Giving Thanks

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Thanksgiving has come and gone. Another turkey, multiple family gatherings, dirty dishes and endless laughter have been turned into memories. Most of it was familiar, like the green bean casserole and pumpkin pie. Traditions. The things we look forward to. All of it anticipated as we approached this holiday of warmth and cheer around the table.  Another year full of blessings would soon be coming to an end.

But for some people, it’s just another day, another season that brings want. A single mother is hurting because she’s not sure where the next meal for her children will come from.  She’ll have to bury her pride and ask for help, again. A middle-aged woman recovering from a work-related injury, lives with her elderly mother and is struggling to keep up with the bills. She endures the pain in her legs to make a short trip out to the market for a few things to get by for one more day. One more day that the small change at the bottom of the purse is only enough for a portion, a meager lifeline to the next day, and then what?

Then what? Thanksgiving! Because Thanksgiving is about giving thanks.

Before the table overflowing with a feast; the meal that trumps all…we decided to give thanks by sharing groceries with families in a different neighborhood.

There’s a quaint, outdated Kroger at 16th and Central where the grocery carts barely fit through the aisles and the customers greet each other like old friends. We filled a cart with all the traditional items a family would need to make a decent Thanksgiving meal. In spite of not having a list, each order rang up to nearly the exact amount we had planned to spend! God is good to us, even in our foolishness.

It was an awkward time after that, standing at the front of the store looking lost, scanning the crowd for “just the right one.” They paid us no mind, each one on a mission in the last few hours before the holiday started. Soon a woman with four children walked in and we all smiled. Perfect! My husband stopped her and asked, “Excuse me, could we help you with your Thanksgiving meal?”

The scene repeated and the responses were varied. One asked, “Why would you do that?!” The middle-aged woman living with her 97 year-old mother lit up with “Thank you, Jesus!”

But not all were obviously grateful. So I told my teenage sons not to worry – no matter the responses, we were doing this to give thanks. And God was happy with it. In fact, others were happy with it too. Bystanders noticed and were moved, and they told us so – like the Salvation Army bell ringer standing outside while we loaded the groceries into people’s cars. So we blessed her too.

Our night of giving thanks almost didn’t happen. Bickering boys and lack of enthusiam had threatened to derail it. I wondered in those moments before we left home, if our blessings had become so numerous that we forgot to count them, took them for granted. But we pushed through it. We exchanged frustrations for obedience and God met us on the other side with an armful of more blessings, more thanksgiving. More reasons to give thanks.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Black and White

I say a word and one is angry, one agrees, and yet another is confused. To speak or not to speak. What to speak. Because it’s a mess and not all black and white. The issues beg for discussion, for soapboxes and justice. But justice will never come through the words on the screen. Or will it? Sometimes that seems all that we’ve got – words on the screen, and prayers. Those of us here, so far removed and wondering what to do.

Everyone is an expert. No one knows the answer. Because it’s a mess and not all black and white. I wonder what the truth is. Conflicting reports, accusations on all sides, the numbers, details, names and faces. Those bear the truth – truth that says lives have been disregarded. From one minute to the next, these lives we knew nothing of, now we mourn.

On the other edge of the puzzle, lives are fought for. Still lives we do not know, but that they are lives. Lives that wash ashore hanging on by a thread, reaching out for something, everything. In the midst of parched young ones and desperate mothers, the evil hides. Sometimes. Because it’s a mess and not all black and white. We feel the need to help, to embrace, feed, teach.  Turn away and scorn. Protect. Reject the threat of evil, not the needs of the oppressed. A misdeed to guard other lives, some we know, some we don’t. My heart is torn.

Because it’s a mess and not all black and white.

Endures Forever

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For His mercy endures forever. Endures forever. As I read this today, I thought…God must be trying to make a point here (and everywhere else in the bible, of course!) But THIS is the point, in Psalm 136, those words that repeat, over and over, and over again.

Endures forever.

He is the Lord of lords, for His mercy endures forever. He made great lights, for his mercy endures forever. He led His people through the wilderness. Why? Because His mercy endures forever.

And a few things He did, would seem not so merciful, even unloving…to us – He struck down great kings. And? You guessed it. His mercy endures forever.

What else do you know of that “endures forever?” What actions could be misunderstood, miscommunicated as unloving, when in fact, they’ve come from the most loving place?

As I prayed for my children this morning, I was thinking of my love for them. Thinking of all that they have done or said or been, or ______,  that THEY might assume would end my love for them. I was thinking of how I might not have appeared or sounded so loving in my responses to certain attitudes or choices. And yet, I know in my own heart, that I will love them forever. No matter what they say, do, think, or fall short of…..my love endures forever.

Yet, for them, my “love” can be misunderstood. Or not heard at all. It’s the same with us and God, right? In the hard things, as parents, our wires can get crossed, words and positions miscommunicated. Honestly, I haven’t been the best at expressing this unending love for my children. No, at times I’ve been the worst at it. Pathetic. Failed. True or not, they must’ve felt unloved, unaccepted, unworthy.

Time does not heal those wounds. Only love does. Only love can.

And more than just the warm plateful of cookies, the clean sheets on the bed, the sore muscles massaged….I hope I am communicating that kind of love to my children the way God does with me. He is patient with me, never giving up on me, always for me (even after all these years!). Yet, he is unwavering in what He expects of me. He cares more about my character than my comfort. I get that. But do they?

So, when my love doesn’t feel like love to my children, in the moment, I hope that they will come to know…..my love endures forever. Greater still, that they will know God’s love.         I pray this, and thank God, for this mercy that endures forever!

Billy

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We finally spotted him just outside a liquor store. He was standing on the sidewalk, haggling with a woman who had been walking the opposite direction. It seemed they knew each other; regulars on this stretch of eastside road. Neighbors by proximity, without homes. Most likely they were facing the same hardships in life, outcome of choices, lacking hope.

Yes, he was the one.

We’d been driving for an hour. Scanning first the downtown streets then peering into nooks and crannies where a human might find refuge. Driving slowly, cautiously, and blatantly obvious, I’m sure, by the way some folks looked suspiciously at us, passing through intersections of necessities and habits.

But they didn’t really see us. Didn’t see us through black-tinted windows, to see the concerned face of a teenage boy and his brother intermittently checking his phone. To see the two boys who had so thoughfully scoured the grocery store aisles for things they took for granted. An apple. Gatorade. Fried chicken. We’d packed some things, so simple. Food and warmth and maybe a little joy. The people on the streets could not see the mother’s gaze full of sympathy, empathy, and shame for too much talking and not enough doing.

Yes, we decided he was the one. So we pulled off the road and waited until the woman left. Then, without a word we filed out of the truck like troops on a mission. The four of us  caught up with him as he meandered, satisfied with whatever the woman had given him.  He stopped with his cart to lean on a wall as we approached. “Hi, do you have a minute for us to talk with you?” At arms length, I could smell the booze, and the uncleanness. Small in stature, peeking out from half-moon eyes, gray hair and weathered face that showed the years, this man pushed an old shopping cart with two random articles of clothing and nothing else. I wondered, why the cart?

This man. We knew nothing of the journey that led him to wander these streets.  So we asked. And he told us his name: Billy.

“Billy, we want to give you some things.” He reacted from a life lived with desperation, moment by moment clamoring for what the body craves and nothing else. He revealed the attitude of being in a sea of people, all surviving by “every man for himself.”

“Why?!”, he asked. “Why do you want to do that for me?”

And I thought, don’t we all do that?  Don’t we all cast doubt at the undeserved kindnesses that people heap upon us? No matter if we’ve lived in the suburbs with more things than we need, don’t we ask, why? Why would you do that for me? What do you want from me in return?

We told Billy, “because we want you to know that you matter and that we care and that Jesus sees you and loves you.” Billy had a few words about Jesus, and about how he’d paid a woman so that he could sleep in her basement. He shared that she’d “done him wrong.” She had taken his money to support her crack habit and then kicked Billy out, changed the lock. And now he had nothing. He matter-of-factly stated, “I know, I’m just a drunk.”

After we held Billy’s hand and prayed with him, he responded with gratitude. We exchanged hugs. Billy said, that in the coming days he would be praying “for all of us” and he knew Jesus was listening.

I know Jesus is listening. And he knows that this man’s name is Billy.