I used to marvel and folks that give up their holidays to serve the poor. You know the type. Those who ask for no Christmas gifts, but rather encourage you to donate to charity. Or those who, instead of celebrating with family on Thanksgiving, serve in a soup kitchen. Wow, what amazing, give souls.
I’d never thought of serving at a soup kitchen for Thanksgiving. For the last ten years Thanksgiving meant having a group of 30-40 friends and family members in my home. It meant days of cleaning. It meant cleaning out our garage. It meant borrowing tables and chairs from our church and setting up our garage to seat them all. It meant organizing a menu, and asking everyone to bring something, and stressing if there’d be enough mashed potatoes or green beans. Of course there was always enough food. And after twenty minutes with that many people in the house it really didn’t matter that I’d worked so hard to clean. The walls and counters and floors only gave evidence that there were 30-40 people in the house.
This year I imagined a similar Thanksgiving. Well, almost. I’d still cook and clean and spend time with friends and family. After moving to Arkansas there’d be far less gathering, which would me less mess and more for me to cook. Then I found out about our church’s Thanksgiving Community Festival and everything changed.
This year John was in charge of the kids’ carnival. Thanks to a neighboring church in North Little Rock and a few visits to Dollar Plus and Walmart we had games, face painting, and tons of candy and prizes.
We arrived by 9:30 a.m. to set everything up. By 10:45 the first folks arrived. By 11:00 we were going full swing! The kids–mostly low income–had a blast. They loved the games and their pockets bulged with treats. My niece (who was visiting for the holiday), daughter and I did face painting. Tigers, kittens, pirates and Spiderman were favorites. best part was seeing the kids’ faces when they looked in the mirror … and then seeing them “sneak” back to the mirror for more looks!
The church also fed everyone a great Thanksgiving dinner, and the clothes closet was open to anyone who needed clothes and coats. They also had door prizes of couches, tables, lamps … new in the box. And everyone who came got a “gift bag” filled with kitchen supplies such as cooking oil, juice, honey, etc.
By 1:30 the church was cleaned up and we were headed home. “So, what did you think?” I asked my kids.
Their response? “That was the BEST Thanksgiving ever!
I had to agree!
Later that night we went to our pastors’ home and had a quieter Thanksgiving with friends, but we have to say (sorry pastor!) that the highlight of the day was in the serving. That’s something I didn’t understand before. “Those” people who served were not only doing it because it was noble and right, but as we serve God’s love fills us and pours through us and in the process we are filled and changed too.
I’m looking forward to future holidays. Gee, Christmas is right around the corner, what to do, what to do …
We all need time to get together and celebrate with family and friends. But I’m also looking forward to our churchs’ Thanksgiving festival next year. And I’m looking for additional opportunities throughout the year. Yes, I have a feeling I’m going to be one of “those people.” I hope my kids will be too. It’s not as hard as you think to go beyond what you’ve always done to help and serve others. In fact, it’s easier and better than you’d ever imagine!