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Try this as a trivia question at Thanksgiving dinner: What does “Mary Had a Little Lamb” have to do with Thanksgiving?

In 1822, Sarah Hale was only two weeks away from giving birth to her fifth child when her beloved husband died suddenly of a stroke. She was so devastated that she wore only black for the rest of her life. She was left almost penniless, a single mom with no clear path forward. But as a follower of Jesus, she was not without hope.

Sarah Hale could write. But as there were virtually no female authors in America in those days, that didn’t seem like a way to feed her children. Nevertheless she followed her passion and wrote a book of poems. One of her poems was based on a true story from her childhood of a lamb that followed a little girl named Mary to school.

Her poems were published. Soon, Sarah became the editor of the country’s leading magazine for women. She held that position until her death at age 90! During those days, she became one of the most influential women in America, influencing women in literally every aspect of their lives.

But that was not enough for Sarah Hale. She wanted to change the whole nation too. Deeply patriotic, she began to appeal in 1847 for a national day of thanksgiving. She even wrote descriptions of wonderful feasts, recipes for turkey and pumpkin pie, and touching descriptions of how this day of thanksgiving could bring a broken country together again.

Sarah appealed to five presidents without success. But she would not give up. For seventeen years she fought for her dream. Finally in 1863, just a few months after the horrors of Gettysburg, President Lincoln made her dream come true. In response to an impassioned appeal from Hale, Lincoln declared the last Thursday in November a National Day of Thanksgiving.

We think about Pilgrims and Indians on this day. As we should. But perhaps think with your family today about a Thanksgiving story you may have never heard before—the story of Sarah Hale, the “mother” of Thanksgiving. And be encouraged by the lessons of her life:

Out of hopelessness, Jesus brings hope.
Out of sorrow, Jesus brings miracles.
Out of dreams, Jesus brings wonderful realities.
Out of passionate, patient sowing, Jesus brings harvest.
Out of a broken nation, Jesus can bring wholeness again.

Sarah Hale would be seen as quite politically incorrect today. She said, “Thanksgiving Day is the national pledge of Christian faith in God, acknowledging Him as the dispenser of blessings.” But I imagine any criticism, crisis, or circumstance would not stop her today, as it did not stop her then.

Because of Sarah Hale, we have these words from the great President Lincoln in his Thanksgiving proclamation: “The Most High God, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy.”

Nothing seems more important in these days in America than to make those words from Lincoln our cry for our country again.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!