tuesday evening before Thanksgiving, she came home and told me that she just couldn't stand to be around me and that she was leaving that night to go home and would not return until Sunday evening. I was without a doubt devastated.
She left that night and all I could think about was how sad I was and how much I hated God. I made plans to go camping by myself. I'm pretty big into the outdoors but this time I was going to do things a bit differently. I was going to go by myself, somewhere out of state, and at that time I hadn't decided if I was ever going to come back.
Wednesday night I went to church and then decided (after a phone call with my wife) that I was going to sleep on it, go to church in the morning and then head out after that.
Church happened that morning, and the Holy Spirit worked overtime on my heart, which was becoming hardened at an unusually rapid pace. By the time I had walked out of that church service, I was reminded of the Grace and love my Savior had shown to me every day and realized my selfishness in wanting to disappear. I decided I wouldn't go camping; I wouldn't run. I was going to trust my God to give me the strength to get through this and continue to work on my marriage. I wouldn't give up. And I wasn't going to let Thanksgiving be ruined. After all, I had so much to be thankful for. How could I celebrate by being unthankful?
As I drove home, a fire truck pulled out in front of my car. It sped down the street and my brain started turning.
That is when I realized what that day was going to be about. Fire fighters still have to work on Thanksgiving. They still have to save lives and they likely won't get to spend time with their families. (I felt we had a lil something in common). So I got on the phone with my little sister.
Kate was struggling as well. Meeting her monthly budget on a Christian school teacher’s salary is not easy. She wanted so much to be able to visit my parents in Ohio that Thanksgiving but it just wasn't financially possible. She had expected to have to eat Ramen that night alone in her apartment.
When I got ahold of her, I told her she had to come over as soon as she could because I had thought of a way to turn our Thanksgiving day around!
I explained to Kate what had all happened the last couple of days and we agreed that despite our situations, we could think of a number of ways life could be sucking a lot more. So we agreed that Thanksgiving wouldn't be about us. We were going to use it to reflect Christ and bless others.
Here was the conversation:
"Let’s go to our local fire stations and see what they need to celebrate Thanksgiving. They probably have like turkey and stuff but maybe they don't have stuffing or their favorite dessert. Let’s ask them what they need that would make their Thanksgiving and then let’s go get it."
"Ummmmm, I'm broke..."
"Yeah, me too. But I was thinking we could maybe do like 50 bucks???"
"Alright, we can scrape together $50"
"Oh, here is the other thing. I say we agree not to eat anything until we actually get finished."
"Alright, I'm game. What do we say to them?"
"No clue. We'll figure it out when they come to the door."
"Why are we doing this?"
"Because even though this day sucks not being with the ones we love, they have to work and not see the ones they love. And in the event we would have made a turkey, they would be the ones saving our lives, so we should thank them... for being selfless."
"Alright, deal. Let’s do this"
So we went to our firehouse in Hales Corner, WI. It appeared to be closed. We rang the door bell and sure enough, two young guys came to the door. We explained what we wanted to do for them. They looked completely confused. They explained that they were fine and would probably just eat frozen Pizza. We were stunned. “WHAAAAAAAATTTTT!!!!????? Frozen Pizza on Thanksgiving? But you save lives! Shouldn't you have a real dinner?” After going back and forth with them, they realized we were not giving up. Finally, the one with the Mustache explained that he would be pretty happy to have apple pie on Thanksgiving.
CHALLENGE ACCEPTED!!!!!!!!!! We were off. We realized that apple pie cost way less than our budget, so we agreed we should go to as many stations as we could until that $50 was used up. We hit up two more stations that day.
The second station taught us a very valuable lesson. Upon arriving the fire fighters explained that there was a catering company that always brought them a whole Thanksgiving dinner because a few years back the firefighters saved the company from a fire on Thanksgiving day. They explained that they were always really thankful but never had anyone ever asked them what they would actually want to have for dinner so when we came asking they really didn't know how to respond. That’s when we realized that we had to make that part of the challenge a MUST! The fire fighters finally agreed that one of their favorite things is frozen Custard!!! Where the heck do you find frozen custard on Thanksgiving?!
By the end of the day we had picked up three gallons of frozen custard and one Apple cranberry pie. (Apparently, you have to pre order apple pies from Baker’s Square.) The fire fighter said he was very content with his pie even if it wasn't a full blown apple pie :)
We got home around 3:30 or 4pm that afternoon absolutely drained. And REALLY HUNGRY!!!!!!! So we made Mac and Cheese. I think that was the first time I had ever not had Turkey on Thanksgiving. But thats alright. We had had so much fun learning about and serving our local heroes. We had a chance to let our light shine and let them know how thankful we were that they were willing to be away from their family on a day that families should be together.
We agreed to remind ourselves every year of that selflessness and on Thanksgiving, challenge ourselves to do just a little something different/more for them.
Our hope is that one day every fire house here in the United States will get to experience having a stranger walk through their doors and ask them what they can bring them on Thanksgiving day to make their Thanksgiving day just a little bit more special. That goal is a ways away since we are still pretty broke but with God's help all things are possible. Especially the things that bring glory to His name.
Happy Thanksgiving and thank you from the bottom of our hearts for helping reach this years goal of 30 fire houses a possibility. Honestly we are just thankful that God will be giving us another opportunity this year for us to reach out to our fire houses and share Christ’s Love with them. We have been so blown away by the response we have received from our friends and family thus far. God is so RAD!!!!”
If you want to participate in the Apple Pie on Fire 2013 Challenge, click here.
What Thanksgiving traditions have you established with your family? Anything as unique or challenging as “Apple Pie on Fire?”