On Saturday I had the opportunity to join with friends and strangers to pack and deliver Thanksgiving food items to five families in a very poor city in NJ. I’ve written about it here, Loving with My Eyes Wide Open. This post is not so much a follow up as it is a reflection on one particular aspect of the day’s deliveries.
Nine of us, three adults and six children, piled into a 12 passenger van with our boxes full of frozen turkey and gravy, cans of green beans and boxes of stuffing and miscellaneous other items, and headed to our first address. It was like the weirdest treasure hunt ever.
It seemed best if everyone stayed in the vehicle and I went alone to knock on doors to make sure someone was at home before opening the van and allowing the children out. Sadly, we struck out at Home #1. Not to be deterred, we plugged another address in to the GPS and off we went with high hopes for better results.
After knocking on the door of Home #2 a few times, I heard a man’s voice call through the broken front window, “Who’s out there?!”
“I’m here from Seeds of Hope. I have a turkey and some Thanksgiving food to deliver.” I shouted back.
I heard some shuffling inside and the door was opened to reveal an older woman. When I told her who I was and why I was there, she broke down and said, “Praise Jesus,” and I called in the children.
The six kids happily spilled out of the van like clowns out of a clowncar and grabbed the frozen turkey, roasting pan and the box of goodies from the back. Everyone needed to carry something to the front door, even the four year old. He walked up to the house carrying a bag of mini-marshmallows in the crooks of his elbows like a Wise Man presenting a box of frankincense to Jesus.
How uplifting! What a wonderful experience!
We piled back into the van and rushed back to the home base for another address. This is great!
Home #3, however, was a somewhat different experience. As we pulled up to the row home there was a woman standing on the porch. Maybe she was waiting for us. Maybe she just recognized a large van full of middle class white people driving around town the weekend before Thanksgiving as most likely being Thanksgiving Meal Deliverers. Whatever the reason, I was just happy someone was home and I stepped out of the van to speak with her. I explained who I was and why I was there and she nodded. I called in the kids. Once again they enthusiastically piled out of the van and elbowed each other out of the way to be the first to carry the goods to the lady on the porch.
She never cracked a smile. Her “thank you” was begrudgingly given and her attitude was anything but friendly. Although she didn’t protest about the food, I sort of felt like I was the delivery guy for the supermarket – Hey Lady, here’s your Thanksgiving dinner. Thanks for your order.
This second experience was vastly different than the earlier one. Everyone felt it. We sat silently in the car for a moment after loading back in and seven-year-old Asher finally commented, “She had a lot of beer caps in her yard.”
As the day went on we were blessed to deliver three more meals and received varying responses to the deliveries, some quietly grateful, others exuberant and heart-wrenching (like the one with the little boy with a medical device inserted in his throat.) But none held a candle to the response of the lady at Home #3. Memorable. Extraordinary. Unforgettable.
In hindsight, as I reflected on the day, I have one thing I’d like to say to the woman in Home #3. Thanks for being rude…no, really, Thanks.
You see, her attitude reminded me of others who were presented with a much more marvelous gift and responded, not with gratitude, but with rudeness, hate, disdain and ignorance. Jesus. On the cross. Making a way for sinful, hopeless humanity to once again be with God. Emmanuel, God With Us. And what has been the response to this most excellent gift over the centuries? Gratitude, yes, thankfully, occasionally, yes; but much more often, the response to this gift is rudeness, hate, disdain and ignorance.
So, Ms. Home #3, thank you for being rude. I don’t know what was going on in your heart or your life on Saturday and I am not judging you. I was as blessed (maybe more) to deliver to you as to any other and we were seeking no praise or gratitude anyway. Yet your response impressed our children so deeply that it allowed me to organically and practically speak to my children on the drive home about the truth of God’s love for us, even, and especially, when we don’t deserve it. Thank you also for the opportunity to remind them (and me) of the many who view God’s love with anything but a grateful heart. I think they understand a little better now. Happy Thanksgiving.
On the Saturday before Thanksgiving this year I’ll be packing up some frozen turkeys and all the Thanksgiving fixins and delivering them to families in need who live in one of America’s poorest cities. I’ve desired to do this for several years but previous obligations on that day never allowed it.
And at the risk of sounding like a punk, honestly, I’ve often thought of asking the man directing this effort if he thinks the poor that will receive these bagfuls of Thanksgiving provisions have any clue how to defrost and cook a turkey properly.
Next week I will be cooking my very first turkey for Thanksgiving. I confess, I’m a little apprehensive, cooking a turkey is no joke, even for an experienced cooker like me with all the accoutrements at my fingertips. I wonder how these individuals or families (who use their stove mainly as an alternative heat source in the winter) will deal with a 17lb frozen turkey.
Since I’ve gone this far, let me ask THE question that is already on everyone’s minds:
Will these families, in one of the poorest cities in the nation, actually prepare a complete dinner and then sit down together to feast on Thanksgiving Day?
Isn’t it more likely they will sell the turkey (and boxes of stuffing, mashed potatoes and canned goods) for money to feed their addictions or to head out shopping on Black Friday?
There, I said it. Call me a punk, but isn’t that what a lot of us are thinking? Don’t we view “those people” who choose one holiday a year to serve the poor and pour out food items on them as naïve, foolish or wasteful with their (or our) money? Why join the dozens (hundreds) of others on such a popular service day to give food items to people who will most likely quickly convert the food to cash and then to drugs or drink?
You know what… I’m not naïve (much) and in all honestly, I would be truly surprised if more than 2 families in 50 actually use their Thanksgiving food items for a Thanksgiving Day meal. Most will probably just eat the pies.
And I’m OK with that.
After lunch today we were talking about some loved ones and old friends who are suffering from the affects of Alzheimers and dementia. These dear friends have lost the ability to remember, yet they have not lost the desire to serve. Allowing them to still do some small acts of work or service generally makes a LOT of work for the people around them – but hey, Whoever said love had to be productive?
Love, just, is. It is often not convenient. Not logical. Not fiscally responsible.
On a day where some of us will choose to give of our finances (for food items) and give of our time (to deliver the food,) the blessing is not for the receiver alone, but effective work is being done on our own hearts through the act of loving through service. What value can you place on that?
So I will give of my time and money to feed the poor. I will take my four children along with me (making me even less productive) knowing full well that a large portion of what we give may not be consumed on Thanksgiving Day. A box of mashed potatoes may feed a family on a Monday or a slice of pie may be a teenager’s lunch on a Tuesday. Maybe the food will be sold for illicit purposes. But we will still participate. In this way, on that day, I choose to express the love of my Savior, who loved me when I was unlovable and undeserving, to these precious neighbors who live just six lanes of a highway away from me. For love is not counted by the worthiness of the recipient but by the heart of the giver.
“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’”
In Matthew 25, Jesus spoke these words to the ones who expressed love, he made no mention of the responses of the recipients.
So, should we be wise with our finances? Yes. Should we be careful to partner with legitimate groups when serving? Absolutely.
Should the possible negative responses of those we serve be an excuse to stop expressing God’s love? No.
You may be caught up in the “what ifs” concerning the recipients of a bag of food a few days before Thanksgiving; I, too, am concerned about these things and about the hearts of the recipients.
Still, If there are 50 who are hungry, I will feed them. If there are 20? I will serve. If there are only 2? I will give them a meal.
Even if there is not a single individual from the many who will receive food on Saturday who cooks up a Thanksgiving Dinner the following Thursday, I still choose to love with my eyes wide open.
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