Jonathan Lange: Thankfulness In Hindsight Gives Hope In Foresight

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By Jonathan Lange, columnist

While Thanksgiving Day 2021 is in the books, this author is not done giving thanks. Days after the guests have gone home, gives us a reminder to look backward in thanksgiving. Let’s take this moment to be thankful for the blessings of the past.

I am thankful, first, that my parents had me. They didn’t have to. They were wed in the same year that the Pill was released on the world. After having two children, already, I was not needed to complete their perfect suburban family. By a mere daily dose of the new miracle drug, I would be a cipher.

It is impossible to imagine what non-existence would be like. Gone would be all the happy memories of childhood, achievements of adolescence, and satisfaction of raising a family under Wyoming skies. More than that, the kids and grandkids that laugh and fight around my table would be deleted from the universe, and the world would be less joyful, absent their love.

I am thankful that my grandfather attended youth group at St. John Lutheran Church in Ord, Nebraska. He might have frequented the bar, instead. As with most young men of his age, it is quite likely that he was Luke-warm to the meetings. Perhaps he had a few arguments with his parents over driving all the way into town for a mediocre Bible study and corny games. But despite any youthful resistance, he met my grandmother through it.

Over a century ago, there is no way on God’s green earth that a farm-boy from Ord, Nebraska should meet a girl who lived 70 miles away. But, facilitated by the Walther League, two Lutheran families intertwined. Rather than falling into the chaos of the roaring 20s, two kids built a nest of stability, warmth and value that still nurtures and protects generations of family scattered from Seattle to Sarasota.

I am grateful to God for the freedom that enabled my great great grandfather, John, to travel the streets of Chicago in horse-drawn wagon and distribute bottles of fresh milk. Decades before anybody had refrigerators, there were a thousand ways for milk to spoil and sicken his many customers. But the relationship of conscientiousness and trust built between John and his customers enabled them to receive safe and nutritious milk without stifling government regulation.

For John, this freedom provided a stable home to share with his wife, Anna, and their seven children. It enabled them both to teach their children ethics of hard work, trustworthiness, sexual virtues, and faithfulness to God. Generations later, these lessons would still echo in the hearts of their descendants.

Words fail to describe the multitude of blessings that have fallen to me from their self-denial and hard work. Yet they are merely random examples—cherry-picked from dozens of generations known, and hundreds of generations unknown—who lived lives of extraordinary ordinariness. I don’t deserve to have their gifts. But I do.

Not just me, but all of us are infinitely richer because of the heroic lives they led. Yet, they did not consider their own lives “heroic.” As they trudged the dusty streets and cultivated the sunbaked ground, they were incapable of seeing over the horizon of time to the particular ways that they were storing up treasures for me.

Daily, they rolled out of bed, put on their shoes, and put their hand to the plow. Daily, they encountered pain, disappointment, and loss. Daily, they fought temptation to choose the easy way over the right way. But with each triumph over temptation, they were storing up a cornucopia of fruit for today’s bounty.

We live in a culture of individualistic, immediate self-fulfillment. We are saturated by preachers who tell us to scratch every itch and gratify every lust. We know, intuitively, that these are false preachers. Yet, in the middle of the struggles their message is tantalizing.

That is why It is a light at one end of the tunnel. Looking back and seeing that light we are encouraged and assured that there is light at the other end, as well.

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