Thursday, November 27, 2008

A Day for Giving Thanks

I have been ruminating all morning on what to say about Thanksgiving. It’s now after noon and I still don’t know where to start, because I have so much to be thankful for…

So I’ll just start at the beginning and see how far I get.

Last week I went to Mass (I don’t always go, so I was relieved to hear in the homily, that it’s not going to church that gets you into heaven, but how you live your life the whole week long) and the gospel reading (in part) was from Matthew 25:31-46

Jesus said, "When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. Then the king will say to those at his right hand, `Come, you that 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 something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.' Then the righteous will answer him, `Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?' And the king will answer them, `Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.'

I took the message to heart, and after Mass, my son and I joined a friend who is having some financial troubles in this economic climate for a bite to eat. We listened and shared, and offered support.

The next morning I decided to visit my friend Marc, who is in prison, and has been for the past ten years. I hadn’t made the hour-and-15-minute drive in almost three months, and would have gotten there eventually, but Father’s homily moved Marc to the top of my list. It was a surprise visit--usually he knows to expect me--but I put it in God’s hands and it turned out perfectly. Marc had just showered and shaved his head and was having a cup of coffee when they called him, so I didn’t interrupt any of his classes or anything. He’s taking an office software course, to keep up with computers as best as he can, learning word processing and power point and excel.

I treated him to a vending machine lunch—which I always have fun doing—I don’t usually eat out of a vending machine, so I am like a kid in a candy store, picking out things he wouldn’t ordinarily get to eat—to give to him. (He’s not allowed near the vending machine at that particular facility.) I tend to choose things on the healthier side—like fresh fruit and yogurt--but he doesn’t seem to mind. It’s all a treat for him, and he says he has no preference, as long as it has beef in it, which he doesn’t often get. (It’s mostly turkey, turkey, turkey.)

After three hours of conversation, I headed back home in the rain.

That night, my faith sharing group met, and we had what I felt was a rather intense meeting. I am somewhat empathic, and so I tend to pick up on the pain of others as I go through my day, especially if I don’t have my shields up. For the most part, I prefer to be open to what others are feeling and experiencing, so I keep my shields down. Health problems, family discord, financial uncertainties….turns out we all face them to varying degrees—and Monday night was our opportunity to share and support each other in our efforts to keep the faith and prevail.

Which left me feeling pretty wiped out the next day. It seems everyone we know has something going on in their lives, and it’s not something fun.

But still, there are those who are so much less fortunate…Tuesday night my sisters in faith and I met for two hours of standing outside a grocery store to collect donations for the homeless. I was feeling pretty beat up already, and—quite honestly--not looking forward to standing out in the cold, begging, but I thought the least I can do is stand there for two hours to support someone who has no where else to go but into the cold.

Just before I left, I collected a few boxes and bags of clothing, books, and stuffed animals my son has outgrown, including two three-foot tall versions of Rabbit and Tigger. As it turned out, that was a good move, as there are currently 27 children living in this particular shelter. Once I heard that, I wished I’d collected more. I’ll be making a trip to the shelter with the rest in a few days.

The collection experience itself was a blast. My sisters in faith knew what they were doing, and came prepared with gloves and coffee and creamer and Styrofoam cups. We also had lawn chairs and blankets. And a tambourine, of all things. I took over the tambourine, just shaking it lightly, and it sounded like sleigh bells. I think that helped to let shoppers know there was someone waiting to waylay them at the door, because many of them came prepared, with money in hand.

There were six of us…three inside and three outside, and we switched off to keep warm. We chatted, caught up with each other’s lives, and collected what our group coordinator reported in an email today was an impressive amount of money.

Here’s what she said: “The Executive Director reported that she heard my group really had fun with the experience and she felt that helps greatly with bringing in donations - she said that donors know when the volunteers are sincere about and committed to the mission and are also attracted to those that are obviously willingly participating and felt it was one reason we had such good results (they had not counted the donations yet but said the cans were fuller than any other attempt to date this year).”

Afterward, my friends and I went to one woman’s house for hot chocolate and birthday cake, which we felt very blessed to be able to share, along with our fellowship and her warm home.

Wednesday, I guess I had an off day. I didn’t do anything special but pray for the needs of others. Sunday, Monday and Tuesday made me really aware of how much pain and suffering there is in the world, right here in my own little community, and how blessed I am to have a warm house, a full refrigerator, a healthy child, my own health, work I love, a car that runs, and money to put gas into it.

So today I drove to Mass to say Thank You. The purpose of going to Mass is to give thanks to start with, for all the blessings we have been given during the week, but this was a special Thank You I wanted to say. Thank you for opening my eyes so clearly to the needs of others, and thank you for guiding me to make a difference, if only for this one week. Because of my friend’s nudge, 27 children now have nearly new stuffed animals to play with and books to read over the holidays. Because of Father’s homily, my friend Marc got to see me a lot sooner than he would have otherwise. Because of my new awareness of the suffering going on in my own community, my son and I will shift our holiday donation (in lieu of Christmas gifts) to a local organization this year.

As I was procrastinating, trying to figure out how to start this blog entry, I came across Dear Abby’s prayer of Thanksgiving, written by her mother, Pauline Phillips:

Oh, Heavenly Father,
We thank thee for food and
remember the hungry.
We thank thee for health and
remember the sick.
We thank thee for freedom and
remember the enslaved.
May these remembrances stir
us to service,
That thy gifts to us may beused for others.
Have a safe and happy Thanksgiving, everyone!
Love, ABBY

That said, I want to offer my own list of thanks for this week:

That it was raining instead of snowing when I went to see Marc.
That Marc doesn’t care what he eats, and thinks it’s all good.
That it was closer to 40 degrees than thirty, or even twenty, when we were collecting for the homeless.
That someone thought to bring a tambourine.
That I was able to pass on my son’s books and toys to someone who can use them.
That I have friends who share my beliefs and values and who provide me with opportunities to live them.

God bless you all, and thank you for being in my life.

1 comment:

Sheryl said...

I couldn't pass without a quick comment. My own son has been, and will continue to be, not well. My first thoughts were, not to rage at God, but to close off from God. Then, I found myself quietly praying. Now, I am continuing to do so, very quietly still, but for my son, not for me. I suppose what I'm saying is, someone or something has given me strength to climb out of my own pain. Sometimes, easing someone else's pain is the reward in itself.
Ta, Liana.