Friday, November 26, 2010

A New Thanksgiving Tradition

This year we joined 5,000 other people at Duke Energy Convention Center to celebrate Thanksgiving. The serving positions were filled so our job was to share-a-meal with those we didn't know, to help them feel welcome, listen to their stories, help them know that people cared about them and that they didn't have to spend this holiday alone.

We walked into one of the beautiful ballrooms. It was decorated with gold cloth draped artistically all around the ceiling. The tables were decorated beautifully with a fall theme. The room was filled with people from all walks of much diversity in race, age, economic level, spiritual beliefs. I met one lady that was from Cleveland. She said that when she saw the room, it reminded her of heaven....just a small taste of what heaven will be like...the beautiful golden ceiling,  all kinds of people together, sharing, talking, laughing...together as we should be....without judgement or expectations....definitely taste of heaven.

I sat with three college students that were volunteering, and three men who were friends and use to live at Tender Mercies. Now two of them have their own apartments downtown and are working.  Each of them had a story. I especially enjoyed hearing the story of one of them who was originally from Fiji. He had been in the U.S. for 16 years, now was engaged to the girl he has been  in love with for 20 years, and was going back to Fiji to marry her and bring her to the States now that he had a good job. The second group that I was privileged to sit with was a mom, dad, and five of their seven children. The mom was 28. The children were adorable and it was so much fun to be spending Thanksgiving with them. There was a 10 month old, twin two year olds (a boy and girl), a 9 year old and a 10 year old. Everyone I met had a story. I wanted to hear theirs. They wanted to hear mine. I tried to speak words of encouragment to them. They spoke words of encouragement to me.

The traditional Thanksgiving meal was delicious. There was entertainment including ballet performed by inner city girls. Combining grace, discipline and worship, the Princesses Ballet team helps young girls build confidence in themselves and their faith. Ballet Video :

 Free haircuts and shaves were available. Free coats were given to all that needed them. The line for the coats was long and steady the entire time.  So many of those in attendance took advantage of these gifts and were so thankful. There were activities for the children like facepainting and playing on inflatibles.

My daughter sat with people who were homeless, living under a bridge and they told her that everything they owned was soaked because of the non-stop cold rain that we were having. I left and went home to my nice, warm, dry home to spend the rest of the day with my family. It continued to rain all day. I kept thinking of all of those who were living out in the rain.

I was thinking about how blessed I am. I don't want to take that for granted. I know that sometimes it is easy to judge why people are homeless. The more I interact with them, I realize that sometimes it is the result of poor choices (and who among us haven't made poor choices) and sometimes it is a result of the circumstances that life has brought their way.

I started thinking about our year....we lost our home and I have been out of work for 5 months because of health issues.  It worked out this year that we didn't get to spend Thanksgiving with either side of our extended family. We have had a little sample of what many of the people there experience everyday and some for years and years. Things happen...finances change, jobs can be lost, health can worsen....and if you have no family to help can become homeless. Too often we think that it could never happen to us, but unexpected circumstances can happen.

We are thankful that God helped us find a place to live. We are thankful that we have jobs. We are thankful for family & friends that helped us through a year filled with unexpected trials. We are thankful for how God has taken care of us and given us joy, peace and ministry visions. We are thankful that we are not homeless, jobless, with no family.  Maybe the things that we have been through this year are helping to make us more sensitive to those who are having hard times in their lives. Maybe God is using all of this to prepare us to better be able to minister to others. May we continually have hearts of gratitude and seek to learn all that God is teaching us.

We were thankful to be with our new family of friends this year. I think it is a tradition that I want to continue, as well as spending time with our own family too. Maybe next year, you will consider joining this awesome Thanksgiving experience. (See NEAR PAGE for more information of the Fall Feast.)

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