No matter how much we romanticize the first Thanksgiving, those families had been through incredible hardships, spending months at sea. They endured endless storms and giant swells, where they lay on the floorboards of the creaking ship, so sick, perhaps wishing they would die, but praying the ship would not break apart like others had and leave them to drown. Men, women, children, babies, crammed aboard crowded, stuffy, damp, cold ships, without the comforts of the homes they had left in England and Holland. Only half of those who set off on the voyage survived.
Yet life in England had become unbearable for some, and they wanted a better life. Since King Henry VIII’s separation from the Catholic Church back in 1534 and the founding of the Church of England, there had been vast disagreement about religion among the citizens. The Puritans — the people who became the pilgrims — were neither Roman Catholic nor Church of England, and they did not embrace the government’s rules for how to worship.
Wanting to Be Free
Though not in chains, the Puritans, and most English citizens, were not truly free. If they said the wrong thing, discussed something unpopular, were critical of the king, or even complained about their lack of food, they could be beaten, or locked in the stocks for public ridicule. Some were imprisoned or even executed. All because they wanted a better life. And they wanted to be able to worship freely, and not be forced to attend the king’s church. They were not free to pray to their own God in their own way.
To escape England, many of the Puritans moved to Holland, where they became peasants, living an even harder life. After 10 years there, often having nothing, some scraped and saved to pay for a voyage to a new land, where they could be landowners and hope to be free.
It’s no wonder they had such a vast appreciation for what little they had when they arrived. It’s no wonder they developed a spirit of sharing, and were willing to give others. In the first years, they shared their first harvest with one another and with the Native Americans.
The Prevailing Spirit
Whether or not the tales of that first Thanksgiving, in 1621, are true, and though there is said to be a dark side, it’s the spirit of Thanksgiving — the feeling of being free, and the desire to help others less fortunate — that makes Thanksgiving what it is today.
It was Abraham Lincoln who made Thanksgiving an official holiday, in 1863. Thanksgiving is about a giving spirit, wanting to be together, and the ability to speak freely without the fear of repercussions.
Perfection Isn’t Possible
The world the pilgrims left us isn’t perfect. Some are critical of their ways, and there are ugly stories that surround them and their treatment of Native Americans. Like all who have become Americans, they, and we, are imperfect. But true perfection cannot be accomplished, because each of has a different definition of what that would be.
Look around the table today.
Look at the family members around you. Or think of those friends and family who normally would be gathered but who cannot be here with you today because of COVID-19. And think for a moment of those we have lost, and whose seat at the table is empty.
Look at the imperfections in the people around you.
Each of us carries with us the imprint of our DNA, the impact of our upbringing and surroundings, and the experiences of our lives. Each of us has imperfections.
As you gaze at those around you, try to embrace their imperfections, and ask yourself, “Are they truly imperfections, or is it simply me being overly judgmental? Am I being harsh?”
Then think about yourself and the imperfect moments in your own life, when your expectations for yourself were not met, where others may have judged you. Think about how you felt being judged or criticized.
Embrace Where We Are
Today, embrace one another. Embrace your imperfections and be thankful we’re all alive. Perhaps this year, we have more of an appreciation of our ability to gather, and the ability to be with those we love. Or perhaps you’re unable to gather, you’re alone, and others are missing you because we’ve been told that gathering together is unhealthy.
Be thankful for the imperfections of the world, and the imperfections of others who do not believe as you believe.
Embrace others who believe differently than you … a different higher power, a different lifestyle, a different political leaning.
Most important, embrace our freedom.
Though freedom is fragile, be thankful we’re not being told what we can and cannot do. Be thankful more and more is not being taken from us, making it difficult to survive. Be thankful we can worship freely.
Casting blame is easy — being critical of others, being critical of our differences. But this melting pot of America, and this melting pot of personalities in our families, is, in fact, perfection in God’s eyes. We’ve been asked not to judge, but to leave that to Him.
On this day, embrace who we are, and soak in the joy when we can be together, even though we may argue about football teams, politics, or religion.
Be thankful you can gather, and that you can argue.
Small Screens Down
Seek common ground. Talk about the good times, the memories, the loved ones who have passed. Talk about ideas, look for what lights up the eyes of those around the table, and patiently listen and be less eager to jump down their throats in disagreement. And throw all the phones in a basket so no one is looking at a screen on this special day.
Someone at the table may not be with us next year. We cannot predict who, but we do know, in spite of all our disagreements, we will wish we had known them better, listened to them more, and spent more time with them once they are gone.
Our Sad Day
Earlier this year my 18-year-old son had a heart attack, died, and barely was able to be revived. His mother and I laid on a cold vinyl couch at his side for 10 days in a hospital, praying the doctors and nurses could save him, which thankfully they did. I’m grateful his chair is not empty this year, and, because he will have a lifelong health issue, I’ll know each additional Thanksgiving is a blessing. He needs me to listen, to embrace who he is, and not to judge him.
Though sadness could spoil my day because I’m missing loved ones in isolation, I’m grateful we can still talk to catch up. We deeply miss those who have ventured beyond life before us, so let’s embrace those who share our lives today.
Make this day, this moment at the table, the most memorable Thanksgiving ever. Seek out laughter, fun, and making memories that will be imprinted for the rest of our lives. Create joy, play games, tell jokes, make some COVID Christmas ornaments out of face masks, or do a craft together. And most of all, put the imperfections aside and embrace each person for who they are, whether or not they are who you want them to be.
Remember, someone along the way embraced you, encouraged you, and gave you joy and hope. Chances are, you love being around that person. Today, be that person for others.
Embrace the imperfections and celebrate our ability to be free to gather.
PS: I’m deeply grateful for you today. This little letter, which I normally write from the rickety old porch of my little Texas homestead on Sunday mornings, seems to have been given wings to spread across the world. Each time you’ve shared it with someone else, you’ve given me a chance to ring a bell, create an “aha” moment, or stimulate a thought that might somehow be helpful. I’m told we have a quarter million subscribers, and that the average passalong by each reader is about three times. Chances are I don’t know you, but know that I care about you, I want to listen to you, and I embrace you for who you are.
This weekly missive isn’t created by some PR firm, and I’m not a celebrity. I’m just a guy who started writing a weekly letter to my kids (triplets) in hopes they would someday pick them up and read them as adults, and know what their dad was thinking, and maybe, I could help them capture some of what I’ve learned in life to help them get through their own lives. I once mentioned it to a friend, who asked for a copy, and that seed has resulted in the spread.
Though I don’t make my living as an artist, I do paint. I’m the guy who never believed in himself. I could not draw a stick figure, and I had no talent. But the lift I received from my mom, and then later from my wife, resulted in my finding my way and discovering that I could learn the painting process, even without talent. This grew out of a small seed planted at a young age, and the encouragement to believe I could do it, when I could not believe in myself.
Little seeds can result in a spread that can create mighty forests. We can spread the seeds of weeds that choke the growth of trees, or we can spread the seeds that grow into the great redwoods. We can choose to spread negatives and criticism, or we can spread encouragement that will give the lift others need to thrive.
By the way … if you think you have no talent and don’t believe in yourself, but you’ve always wanted to paint, there are some free lessons I think will make it easy. I’ve taught thousands. It’s called Paint By Note.
Also, we’re celebrating watercolor with a giant learning event, including a Beginner’s Day, with the top watercolor artists in the world (no exaggeration). It’s coming up in January. It’s called Watercolor Live.
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Eric, I am just now sitting down to read and respond to your Sunday Coffee Thanksgiving letter. So many things to so with the family gathering at our home. I appreciate all that you share with your readers each week, inviting all into your life and work.
Thank you so very much Eric Rhoads for all your Sunday Coffee with Eric writings!!! They are truly uplifting and encouraging… much needed during difficult times… I prefer to look at even the tiniest seed of positive in my day and your writing is helpful throughout the week!!!
I know it takes all your great staff and loving family to accomplish all you do… thank you so much… I love the Plein Air magazines, the landscape videos I have purchased or received as gifts and the Paint by Note system is helping immensely!!! What joy the arts bring to ones life.. thank you again and I hope you had a Blessed Thanksgiving.
Janie Eggleston Astoria, Oregon
god bless you and your family. I thank you for your Thanksgiving message which helped me to appreciate how blessed I have been
Thank you. How I wish that I was a good story teller. Thank you for your concern for others…..Stay safe.
Thanks so much for everything you do Eric. If you don’t mind I will put a hotlink to this email in my newsletter, The Kleven Kronicles, which I’m about to publish.
I became 88 years of age 2 days ago and I’m caregiver for my loving wife of 51 years who has dementia, so my painting time is limited to an hour or two a day. Still, I have found time during our quiet hour (during which we listen to calming music) after lunch to watch many of your free videos from which I have learned so much. I am now doing my second issue of ten “weekly inspirations” which are only 10″x10″ oils but they seem to be well received and I’ve even sold a few.
I just want you to know what an inspiration you have been to me. I feel like you are a good friend and I wish the best of everything for you in the future. Keep up the good work you are doing for the world of art.
Please accept my deepest sympathy about your son’s illness. That is shocking, to have at heart-attack at such a young age. So glad that he pulled through. This really makes me appreciate how lucky I am to have so many of my loved ones alive and with me, even though some of them only remotely. Thank you for sharing your experience. It has helped in these difficult times.
Now that was a Sobering message! I had to do a second take of your experience with your son.
Prayer is more powerful than most people realize. I was so relieved to read he survived.
You and Laurie are very inspirational, especially to see the strength you had to go forward with your daily inspirational interviews.
Your preparation and genuine interest in each artist is very apparent. I guess when you have the gift of triplets, you need to be resourceful and creative, to survive!
Thank you for sharing and my best to you and your family (from your favorite place…lol…Chadds Ford,PA hometown of Andrew Wyeth)
What a powerful message, Eric !
We read it at the Thanksgiving lunch yesterday for all family and I wasn’t able to hold my tears, so I passed it to my son to continue to read and he got involved emotionally as well. And then we started each one of us tell story that we remember from our lives, funny and serious…I think with your help we created new tradition for our Thanksgiving gathering. And even my 5 years old granddaughter was participating and tell story about her older sister got hurt ( sometime back) and she was giving to her her favor toy to comfort her!
I am so inspired by your messages, Eric! What a heartfelt messages of trues you are giving us each time! Thank you from the bottom of my heart for all your work! God bless you and your family! Happy Holidays!
Eric, I want to thank you for this wonderful and thoughtful post . I look forward to them every week . And also thanks for all the wonderful artists’ videos. It is so great that you and they share their talent and advice , especially now that I have been mostly cut off from my artist friends and fellow critics. I’m hoping it will inspire me and my art to grow.
What a beautiful article. We should all take heart at the thoughts expressed therein.
Thankyou for the streamline art videos that you have made available during the last few months. They have been greatly appreciated. I only paint in watercolor and I looked forward to seeing those. I think that watercolor is the most beautiful of medias and that is why I stay with it. I am a photo realist painter and I love detail. My City is currently in complete lockdown due to our high Covid numbers and Christmas with extended family is looking bleak. It is good to have an outlet such as painting.
Hi Eric, Once again a wonderful, Christian message. I wait each week for your “Sunday Coffee” which we get down here in Australia on our Monday. Great to get it on Friday this week. A Happy Thanksgiving to you and all your family, both biological and artistic. Keep up the good work. Regards and Blessings, Lloyd
Beautiful letter. I agree with you. So thankful for being born in this wonderful country. Blessings beyond words can express.
Thank you Eric, your letter feels so personal. I have enjoyed your daily videos throughout this year. They were inspirational and a bridge to producing a cache of work. The realism conference was a week of joy!
Happy Thanksgiving! Thank you again, for all you give!
Appreciated this Thanksgiving message.
Thank you Eric, from the bottom of my heart! You touched “everything”…EVERY THING!
God bless. And may we all find healing and strength in the coming year!
May EVERY ONE realize the GOODNESS they have, share it for the betterment of all!
And each of us always keep an open heart and mind, to all who come into our lives!
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Eric and family..may this day like all of our days behind us and in the future be filled with promise. God Bless our world and may our hearts appreciate what we have to share…Happy Thanksgiving…Peggy
Thank you for the Morning Coffee! It was “delicious”! God bless you and yours, and keep doing what you are doing!! HAVE A B!ESsED THANKSGIVING!!
Thanks for such a thoughtful Thanksgiving message. I enjoy reading your Sunday morning coffee news and am impressed with your thougtfulness and encouragement.
Thank you, Eric. A beautiful message. Mary and I too, are separated from our families located only 20 miles to the south. They are getting together somewhat, but we decided that too many young adults might be dangerous to our health. At 84 and 78 years of age, we are not taking chances. Mary is happily painting a pastel as she cooks dinner with the other hand. God bless us all.
Thanks Eric. Keep those notes, letters and articles coming. Each one is a treasure to keep and reread.
Best wishes & lots of turkey to you and your family.
Thank you for getting us through the pandemic. You don’t think you are a celebrity but you are one to me. I look forward to seeing you everyday and I have learned so much. I am an art teacher and I know I will use what I have seen this year in my classes when I can start teaching again. Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family. I love your Sunday Morning Coffee. I am a 70 year old artist from Utah.
Thanks Eric. Good thoughts, I appreciate your sharing them. Happy Thanksgiving!
Thank you Eric… well said
You are a blessing to those around you and those whose lives you touch in other ways. Thank you for your faithfulness to sharing words of encouragement, reminders to keep perspective and above all advocating a grateful heart!
Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family. I pray that God richly blesses you and your loved ones as only He can.🙂
you have been in my life for MANY years.. I WAS SO GLAD TO READ WHEN YOUR SON SURVIVED You have a beautiful family and am happy you learned how to paint and feel fulfilled ! HAVE A WONDERFUL THANKSGIVING WITH YOUR FAMILY MAY JOY CONTINUE TO FILL YOUR LIFE!
Once agian, thanks, Eric, for shining a light on on the positive side–the side that helps us grow.
Warm hugs to you and your family, and sincere wishes to all of you for a loving and joyful holiday.
Stay safe, keep smiling!
Well said, Eric! God bless you and your family each and every day, but especially on this Thanksgiving Day! Your inspirational messages are very important and appreciated because they speak the reality and truth of things!
Thank you, Eric, for all you do to encourage us during these difficult times. I appreciate your Sunday Coffee Emails and the opportunities you make possible through the free video segments and interviews and more. Your generosity has been amazing. I pray you and your family will celebrate a joyful and healthy Thanksgiving!
Hi Eric. I so enjoy your letters and in each one I find a seed that I can plant and grow. So, from Newfoundland to Texas, thanks for sharing.
A very heartfelt letter, thank you so much!
Thank you for the special words of truth. For all of us, I hope we can in fact achieve this kinder, more thoughtful way of thinking about one another. Thanking you also for all the creative people you have brought into my life. I put my paint brushes down 20 years ago because I thought I needed to have a “real job”. And throughout the years I’ve dabbled a bit but nothing steady . Your website has put a paintbrush in hand and my oils are out along with my watercolors. And I am grateful I have a sister-in-law who does painting professionally. Before Covid we were propping up tents in art shows and she was doing very well for herself. And now we’re hoping we and other artists can get back to doing that, whatever that… Is.
I value your weekly chats Eric, You have lived a full life and I value the experience you pass on. I wish you and your family a Happy Thanksgiving and a healthy coming year.
Thanks Eric for your words of Giving . Your grateful spirit is reflected in your message of staying positive and non-judgemental . I wish you and your family the ability to stay as close as possible during this time. LOVE WILL FIND A WAY.
Thank you for your genuine hopeful letter. I agree I am grateful for every blessing even though some days they are harder to find. Wishing you and your family a safe and love filled Thanksgiving
Happy Thanksgiving Eric, to you and your family. May your blessings abound.
As always Eric a joy to read your Sunday morning coffee news. I wish you Happy Thanksgiving and all the best for your family. These are difficult times for everybody and even more important to keep together and support each other. I love the streamline art videos and try to follow them as much as possible. It certain will benefit my art journey in many ways. Thank you!