A grateful heart

I have a sign in my kitchen which has been there for more than a decade. It reads: “GIVE THANKS: Oh Thou, who has given us so much, mercifully grant us one more thing—a grateful heart.”

 

As I was looking at the sign the other day, I realized that I had no idea where the quote originated. Other than the slightly flowery wording and the outdated Thou, the sentiments could’ve been written at almost any time in history. With a little help from the Internet, I found the name of the author of those words which appear on my kitchen sign.

 

It was written by a clergyman/poet in the 1600’s named George Herbert. He had been born into a wealthy family, but Herbert had set aside his family’s prestigious position to pursue a life of academic and religious service. He was employed at Oxford college, where he didn’t bring in much money. Some of the letters Herbert wrote to his mother survived. In them, we read of his ongoing illness, which required him to eat a restricted and expensive diet. Herbert wrote that he was in constant anxiety about money and his health. He wrote his mother, “I always feared sickness more than death, because sickness has made me unable to perform those Offices for which I came into the world.”

 

It’s interesting to pick up a piece of poetry or prose and instantly get insight into the writer’s state of mind. No matter that it was penned so many centuries ago, George Herbert’s “Give Thanks…” seems to be a reminder to himself as much as an exhortation to others. He was telling us to declare God’s unlimited generosity. Be thankful. And for that gratitude to seep all the way down to our hearts, we need God’s help to get it there. Depending on our present difficulties, we may need even more of God’s assistance to actually live a thankful life. It’s just the unfortunate reality that most of us aren’t naturally grateful creatures.

 

Three hundred years later, acclaimed and beloved author C.S. Lewis was also on faculty at Oxford. He left us a treasure trove of his words and thoughts through his books and letters and sermons. In a letter Lewis wrote to an Italian priest, he said, “We ought to give thanks for all fortune: if it is good, because it is good; if bad, because it works in us patience, humility, contempt of this world and the hope of our eternal country.”

 

Whether it’s the Psalmist’s call to sing to the Lord with grateful praise or the Apostle Paul’s charge to give thanks to God the Father for everything, or if it’s a poor college professor’s reminder to ask for help in appreciating our blessings or an author’s words about gratitude in the face of both good times and bad, this Thanksgiving let’s all pray for God to give us a grateful heart.

My vegetable peeler

I feel like I lost a good friend this week. My vegetable peeler broke. To the untrained eye, this kitchen tool looks like any other, but I know there was more to it behind its commonplace, functional façade.

I wish I could remember who gave us our kitchen peeler, but I am pretty certain it was a wedding present. I can recall adding it to our registry as we scanned with abandon various items in the “Home” section of Target.

 

For just shy of 20 years, I have used that vegetable peeler to prepare food for my family. I peeled potatoes to make mashed potatoes, quartering the naked spuds and boiling them until fork tender. Then mashing and buttering and creaming and salting until they tasted just right.

 

I peeled apples for many apple pies, attempting to keep the spiraled apple peel intact before slicing them, adding heaps of brown sugar and cinnamon and dumping all of that sticky apple goodness in a pie shell not quite as good as my mom’s. Is there any smell in this world as gratifying as the smell of an apple pie baking?

 

My dearly departed vegetable peeler wasn’t flashy but it was dependable. It helped me make comfort food that filled the souls of my people. It symbolized a labor of love for those I cherish and serve most every day. It also was my companion through my early cooking trials, the pies and side dishes that didn’t turn out so great and the occasional, accidental whittling of some knuckle skin while trying to peel a fruit or vegetable.

 

As we approach Thanksgiving and all the preparations for the big meal, I think about what it means to feed my family, particularly a special dinner with all the trimmings. I’m much more chill when it comes to timing the dishes and the turkey and the desserts and doing as much ahead of time as possible, but those first years I hosted Thanksgiving I was a wreck. It’s hard to live up to the hype.

 

But as long as I can be the human equivalent of that trusty little vegetable peeler, I can get it done: One swift movement at a time, pay attention to what you’re doing, make it special because you take the time, relax and breathe.