Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Feed a Hungry Family

This is my Thanksgiving story, reposted for Scribbit's November Write-Away contest.

I awoke to find myself staring cross-eyed at a small button nose. My four-year-old, Jonathan, peered into my bleary face, blue eyes dancing.

“Is it Thanksgiving yet?” he bubbled.

Grinning in spite of myself, I replied, “Yep! And you know what we’re gonna do today? We’re gonna rest at home for a few hours this morning, and then we’re going over to Grandma’s house, and we’re gonna eat a big meal and talk about what we’re thankful for.”

Jonathan frowned, “But what about giving stuff?”

Misinterpreting, I explained, “No, honey, we don’t give presents at Thanksgiving. Only at Christmas.”

He said, “Noooooo! Not presents. You know. Giving stuff.”

Coming up blank, I asked, “Giving stuff? What kind of stuff?”

“You know,” he coaxed, “giving stuff to people who don’t have anything. Giving a toy to a kid who doesn’t have any toys.”

The lights went on in my brain. “Ohhhhh…I see...”

Jonathan looked at me expectantly and insisted, “We have to give some stuff before we go to Grandma’s house.”

One look at his confident eyes told me I had to try. Could I measure up to his pure generosity? Fighting back tears, I choked out in a whisper, “We’ll see what we can do.”

Jonathan bounded off to find his brother and give him the good news as I lay stunned, having no idea where to begin fulfilling his request. My eyes fell on a random box at the back of our bedroom. My red crock pot box, with all the original packaging inside. One of the few treats I’d indulged in during the past year.

All summer, my husband, Jeff, had worked diligently in his new career as a general contractor. But even with my part-time job at our church, we had trouble paying the bills. And we certainly couldn’t afford things like extravagant red crock pots. But I got it anyway. I figured I deserved a little something cheery and red. My favorite color. We’d have to buy a bigger one as the boys grew, but so what? I wanted the red one now. We’d upgrade later.

By the time September rolled around, things were pretty tight, and as Thanksgiving approached, we scrambled just to find enough cash to put gas in the car and food on the table. But not once in all that time did God leave us hungry, even if our meal consisted of Ramen Noodles.

Just that previous Saturday, the one right before Thanksgiving, God had shown Himself to be our provider yet again. We’d had enough food for Saturday’s breakfast, but I’d had no idea where lunch would come from. That morning, I lifted my heart to heaven and said, “Well, Lord…?”

Less than a minute later, the phone rang. Mom’s cheerful voice crackled over the line, “Hi! Guess what? They have a deal going at Albertson’s right now where if you buy $25 worth of groceries, you can get a turkey for 17 cents a pound. I’d like to take you to the store, give you $25 to spend, and pay for your turkey. Is that okay with you?”

“Yes!” I shouted into the phone.

“Okay. I’m on my way.”

I hung up and paced in circles, slightly overwhelmed by God’s provision, Mom’s generosity, and our extensive grocery list. What in the world would I choose to spend my $25 on? We needed so much. “Lord,” I prayed, “You have guided me this far. Please show me what to get at Albertson’s.”

God did just that. All the way through our shopping trip, He helped me choose items to put in my cart. When I got to the checkstand with my $25, the checker asked methodically, “Would you like to donate a dollar to feed a hungry family for the holidays?”

I laughed, explaining, “We are the hungry family. Someone else is buying these groceries for us.”

But after in-store discounts, my grocery total had only been $24, and I knew I could have given Mom’s last dollar to help feed another family. But I’d been so focused on my own needs that I’d forgotten to think of those even less fortunate.

Well, Jonathan didn’t forget.

Refocusing my glazed eyes on my red crock pot box, I uncurled myself and stumbled out of bed.

Navigating my way to Google, I punched in “Thanksgiving Day Outreach” and the name of our city. Nothing. I found a site directing me to a Thanksgiving meal being provided two blocks from our house, but that didn’t seem to fulfill Jonathan’s request of finding a needy family and “giving them stuff”. There were toy drives, but they required new, unopened toys we couldn’t afford. I found quite a few donation centers, but they were all closed on Thanksgiving.

Knowing I couldn’t let Jonathan down, I tossed a prayer up to the Lord, “Please help me find a family that needs some stuff.”

God immediately brought to my mind a friend from church who works at our local pregnancy center. I gave her a call. “Hey, Barb! Happy Thanksgiving!”

Somewhat puzzled, Barb returned my greeting, and I plunged right in. “I have a problem…” I told her about my sweet, little Jonathan’s great, big heart, and his demand that I come up with a needy family he could give some stuff to, this morning, before we went to Grandma’s house. She listening in silence until I finished breathlessly, “so I was wondering if the pregnancy center had a drop-off site we could take some stuff to.”

Barb replied, “Well, we do, but it’s closed today, because it’s Thanksgiving.” Then she offered hesitantly, “You know, there is one family…a girl who volunteers at the center…she’s got four kids, and they really struggle.”

That’s it, I thought. That’s our family.

Barb went on, “But she never, ever answers the phone. I always get her machine. I’m sure she wouldn’t pick up the phone today.”

As Barb got ready to head back to her Thanksgiving preparations, I took a step of faith and asked, “So you don’t feel comfortable calling your friend?”

She was quiet for a moment. Finally she said, “You know, I could.”

“Okay!” My heart soared.

We made our plans. Barb said, “If you hear back from me, I got through to my friend. If you don’t hear back, that means I got her machine.”

Five minutes later, the phone rang again. Barb’s voice trembled, “She answered the phone! That’s the first time she’s ever answered the phone! I told her I knew a family, who had some stuff to give away, and could she use some food, and she said yes!”

Perfect. Barb gave me her friend’s name, phone number and address and told me a little about her family. A one-year-old boy, twin five-year-old girls, and an eight-year-old big sister.

Hanging up, I gathered tender Jonathan into my arms, cradled him close to my overflowing heart, and told him we’d found a family, which to me was a total miracle all in itself! Jonathan wasn’t even surprised.

He went right to work choosing some shapes and a shape box to give to the baby. It was sort of hard for him to let them go, but after I reminded him that this whole thing was his idea in the first place, he grinned with joy and gladly handed over the ‘baby shapes’.

James, my six-year-old, has a hard time getting rid of any of his things, but we had two complete sets of Littlest Pet Shop toys my boys never played with because they were too girly, and I knew they’d be perfect for the twin five-year-old girls. It took a bit of coaxing, but I burst with pride when James finally agreed to let those toys go. I’d teach him to be generous yet!

Entering our kitchen, I realized we didn’t actually have very much food we could give away. A loaf of bread, a little yogurt. The stuff we’d just been given the previous Saturday. Knowing Thanksgiving leftovers and a paycheck were in our immediate future, I gregariously emptied most of the contents of our fridge and freezer into a box. But before the box was even half-full, our cupboards were nearly stripped bare. Eyeing the thawing bird in our refrigerator, I said to Jeff, “Hey, let’s give them our turkey! You didn’t want to cook it anyway!”

Jeff pointed out, “Even if we don’t eat the turkey today, it’s enough meat to feed us for quite a while. That turkey was God’s provision for us…” I nodded, wondering what we should do. After a few moments in thought, Jeff said, “You’re right. Let’s give it to them. It’s ready to cook and everything.” Into the box it went.

I beamed smugly, thinking in my heart how nice it was to see my family reaching out to others. What a good lesson for them to learn.

Suddenly, a still, small voice stopped me in my tracks. My eyes widened as I felt, rather than heard, God say, “I want you to give them your red crock pot.”

Immediately I argued, “But Lord, we just got that crock pot. We need a crock pot. It’s red. It’s my favorite color. I love it. I use it all the time.”

Here I was, encouraging my family to give up the stuff they loved, hoping they’d realize it was just stuff. I had no idea God would ask the same of me. But I knew I’d heard Him speak, and I knew what I had to do.

I appealed to Jeff. “I think God wants me to give them my red crock pot…We can’t get rid of my red crock pot, can we?”

Seeing my internal struggle, my wise husband encouraged me, “Honey, if God told you to give them your crock pot, then you need to give it to them.”

I actually cried as I lovingly washed that red crock pot with warm, soapy water, dried it with paper towels, positioned it securely in its original packaging, and lowered it gently into its original box. This lesson in generosity was obviously for the whole family.

After a brief stop at the dollar store for a few more gift items, we pulled up in front of ‘our’ family’s apartment building, hearts brimming with anticipation.

Arms full, we stumbled up the steps to the front door. Jeff reached out with his only free finger and rang the doorbell.

A very loving guard dog on the other side of the door barked its head off. This sound was followed by scuffling as the man of the house ushered the family pet upstairs. After a few seconds of stillness, a couple of locks snapped as the door opened.

A beautiful, kind woman, about my age, met my gaze. I gulped, palms sweaty, and blurted, “Hi, I’m Becky. We’re Barb’s friends. We brought you some stuff.”

“Yes,” she smiled softly, “Come in.”

Setting my bundles down, I babbled in one breath, “So what happened was, I woke up this morning and Jonathan…where’s Jonathan? That one’s Jonathan. Anyway, Jonathan said we needed to find a family to give some stuff to, and we looked online and couldn’t find anything, and then I asked God to help me, and then I called Barb, and she gave us your name, and here we are!”

A sparkling Christmas tree, already decorated, filled the room with sweet scents. Canned corn bubbled on the stove. Dora chirped on the TV in the background. Little feet thumped the ceiling above our heads. A very cozy little home. My heart went out to the woman in front of me as I looked once more into her eyes and smiled.

She returned my smile with tears. “Oh, thank you so much,” she said, wiping her cheeks and throwing her arms around me. “You don’t know how much this means to us.”

Uncomfortable in the face of such authentic gratitude, I mumbled back, “Well, you’re very welcome. It was all Jonathan’s idea. You’re the answer to my prayers.”

Still misty-eyed, she replied, “You’re the answer to mine, too.”

After a short explanation about what we’d brought, followed by one more hug, we wished them a happy Thanksgiving and headed out the door. As we walked toward our van, Jeff leaned over and murmured into my ear, “I saw a few things cooking in the kitchen, but nothing resembling a turkey or turkey prep. I think giving them our turkey was the right thing to do.” I agreed, knowing my red crock pot had found a good home as well.

As soon as we were back in the car and all buckled, Jonathan gave a big sigh. “THERE!” he proclaimed with satisfaction. “NOW we can go to Grandma’s house!”

And just as we suspected, we came home from Grandma’s house that day with enough food to last us until the next payday and then some. More food than we could eat, including platefuls of leftover turkey!

And what did we get from Jeff’s parents for our anniversary a few weeks later? Yep. A brand-new crock pot. Gleaming white, extra large, plenty big enough to feed a family of strapping young men for many years to come. Exactly what our family needed.

“My God shall supply all your needs according to His glorious riches in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:19