Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. The memories of long-ago gatherings of family, food and football at my grandparents’ house are some of my fondest. These days we go to my sister’s house for Thanksgiving, trying to give to our children their own memories. This year, we are breaking our tradition of frying the turkey. My brother-in-law wants to try to smoke it. I feel a new memory in the making.

Recalling fond memories and making new ones are not all that makes Thanksgiving my favorite holiday. In fact, memories take second place to the reminder that Thanksgiving gives us the opportunity to be, well, thankful.

While every day is filled with opportunities to give thanks, this holiday gives us a chance to slow down and take a whole day to reflect and be grateful. Nurturing gratitude in our lives moves us toward a more mature walk with the Lord. Gratitude in the face of adversity often indicates a life that is resting in God’s grace.

Some of you may remember me telling the story that my Uncle John told of my grandmother making biscuits and gravy with water and flour for supper when he was a boy. She did that because that was all that she had to put on the table. He will always remember that time, and I will always remember his telling of it. For me, it is a story, not a memory. I have no memory of times being that hard.

When I think of Thanksgiving, I recall that story. Rather, it comes to me, not as if I have to exert any effort to think of it. When I think of things I am thankful for, I cannot help but be grateful that the biscuits I ate at grandmother’s table were always made with milk – buttermilk if she had it – and she often did. Even more so, I am grateful that my children do not have such memories.

Not all children are so fortunate. A recent U.S. Department of Agriculture study showed that a record number of families had difficulty obtaining sufficient food at some time last year. The number of people living in U.S. households that lacked consistent access to adequate nutrition rose to 49 million people in 2008. That is 13 million more than in 2007.

On a global scale, the number of hungry people is staggering. The United Nations reports that more than a billion people face starvation. That number represents an increase of about 100 million people over last year.

In the face of such need, I am grateful not just for the basic blessing of food and shelter, but also for the many people and organizations who work every day to alleviate the suffering caused by hunger and hunger-related illnesses. Many of those people and organizations are motivated by their commitment to Jesus Christ and his teachings.

Some of those people are missionaries that we support in this country and around the world. They do what they do as an expression of their faith in and dedication to the life and teachings of the one who said, “When you have done it unto the least of these my brothers and sisters, you have done it unto to me.”

Thanksgiving is a wonderful time to remember and to be grateful. It is also a perfect time for followers of Christ to recommit themselves to living, giving and following so that the least of these might also have reason to be thankful.

Ed Sunday-Winters is senior pastor of Ball Camp Baptist Church in Knoxville, Tenn. He blogs at Just Words.

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