Giving Thanks for Our Pioneers

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The original pioneers of Niverville, of both British and Mennonite ancestry, inspired many other groups to settle the prairies by demonstrating its enormous agricultural potential. The hardiness and determination of these early settlers, many coming from a harsh environment in Russia, ensured that this unforgiving land would be transformed into a place from which livelihoods could be wrested, in spite of the challenges.

In later years, these generous settlers sent grain in relief to others suffering from famine in Russia. Niverville’s history includes contributions by many groups, including the French settlers, the Métis, and the Scottish in addition to the British and the Mennonites. Niverville today has become a culturally diverse and open community.

We often take for granted that the blessings we enjoy today were made possible by the sacrifices and investments of others. In the words of Benjamin Wallace, from a sermon he delivered at the First Unitarian Church in Omaha five years ago, “We build on foundations we did not lay. We warm ourselves at fires that we did not light. We sit in the shade of trees that we did not plant. We drink from wells that we did not dig. We partake of crops that we did not plant. We profit from persons before us that we have never met. We are ever bound to those who have gone before us.”

Were our ancestors perfect? Not by any means. There is also a dark side to every history. Some have memories of abuse and violence that went on in their homes. Do we deny that those things happened? No, but we deny their right to rule our lives today, or to determine our future.

One of the best ways to be healed of painful memories is to be grateful, to be thankful for the good things we have received from our ancestors. Without them, we would not even be here today, and without them we would not be as far along on our journey as we presently are.

Thanksgiving focuses our minds upon the true, the lovely, and the praiseworthy. Gratitude is a function of our attention, and can be cultivated through choosing our thoughts and reactions wisely. If we would be more thoughtful, we would be more thankful.

Our deepest sense of gratitude comes through the grace of God, with the awareness that we have not earned, nor do we deserve, all that we have been given. Blaming and complaining keeps us stuck in past offences, and keeps us from moving forward into our future destiny.

So, do we give thanks for some things but complain about others? Or do we give thanks for everything? I am not thankful that my father verbally abused me as a boy, but I am thankful that his verbal attacks only deepened my faith, and strengthened my inner spirit to rise above hurts, insults, and offences. I came to realize that deep down, my father really did love me, even though he didn’t always know how to express it because of the emotional wounds that he himself had received from his alcoholic father.

To break this generational cycle, we must start to be grateful for the good things we have received. Without our parents, we would not even be alive! In our deepest parts, we all have the same longings to love and to be loved, and to be understood in the heart and the mind of another. The truth is that we are loved, and we are destined to return to the Father who loved us from before the beginning of time. 

He has a purpose and a plan for our lives to make a difference in this world by transforming ashes into something beautiful, mourning into joy, a spirit of heaviness into a garment of praise and thanksgiving, cursing into blessing, and death into life. 

Thanksgiving is a lifestyle that we choose while we learn from the past and yearn for the future!

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