A Toast to Thankfulness
I hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving! I apologize for being remiss in posting my first Friday post last week, you can expect it this week. 🙂 I realize Thanksgiving has passed, but if we are limited to one day per year of talking about “thankfulness”, I think we have missed something big. So, these are some of the things I did and pondered on Thanksgiving this year (and some things I hope to carry with me for the future).
This past year has been a roller coaster of sorts. It has included births, deaths, moving, losing close friends and gaining others, overcoming fears and insecurities, losing my car, gaining new adventures via public transit…there has been a good share of happiness, and a fair amount of sorrow. Mostly, there has been a ton of transition and change. I’ve learned a lot, grown a lot and hopefully matured some along the way. One of the biggest things I have learned and been repeatedly reminded of-and sometimes struggled to admit-is that apart from the grace and love of God, I am a seriously ugly and messed up individual. I am selfish, unforgiving, rude, judgmental, critical, perfectionistic, mean-spirited, ungracious, depressed, negative, unloving, insecure, doubtful, prideful…the list, no matter how much that pride I mentioned hates to admit it, goes on and on. Simply put, I am human. BUT GOD. But God is giving, forgiving, considerate, compassionate, understanding, wise, kind, gracious, faithful, loving…and so, so good. As I daily choose to take up my cross, die to myself, and follow in Jesus’ ways, something incredible happens: “it is no longer I who lives, but Christ in me.” Any love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self control, or any other good thing I exhibit is a direct result of the work God has done and continues to do on my heart. Period.
That said, I live in Los Angeles, CA and my family lives in Texas. I started a tradition the first year I was apart from my family during the holiday season a few years ago. Every year, for both Thanksgiving and Christmas, I will invite a few people to put together some meals, and go find people to feed and share love with. Often times, from what I have heard and observed, many of the people who end up not getting anything during the holidays are the people who have given up. They don’t go to shelters, they don’t go to the food pantries…they don’t go anywhere. There is a different reason for this with each person, as there is a different reason each person is on the street. Those who feel completely without hope are the ones I aim to bless each year. I do my best to do this year round (if you live in Hollywood and are ever on Hollywood and Western, say hi and give my friend Castle a bite to eat-that’s where he usually hangs out during the day); and I feel it is so especially poignant during the holiday season for people to know they are loved and not alone.
This year, I invited some people to come with me Thanksgiving afternoon (after I got off work). In the end, everyone ended up with other last minute plans, and I had a decision to make: go home and relax, go to a friend of a friend’s friendsgiving (that I was planning on going to after feeding people), or go feed people by myself. Before you read the rest, keep in mind that I warned you about how ugly I am apart from God.
Honestly, at first I threw a minor pity party.
“No one wants to come with me. Everyone who said they would come flaked on me. If they really wanted to come with me, they would have made it work and stuck to their word.”
After that, I felt tired.
“I just worked a super busy shift at Coffee Bean, I don’t want to cook, package and hand out meals all by myself. If I had help, this would have been such a fast and awesome thing. Maybe I should just go to that friend of a friend’s Friendsgiving I was invited to, Jesus would understand that I’m tired. And I like making new friends.”
Then, I got self-righteous.
“I can’t believe they would choose to hang out last minute with friends over feeding people who are hungry, I’m such a better person than they are. Don’t they know Jesus would want us to love people who don’t feel loved, instead of focusing on ourselves and having fun? I just really understand the love of God on a deeper level.”
Finally, God lovingly convicted and corrected me.
He called me to go feed and love on those people in Hollywood. He put it on my heart to do that. If I chose to make meals and go feed people in Hollywood with the food I had, He would be pleased with me. If I wanted to go to the friend of a friend’s friendsgiving, He would still be pleased with me (although I would miss the blessing of getting to feed and love the people He had lined up). People want to be with people they love on the holidays, and that’s okay. Some people don’t ever get to take a break, so Thanksgiving is it for them, and that’s okay. Some people are called to make people who can’t go be with their family (for whatever reason) feel loved and part of a community…yet again, that’s okay! And none of it is any worse or any better than my desire to go feed and love on people who feel forgotten. It’s simply different.
Once God showed me the thorn in my side, and I remembered how imperfect I am, I humbly decided to wreak havoc on my kitchen and do the meal prep, cooking, packaging and everything by myself. When the meals were hot and packaged into plastic, disposable tupperware, I put them in a few bags and called Uber (similar to a taxi company, but a little different and less expensive). When my driver arrived, he came around to open my door.
As I got in, I said, “This is going to be one of the most interesting rides you’ve ever given.”
“That’s okay,” he replied, with a deep voice and thick Armenian accent, “I like interesting.”
My new friend, Sargis, and me! He is a driver for Uber and after we gave out the first meal, he stopped the meter and donated his time, car & gas to help provide people with Thanksgiving dinner this evening! Had the coolest conversation with him about theology, philosophy and life as we drove around Hollywood handing out meals! Side Note: If you ever need a ride somewhere here in LA, check out Uber-I've met some really neat people through it! (Use my Uber promo code, i0j7o, and get $10 off your first Uber ride. Redeem it at uber.com/invite/i0j7o.)
I explained what we were going to be doing as we drove down towards Hollywood, with no set destination, and saw a woman on the side of the road at a bus stop. Dirty clothes, disheveled hair, and filthy-looking bags that held all of her earthly treasures were set down all over the benches.
We pulled over and I jumped out to give her the food. She let me pray for her, then I gave her a hug and got back into the car.
“You know what, Michelle? I’m going to turn this off. I like what you’re doing. I’m not going to charge you.” said my new friend and Uber driver, Sargis.
And off we went, for the next two hours, discussing theology and the simplicity of the Gospel as we drove through Hollywood feeding and loving on people where they were.
“Stop here, do you see them?” I asked as I spotted a make shift cot covered by a bunch of blankets, and another gentleman wrapped up in a blanket sitting next to the cot on a torn and dirty chair.
We pulled over, I took out two of the meals, hopped out of the car, and asked, “Hi! Are you hungry?”
Angel, the man in the chair, replied excitedly and gratefully, as his eyes instantly brightened up and his laugh lines shown across his dark face, “Yes, ma’am, we are!”
Robert slowly sat up on his cot as I handed them the food.
“Is this what I think it is? And…no…it’s warm?!” asked Angel.
I replied, “Turkey, vegetables, dinner rolls and gravy, all nice and warm!”
Angel then told me how it seems as though most everyone has forgotten about “people like us”. “You’re an Angel, sweetheart!” he said.
I asked, “Can I pray for you both? You can totally say no, it’s okay either way.”
“Sure can! We would just love that, praise the Lord.” Angel replied.
I prayed for them and when I looked up, Robert, who had been relatively quiet throughout our conversation, with tears streaming down his weathered face, said, “Thank you. Thank you, Lord. Thank you so much.”
I feel so blessed to have been able to go and feed people this year. It turned out exactly as it was supposed to, once I got over myself and my plans. Going out and serving people who are in need of the most basic necessities always reminds me to be thankful. However, not in the conventional way you may think. We have all heard that we can be thankful and joyful because “there is someone else out there who has it worse“, so “we should count our blessings”. I could tell you about how I haven’t spent a holiday with my immediate family in about three years; and how up until my grandfather’s funeral a couple of months ago, I hadn’t even seen them in over two years. And there is almost always someone out there who has it worse. I personally know one family who spent their Thanksgiving in the hospital as their mother fights cancer; another family who spent their Thanksgiving in the hospital finding out that their grandfather has a progressed state of cancer and little hope for treatment or survival; one group of family and friends who suddenly lost a son, brother, friend and mentor two days after Thanksgiving to a heart attack; families who could not afford Thanksgiving at all; people like my friends Angel and Robert who don’t even have a proper place to sleep; and we could all probably add to that list for a long time. But I am not going to be thankful because I have it better than someone else. I am not going to objectify someone else’s pain, lack or struggle so I can feel better about what I am going through. I am going to be thankful because I am loved unconditionally. I am going to be thankful because I am alive and breathing. I am going to be thankful because I am not alone, no matter where I go or what I face. I am going to be thankful because I have received grace that I could never hope to earn. I am going to be thankful because God says I can and should be. I am going to be thankful, because I know that being thankful changes my perspective and my attitude. And to top it off, I am going to be thankful because I do have a family who I love, and who loves me. I am going to be thankful because I have a job, food and a roof over my head. I am going to be thankful because I have incredible friends that I don’t deserve. I am going to be thankful because I get to share love with those I meet.
I would love to know what you are thankful for this year. Please feel free to post in the comments and let me know!
Lots of Love,