The Thanksgiving We Had Hotdogs Instead – Thanksgiving Family Worship Guide #2

“WHO TURNED OFF THE OVEN?!!!!!”

I woke up on Thanksgiving morning when I was 10 years old to Mom making that shouting-weeping-angry-frantic-someone’s-in-big-trouble noise….I think you know what noise I mean….right? This was bad. REALLY BAD.

Our company was due by lunch and the turkey had slowly been cooking on low all night long. Except…it hadn’t. Mom prepared it with all the tasty rubbings and Dad lifted it into the pan, mom turned on the oven and set the turkey inside, and we all went happily to bed. Normally on Thanksgiving day, I woke up to the wonderful wafting of turkey-smell all throughout the house. But on that morning I smelled nothing. The turkey was frozen, white and raw, and the oven was dark and cold. And Mom, well – Mom was on full-scale meltdown in the kitchen. 

“Do ANY of you have ANY idea how terrible this is?! We have ten people coming and nothing to serve them! This turkey will NEVER be ready in time!! THANKSGIVING IS RUINED! Just ruined! Which one of YOU PEOPLE turned off the oven last night? Huh? Who?!?! You better tell me who did this right now because that person is in big BIG trouble!!” 

Talk about a motivational speech gone wrong. I can guarantee you that not a single one of us 4 children was inspired to confess. But I started to wonder…who exactly DID wake up in the night, wander throughout the kitchen, and just up-and-decide to boldly turn the oven off? I eyed my siblings suspiciously. Russell was eating snacks already; he slept like the dead – not him. Heather’s nose was in a book – likely how she fell asleep last night as well. Not her. Josh was 2, slept in a crib, couldn’t reach the knobs, and didn’t go into the kitchen if he could help it. Not him. I knew it wasn’t me. Dad wouldn’t dream of it. I was looking at the dog thinking, “Are you smarter than you look?” when Dad started lining us all up for the questioning. 

“All right, who did it? Was it you? YOU?”

Of course, nobody did it. Everybody said, “It wasn’t me!” 

“Well I suppose the dog did it, right?!” Dad barked in frustration. I bit my tongue from saying, “Hey, I had that thought too…” because it wasn’t the time. Everybody was stressed and angry, and the day was off to a horrible start. My heart sank as Dad stomped back to the kitchen. This was supposed to be a day for thankfulness, but I didn’t feel thankful at all. I felt discouraged and sad that Thanksgiving, which was supposed to be so happy and fun, was turning out to be so bad.

Mom turned up the oven as high as it could go, hoping against hope that the frozen turkey would miraculously cook before all the guests arrived. But there was a different miracle that day instead. About 20 minutes later, Mom opened the oven to check on the turkey, and suddenly screeched, “FIRE! FIRE! The oven’s on fire!!!” 

Everything happened on high speed: Flames were leaping out of the oven and filling the kitchen with smoke. Mom immediately grabbed her 4 kids and hustled us all outside. Dad rushed in with the fire extinguisher and sprayed down the flames, filling the oven and covering the whole frozen-blackened turkey with a white pasty film. The fire disappeared, but clouds of black smoke hung heavy in the air of the silent house. What was missing….do you know what was missing…? Can anyone in your family guess….? 

That’s right. The shrill beeping of the smoke alarms was missing. Not a single one of them went off that day. Not. Even. One.

I can still remember Dad’s face as the realization sank in, as he crouched in front of his family on the wet grass and explained, “Do you kids realize what just happened? There was too much liquid in the turkey pan, and it boiled over and started a grease fire in the oven. But not a single one of our smoke alarms went off. They did not work. That fire should have started in the night. None of us, asleep in our beds, would have known about it until it was far too late. Whoever turned the oven off last night saved our whole entire family. So I want you to tell me now – who did it? Who turned that fire off, and saved our lives?”

Now that praise and glory awaited the hero who confessed, I thought someone would finally come forward. But nobody could. Because nobody turned the oven off that day. Nobody human, that is. But our family thinks we know Who did. We knelt on the lawn together that day, and said a prayer of thanks to the Unseen Hand Who must have turned the knob.

Thanksgiving took on a whole new meaning to me from that time on. We had hot dogs instead of turkey for dinner, but I felt convinced that my life must really matter to God. I grew up knowing that angels are real, and that God still can do miracles even in our time. What began as such a bad, bad situation, became something God used for tremendous good, something we still thank Him for, even to this day. 

When bad things happen to us, we don’t usually feel thankful for them. We don’t feel like God is doing something good, instead we feel discouraged, afraid and sad. We wonder what’s going on and we wish He could stop them. When Paul first went to jail, maybe he felt the same way: “Why is this happening to me? Please God won’t you change it!” But God didn’t change the bad thing. He let it happen, and He gave Paul the strength to face it.

Because of this, not only did we end up with the entire book of Philippians, and several others besides. But Paul also writes, “Now I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that what has happened to me has actually served to advance the gospel. As a result, it had become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else, that I am in chains for Christ. And because of my chains, most of the brothers and sisters have become confident in the Lord and dare all the more to proclaim the gospel without fear.” (Phil 1:12-14). What started out as something very bad – going to jail – God was able to use for good – spreading the gospel and strengthening the courage of believers everywhere. Paul was thankful in a very bad situation, because He knew that His faithful God could bring something good out of it.  

It’s easy to get discouraged when bad things happen, and it can be especially hard to be thankful.  We wish God wouldn’t let hard things happen at all. But let’s be very clear about who we blame: God isn’t the one causing evil in our world. That’s Satan. And that’s also sinful people, who get to make really awful choices. God doesn’t cause the bad things so He can bless us later. But God does know how to use the bad things for good. There’s a big difference. He can take the hurts from a sinful world, and bring beautiful blessings out of them that we never could have imagined possible. That’s the kind of God He is!

So next time something bad is happening? I know this sounds crazy, but – try to be thankful. Yeah, it’s hard. You might not feel thankful. But try to trust that God knows how to bring something good out of something bad. Wait patiently to see how God can surprise you. We can’t always see what He’s doing behind the scenes – but He’s always at work. We usually find ourselves thanking Him at the end of the story, when we finally see the good things. But what if we learned to thank Him right from the beginning? We can’t let our feelings and the world around us decide when we will be thankful and when we won’t be. Let’s pray to become the kind of people who know how to be thankful, no matter what.

Questions:

  1. Who causes bad things – God, or Satan, or people? (For older kids: why does this answer matter so much? What’s at stake?) 
  2.  Are there some bad things, hard times, or struggles our family has faced this year? When they were happening, did we feel thankful for them? 
  3. What blessings has God brought out of this year’s hard times? Do we feel thankful for them now? (For older kids: Is God’s goodness dependent on whether or not we see the blessings?)
  4. Is it easy or hard to be thankful when things seem bad? How can our family learn to have a thankful attitude even during hard times? 

Prayer: Recall your struggles this year, thank God for the way He took you through them. Thank Him for the specific blessings He brought out of them. Ask for God to help you become a family that trusts Him to bring good things out of hard times. Pray for faith to be thankful even for the bad things, because He can bring big blessings out of them. 

Parent Reflection:

  1. We struggled more deeply this year than our kids may have realized. What stands out? What was our attitude toward God during these times? What did we learn? 
  2. If we want our kids to have faith in hard times, we need to model faith in hard times, but it’s difficult. How can we authentically do this? What are the personal doubts and fears that might be holding us back?
  3. Why is this a thanksgiving topic? How could this concept add more gratitude to our lives and our home? 

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