Vintage plates, Stove Top stuffing, students and candles. These are just a few of the symbolic things that come to mind when I think about our family Thanksgivings.
The miracle we remember every Thanksgiving
At an early age, my father Eugenio Valenzuela surrendered his life to ministry. He studied at a Bible institute in San Antonio now called Baptist University of the Américas. When I was just 5 years old, he was diagnosed with stomach cancer and given six months to live. There was no cure. As the six-month mark approached, his small frame became increasingly more defined and frail. Plans and dreams quickly faded.
Our church pianist became a good friend to my mother. She consoled her and offered spiritual and emotional support. On his death bed, my dad released his family to the Lord saying: “I now understand that no one can be a better parent to my children than you, God. And no one will be a better provider for my wife than you.”
With that, he entrusted us to God and prepared to meet his Maker. In that moment, we believe the Lord honored his faith and healed him. His next visit to MD Anderson Cancer Center confirmed the miracle.
Soon after, God called my father to move our family to West Texas to pastor a church. As a going-away gift, the church pianist gave my mother a beautiful collection of Franciscan dinnerware. To this day, we use those plates each Thanksgiving, a symbol of friendship and God’s faithfulness.
We are so grateful the Lord allowed my dad to live almost 20 more years. And in memory of our father, our families sponsor an annual Thanksgiving lunch for the students of BUA as a reminder to us of God’s providential hand on our family.
Sharing the table at Thanksgiving
We have had the blessing of having my mom live with us for most of our married life. She enjoys celebrating Thanksgiving and takes pride in the food and all the small details. With place settings for 9 to 12, we begin preparing days before with visions of family gathered around the table.
I’m more about hospitality and sharing our table with special guests. I think about single parents, students away from home, families who have to work on Black Friday, the elderly and on and on. We always have been honored to have guests at Thanksgiving.
I used to work at a television news station, and because the news doesn’t take a break for the holidays, reporters don’t have time off to travel home. One year, our kids were excited to have one of our local reporters at our table.
Last year, we were honored to have my dad’s two sisters join us. We reminisced and shared stories all day.
Now that our kids are older, sometimes they bring friends from college to spend the Thanksgiving break with us.
This year, we are blessed and so excited to add another permanent place setting at our table. In March, our eldest son got married. Our daughter-in-love is a jewel. She has added so much joy to our family.
We serve the traditional Thanksgiving lunch with roast turkey and cornbread dressing. I enjoy baking homemade bread and desserts. And we can’t forget the Stove Top stuffing my husband enjoys once a year. A small reminder of his childhood, it may not be gourmet or fancy, but it is valued because of what it means to him. The entire meal is a symbol of God’s provision and abundance.
Setting the table is part of the anticipation. I like the idea of the table being a place of encouragement.
My favorite Thanksgiving tradition
Just a few years ago, we began the one tradition I delight in most. After lighting the candles at the table—a reminder of God’s special presence illuminating over us—we take bread and serve grape juice, remembering the sacrifice of Jesus.
We bless each of our children, and my mother blesses us. I always get teary-eyed. To hear these powerful words of truth being spoken from the heart over each one is powerful. I eagerly anticipate doing this with our new daughter-in-love.
We sing together and finish with the Priestly Blessing (Numbers 6:24-26). This blessing was ingrained in us at a very early age, words my father spoke over us. It was his prayer for the church and how he closed his daily radio program.
As you prepare your heart to give thanks, whether it be surrounded by family and guests or alone this season, enjoying Stove Top stuffing or a simple turkey sandwich, I pray the glory of God will fill your heart and home. He delights in having you at his banquet table, and his banner over you is love.
Brenda Rincones is the founder of SHINE Girls Conference, an annual event for Latina girls and women.