Next Thursday we celebrate one of the last unadulterated American holidays. I’m thankful that our nation’s founders set aside this day for our citizens to give thanks to God for His bountiful blessings which we continue to enjoy, and that it has yet to be commercialized or politicized.

No mention of Thanksgiving can be complete, however, without remembering the Pilgrims. When those 102 souls left England to sail to the new world, they had no idea what hardships they would face or what life would be like.

For most of them, conditions were worse than they had imagined. Forty-six died within a year of their arrival and many of the rest suffered from malnutrition and disease. Thankfully, enough survived to ensure success of the colony and establish a secure foothold on American soil. In spite of their hardships and losses, they celebrated their first Thanksgiving in the fall of 1621.

Even without the bitter obstacles they unknowingly faced, most of the Pilgrims who journeyed to our shores knew they would never go back. They knew that their decision to join William Bradford and the other leaders meant that they would never see their European homes and families again. It took true courage and determination to make this giant leap of faith across the Atlantic.

Most of us are familiar with the “Plymouth Rock,” which is reputed to be the actual stone on which the Pilgrims stepped as they left the Mayflower. Whether it is or not is certainly debatable, but just as that original stone became a paver that they used to enter a new country and plant a new colony, their actions themselves became stepping stones for our nation.

Their example and influence has shaped American government and culture in many ways. We’re all familiar with the first Thanksgiving which they held to express their gratitude to God for His provision, mercy, and grace, and most of us will relive it in some fashion next Thursday. This tradition has enshrined a recognition that America’s blessings are more than the result of human endeavor and good fortune. From the very beginning, our forefathers helped us see and appreciate the hand of Almighty God in forming, guiding, and blessing this nation.

But their early leadership paved America’s way in other areas as well. Their Mayflower Compact blazed a trail for later founding documents that limited the rights of government and enumerated freedoms of citizens while acknowledging the involvement of God in their joint endeavor. The work ethic of those New England Pilgrims would also set an example for determined settlers to conquer America’s wilderness in the coming decades.

As a former agriculture teacher, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the literal seeds they planted that would later blossom into the greatest food producing nation in the world. Thanks to the help of the Christian Native American, Squanto, the early settlers learned to feed themselves and their families and they established methods for long-term food and fiber sustainability.

While considering the numerous pathways the Pilgrims paved for America, we must glance in our mirrors to see what roads we are paving for others. What courageous decisions have we made that might result in personal sacrifice or disadvantage that those who follow us might have it better? Have we taken any physical, financial, or spiritual journeys of faith that will enable our descendants to be more successful or blessed than we have been? If not, let us consider what we might sacrifice for God’s Kingdom to be advanced and how we can help future generations.

As we enjoy our turkey and gravy next Thursday, let us thank God for all the blessings He has poured into our cups and for those who have paved many roads over which those blessings have come to us. And let us also resolve to pave roads for others that they too might enjoy benefits provided by our sacrifices. Thanksgiving Blessings, George

George Bowers is the Senior Pastor of Antioch Church of the Brethren and has authored sixteen books including Blessings Volume 3 which is a collection of these articles. It is available at Four Star Printing and Shenandoah Stuff. He can be reached through www.georgebowersministries.com or at gabowers@shentel.net.