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Measuring forward progress

Measuring forward progress

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Many of us will celebrate a holiday older than the country itself this week. We might spend some time with family and friends, do some shopping, perhaps complete a service project, go to the movies, fly on a jet plane, or just think about how to finish 2021.

Some of us enjoy the colder temperatures, the corn mazes, the pumpkin pie, and the smell of leaves in the yard. For others, life goes on as usual with no respite; following routines presently established.

Yet, there are rituals this time of year which take place. Growing up, my father always liked to clean out the garage on Thanksgiving morning. There was something about it. Even today, either before or after the Thanksgiving meal, he gathers the entire family and guests; spending a few moments talking and leading the group. Sometimes, he has thought about it. At other times, his words are simply immediate, inspirational, and from the heart.

Thanksgiving is a unique time to celebrate and reflect on the markers in each of our lives, and to remember the gifts and mercies which those long past provided to us: grandmothers, grandfathers, moms, dads, aunts, uncles, brothers, sisters, and mentors. Like my father’s words each year, the examples from past lives come up to us almost daily and maybe more during the holidays.

We remember their teachings and their legacies. We may also recognize their imperfections, but hopefully remain thankful in spite of these. As Thanksgiving week moves us into the Christmas holiday season, we ponder certain gifts and are thankful for grace.

At Thanksgiving, we are reminded of the gift of time. Daylight is shortened and people take stock in dividing the night from the day. We may think more about what brings light into our lives, and make commitments to love one another more because of all the blessings which we have received.

This holiday, there is nothing I need. I have a great wife and a great family. My profession is solid. Friendships are wonderful and sustaining. I am reading, learning, coaching, and ready for new journeys involving mercy and grace.

This year is the 25th time my wife and I will celebrate the holidays as a married couple. We shared more Thanksgivings before marriage, but this one is special. I am still thankful to be getting to know her better. I’m ready to journey the next 25. Time alongside her is a blessing.

My daughter changed schools this year. She is healthy, happy and will be a teenager soon. She is the calendar in the family; knowing what the weather is going to be like, recalling the dates of important television shows and movies, and is quick with facts. She does all that in a fun way which makes me laugh and brings me joy. There is nothing like having a daughter!

This November is the last with my son at home. He is a high school senior and going off to college next year. He will be away and not always physically as close as he is now. Things will never be the same, and that is okay.

Thanksgiving is a human holiday, but also involves the Spirit. We appreciate time. We value the empty chair. We remember the past and are excited for the future. We remember we are frail human beings and our physical lives do not last very long. It is what we do with it which matters. We may look to something “higher.”

In his “Meditation on the Divine Will,” Abraham Lincoln writes about a God of agency who willed the contest of Civil War. Like a good many of us, he was wrestling with the questions of his life and leadership in the midst of great calamity. He wanted to know what his purposes were in the context of the workings of the almighty.

In Psalms 90 verse 12, the psalmist writes, “So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom (KJV).” Numbering our days refers to the act of considering the brevity of life and watching our words and actions. The goal is to gain wisdom. As I have gotten older, I am thankful and grateful for God’s mercy and grace which has been sufficient for my every challenge. Wisdom came in both good times and bad.

Numbering our days is recognizing our lives must pour into other lives. Numbering and measuring comes also from noticing a God of rich mercy who never leaves or forsakes his people. All of us are tattooed with struggle at times, but we are never alone.

At Thanksgiving, we are often humbled by a sense our lives are not our own. The Spirit leads, and the heroes of our past are reflected in our lives. Both say, “Keep going.”

Brent Tomberlin is a social studies instructor at South Caldwell High School and CCC&TI. He can be reached at

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