Yesterday was Thanksgiving Day. I had an unusual day, and I'd like to tell you about it.
We had invited seven guests - a man and his two boys, and four singles. (The invitation process was long and confusing; suffice it to say that I did not know, at any point, how many were invited, much less how many would actually come.) Two of the seven let us know by Wednesday night that they would not attend.
One guy called us Thanksgiving morning to tell us he couldn't make it. One girl didn't get back to us at all - we learned she wasn't coming when she didn't show up. The man with the boys didn't know until early in the afternoon, and he called us two hours before he was to arrive to ask if his cousin could come, as well. Then, all four of them showed up nearly an hour earlier than expected.
On the surface, this all seems so confusing, and even downright rude. And I thank God that I've become a more flexible person in the last few months, because my heart was beginning to feel put-upon and used. Fortunately, I decided to wait and see how it all played out.
The guy who called on Thanksgiving morning is a bright young fellow - the kind of guy whose help you'd want for just about anything. He's a whiz at computers, and equally eager to help with moving furniture, painting, or being a strong male presence in a hazardous situation. He couldn't make it because he was called into work. He's one of those people you call when you're aggravated with a certain appliance. He's the numbskull you want to chew out when he gives you the answer he's paid to give you, but that you don't want to hear. In our local depressed economy, a smart, eager young man needs to keep whatever job he can find - even if it's the kind that makes you listen to angry customers on a holiday.
The girl who never got back to us had good reason, too. She has no phone. And no car. She's a teen. She lives with her dad, who has a terminal illness, and she lost her mother just a few years ago. She walks everywhere she goes. She is one of the most dedicated friends you'd ever want to have - always there when you need her. She's sweet, polite, and hides behind a thick, soft-spoken shell. We were very sorry when she didn't appear.
The man with the boys is a chef. A really good one, too. To make ends meet, he took a job a few years ago at a local college cafeteria. We've spoken to him a few times in the past weeks (aside from church business) because he has, literally, no food in his home. His two boys were removed from their mother's partial custody when she was discovered living with them in an abandoned warehouse. She was arrested for an unrelated matter. Now he has sudden full custody of two energetic, curious little boys, neither old enough for free public education. At first he struggled with finding child care. Unfortunately, the economy being what it is, he is newly jobless. The cousin he invited is a sweet girl with learning disabilities. She was sad to be with us, because she had not yet seen her own mother that Thanksgiving day. Why was he early? Well, this jobless chef with empty cupboards was serving Thanksgiving dinner at a homeless shelter. The dinner ended early, so he, his cousin, and his two little boys walked to our house.
When I was young, I couldn't go to church without someone sentimentalizing the idea that you're a missionary regardless of where you live. The point was always that people need to hear the good news right here in our own back yards, schools, offices, and grocery stores. I agree with the idea, but I never grasped, then, what I understand today (and what I will try to remember): true missionaries cross cultural barriers. And even though I live in the same town, within just a couple miles of each of these people, our cultures are vastly different. My cultural expectation is that you will know what you are doing on a holiday, and with whom, and that if I invite you, you will show at the appropriate time, or at least call with an explanation well in advance. Their culture requires that they do what is needed as it is needed. And aside from the demands of providing for their families, they give their all to help when they can. Their culture, which from the outside can seem inferior, puts my petty life to shame.
Made me realize that, far from being the one providing something to the needy on Thanksgiving, I was the recipient of a wonderful blessing. One I hope to hold onto and live out for a long time.
P.S. Oh - and my Teen: As we put away the leftovers, she asked if we could make plates and take them to the bus depot. I think she gets it.