A Pen, A Cape, and Thank You

I would’ve thought that if a woman had saved Thanksgiving, then I would’ve heard of her. But it’s quite likely that I haven’t been paying attention.

Her name was Sarah Josepha Hale. And she was incredible.

Sarah was only 34 when she was left widowed and penniless, with five children. Her husband died unexpectedly, and with him died her dreams. It was said that they were crazy about each other. I imagine that she got through such unspeakable tragedy, because she had to be strong for someone else. That's my guess, at least.

To add to her personal tragedies, she lived at a time of national insecurity and civil unrest. She could have easily retreated to fear. No one would have wronged her for it. Instead, she picked up a pen.

With that pen, Sarah authored two dozen books, the first published at age 39. She became the editor of the first women’s magazine in America. On that platform, she urged equal education for American girls, started childcare for working women, fought for the abolition of slavery, founded the Seaman’s Society to provide for destitute women, and came up with the idea of public playgrounds.

Over her lifetime, she wrote thousands of letters to presidents. It’s hard to believe that with all of those achievements, she’s probably best known for writing “Mary Had a Little Lamb." Well, that, and the saving of Thanksgiving.

Since the first Thanksgiving celebration in 1621, the holiday had only been celebrated sporadically, by individual states. And it was losing ground. Sarah thought that making Thanksgiving a national holiday would help to heal a broken land.

She wrote presidents for forty years, petitioning for this idea. She is quoted as saying, "There is a deep moral influence in these periodical seasons of rejoicing, in which whole communities participate. They bring out . . . the best sympathies in our natures."

In 1863, one letter did the trick. Amidst the brutality of the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln resonated with Sarah’s idea. That year, he issued the Proclamation to secure Thanksgiving as a national holiday. Amidst the trenches of adversity, with gunshots firing, he rose up to give thanks. He gave thanks because Sarah had asked him to.

Was this woman for real? Yeah, but the strength that we see in hindsight, was fashioned by her pain. That’s the way that it always is, but yet I still need reminded. Her achievements are enviable, but they were built on failures and committed persistence; a fiery-like diligence to small, inconsequential efforts every day.

She got up in the morning and wrote a letter. She got up in the morning and made breakfast for her kids. She got up in the morning and sang a silly song about sheep. Maybe some days, all she did was get up.

Upon reading her life's story, she became one of my favorite heroes. I am blown away by such a life. But I also know so many individuals just like her.

Even as I type, names are coming to mind of friends and family who get up in the morning to fight challenges bigger than themselves. But they get up anyway and forge ahead. I am ever grateful for these unlikely heroes, whom God has placed in my path.

They may not see their legacy this side of eternity, but it's being written page by page. Thanks.

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