My Father’s Thanksgiving Hymn
My father, as drawn by my nephew, Kasper Kavalaris
I grew up in a Swedish Baptist Church in Yankton, South Dakota. My family sat in the second pew, one long enough to hold my two brothers, my four sisters, my parents, and me. We sang all the American gospel hymns—by Fannie Crosby, Charles Wesley, Ira Sankey—but we had our old Swedish standards, and my father’s favorite was “Thanks to God for My Redeemer.”
I remember as a boy standing next to him one Sunday evening (we sang for long periods at the Sunday night service) as we sang this hymn. My father was a better whistler than a singer, his voice often wavering, dipping and flying like his whistle. But he wasn’t the least self-conscious of his errant voice. He just free-warbled as if no one could hear him.
Thanks to God for my Redeemer,
Thanks for all Thou dost provide!
Thanks for times now but a mem’ry,
Thanks for Jesus by my side!
Thanks for pleasant, balmy springtime,
Thanks for dark and stormy fall!
Thanks for tears by now forgotten,
Thanks for peace within my soul!
This night I stopped singing as I looked up into his face and listened.
Dad seemed to know something about dark and stormy fall, about tears, something I didn’t quite grasp. He sang on.
Thanks for prayers that Thou hast answered,
Thanks for what Thou dost deny!
Thanks for storms that I have weathered,
Thanks for all Thou dost supply!
Thanks for pain, and thanks for pleasure,
Thanks for comfort in despair!
Thanks for grace that none can measure,
Thanks for love beyond compare!
Here was a “thanksgiving” song that spoke of prayers denied, storms, pain, all wrapped into a heart’s surge of praise and gratitude. I kept watching my father because I could see the emotion in his eyes. Like countless thousands, he had come back from the war scarless but with inner wounds. I knew from the very few combat stories he told me. A man had died in his arms, sniper shot. I remembered that one vividly. He had shot and killed a Japanese soldier at close range. Even as a boy I knew that haunted him. Dad was the most upbeat man, and yet he often broke into tears. He held both pain and pleasure together, and I knew, watching him, that he could do that only because of the presence of Christ. “Thanks for Jesus by my side!”
The congregation threw itself into the last verse, and Dad’s faulty tenor swelled. He had no idea his son could not take his eyes off him.
Thanks for roses by the wayside,
Thanks for thorns their stems contain!
Thanks for home and thanks for fireside,
Thanks for hope, that sweet refrain!
Thanks for joy and thanks for sorrow,
Thanks for heav’nly peace with Thee!
Thanks for hope in the tomorrow,
Thanks through all eternity!
Did I know, even as a boy, that one “sorrow” he was unaccountably thankful for was the loss of their second child, the sister I knew only from stories and the one picture we had of Sharon, who lived 26 days? Almost nothing was said about that death, but we all knew it was a devastation for my mother and father. In my childish way, I knew there were hardships and hurts from which I was shielded. But when I watched my father sing his gratitude for his sorrows as well as his blessings, I knew all those tears had been poured out to heaven and been redeemed. I heard redemption in his wavery voice.
That’s the kind of Thanksgiving I’m hoping for.
If you’re not Swedish and would like to hear “Thanks to God for My Redeemer,” it’s here.
Calvary Baptist Church, Yankton, South Dakota