Today is Thanksgiving Day in the United States of America.
Earlier this month I had an opportunity to experience the beauty and wonder of our created world and that of our nation when my family and I headed west to Billings, Montana for work. I had a two-day conference to be part of and when it was done we had decided we would drive 3 hours south to the East Entrance of Yellowstone National Park to visit a high school friend of Maggie’s who works as a park ranger in Yellowstone.
The two days in the hotel with 5 people, three of whom were aged 6 and under, in one room were rough. But thankfully, Billings has plenty of city parks for the kids to enjoy while I was “at work.” On the morning of the last day of the conference, my boss told me to leave as soon as my presentation was done around 10am and “get your kids out into the mountains!” We were grateful for the permission to leave early, and burned more of the kids’ pent-up energy at Billings’ spacious zoo before the road trip to East Entrance. We got to East Entrance late on Thursday afternoon, in time to witness the night settling over the mountains and our accommodations.
Our hosts weren’t in due to vehicle troubles, so we had all of Halloween Day to enjoy and explore the park. Thankfully, the weather was absolutely beautiful. Though a little bit of snow was on the ground, the sun was plentiful, the wind soft and air just right…And we had the park practically to ourselves.
We hung out behind the Fishing Bridge Visitor Center at Lake Yellowstone for an hour. We drove to the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone and hiked to the Lower Falls and back, meeting only half a dozen people. We made it to Old Faithful and counted over 50 Bison along the way (we quit counting at 85 on our way back to our apartment). Thankfully, we got a front row spot and watched Old Faithful erupt within minutes of showing up. We walked the geyser area, accompanied by a lone wolf who trotted about the boardwalk and tourists like the stray neighborhood dog. We watched Old Faithful erupt again before heading to Upper Geyser Basin, Gibbon Falls and back “home” for the night
Our friends had returned home and we enjoyed fresh elk steak and bison burgers and, of course, rekindling friendship and conversation. The kids enjoyed buckets of Halloween candy courtesy of our hosts and the neighbor, a bachelor park ranger, specially requested our kids knock and “trick or treat” at his apartment, which made their night, and his too.
On Saturday we all enjoyed a low-key morning in the sun on the shore of the Lake again, shedding coats and sweatshirts and requiring sunscreen to avoid being sunburned..on All Saint’s Day. We built a snowman at Sylvan Pass and took an afternoon hike along the old East Entrance road. That night the weather turned back to November in the Rockies and we woke up to snow and slippery roads, just to remind us of what we needed to be thankful for the past few days: a job with flexibility that allowed us to enjoy the last few days of October, friends who welcomed us and gave us a place to stay, the beauty of the created world, perfect weather for a relaxing trip to this unique place, and a healthy family to enjoy creation in all its splendor.
Of course, we didn’t need to go all the way to Yellowstone to be thankful for what God has given us. Nor do we need Thanksgiving to remind us of what we ought to be thankful for. But it helps to take a step back and look upon the blessings we take for granted.
The Yellowstone trip seems like eons ago already and even before that – way back in September – I attended a men’s conference in Bismarck. One of the speakers, a diocesan priest from Williston, encouraged us to do something I’d never heard of: Pray a Rosary of Gratitude, to foster a spirit of thanksgiving within ourselves. This isn’t 50 Hail Marys in thanksgiving for your blessings. Beginning with the crucifix, and moving on to each bead, Father said to think of a blessing you have been given and thank the Lord for it. Its funny because, you start quick enough – 5 blessings are easy to find: family, friends, health, job, home. But then it gets hard: weather…good food…siblings, parents… talents… but can you come up with ten more? How about ten more than that? Father Kovash pointed out how blessed we are in our lives, but how hard it is to recognize it. “When was the last time you thanked God for oppose-able thumbs,” he asked. The crowd laughed, but he quickly pointed to a very well known, well-liked and well-respected priest in our diocese and said, “Monsignor Tom Richter would probably thank God every day if he was able to get his left thumb back.” The laughter died quickly. Msgr. Richter often jokes about his “hi-fours” and lack of a left thumb, but it dawned on us we all know someone who goes through life every day without a thumb. “Do you thank God for your hands, your arms, your legs? It seems like a crazy thing to be thankful for. But imagine living without it.”
This Thanksgiving, maybe try and take time to work your way around every bead on your rosary, naming something you are thankful for. Shoot for ten or twenty blessings, maybe more. But don’t take the blessings around you for granted. Just as the weather did on our last night in Yellowstone, life changes and quickly sometimes.
God bless you all on Thanksgiving.