Where did you and your family gather this Thanksgiving? Was it around the table with a house full of family? Maybe just the two of you gathered in the den with TV trays and watched football over a turkey sandwich? If you’re like us, we have no family in the area other than our kids, so we make an effort to invite folks who cross our path who also don’t have a place to enjoy a Thanksgiving meal. This year we had the five of us, plus three friends we know from church, but we grew from there the last few days before Thanksgiving.
I have the distinct privilege of acting as host at our church now and then to a lovely group of folks who are down on their luck and find themselves homeless. They come to us through a non-profit organization called The Gathering Inn that is based out of Roseville, Ca. which my pastor, David George helped get off and running many years ago.
What I love about TGI is that they offer a warm meal and a place to sleep for the night during the cold winter months with the help of over 60 local churches. These churches are part of a rotating schedule that offer the homeless a safe place to sleep each night of the week, and the host church cooks for them. Our guests sleep on mats and a lot of thought goes into providing for their physical, mental, and spiritual needs.
Some of our guests are alcoholics, some have other addictions, but some simply, as I said, are down on their luck. I once met a young man there who just a year prior had a successful construction business, a local home, one in Hawaii, two cars, a boat, and a motorhome. Then when the recession hit and people stopped building, he lost everything. It’s eye opening when you realize some of us are just one paycheck away from the possibility of being in his shoes.
This past Monday was my night to host, and I was asked to also share a message with our 70 guests. I am known as The Sports Lady at TGI, because I usually do a little shtick of updating the guests with the latest standings in the NFL, NBA, or MLB with a hint of humor and sarcasm and “smack talk”. Once I was asked why I didn’t update them on the Iditarod….and my response was “because no one gives a rip about the Iditarod“!!! Last week, since the 49ers STINK this season, I chose to just touch briefly on sports, but then to share some thoughts on Thanksgiving.
Talking to the homeless about reasons to be thankful can be challenging. It was a gamble, but I chose to be honest and real…with just a touch of humor…and I spoke about how we often want to blame God for our hardships. How God’s purpose never was to be a “fix it” man here to make our problems go away. That the promise never was that life wouldn’t be without suffering, but rather the promise was that God would walk beside us, show up in the midst of the suffering, and offer us amazing comfort – should we choose to accept it – for the hard times.
Their overall response to the message was one of thankfulness – for the reminder of all they did have, and gratefulness for God’s love. As I spoke, my eyes glanced about the room (because every good speaker knows they need to speak to all areas of the room) and they landed on what I thought was a familiar face. Was this woman I thought I recognized someone I knew? Hmmm…I just couldn’t put my finger on how I could have possibly known her, because surely I wouldn’t know someone who was homeless!
Being middle-aged and having no memory cells left in my brain, I did the cowardly thing and asked a friend to go over and start a conversation with her and find out the woman’s name. Somehow the letter “P” stood out in my cell-less mind….Pricilla? Penelope? Paula? Hmmmm….no, that couldn’t be….I must be mistaking her for someone else.
My friend came back and like a sleuth she had a lovely conversation with this gal, and found out her name was Phyllis. YES!!! That’s it! PHYLISS!!! I know her!! As it turns out, Phyllis had gone to our church 15 years ago, and she and I had been casual friends. Her husband died of cancer at the age of 36, and left her and her 10 year old triplets to fend for themselves in this life. Phyllis was a survivor, and 15 years ago she was doing well – had a good job, and a place to live, was paying the bills and life was good.
I went over and re-introduced myself and she remembered me. As it turns out, life in the last few years had taken a different turn. She is now on disability because of mercury poisoning from fillings in her teeth, and 4 months ago they had been evicted from their rental home over a miscommunication between the new place she and her kids were planning on moving into, and the notice she had to give to her old place. Unexpectedly, they found themselves homeless.
I immediately invited Phyliss and her kids to come share our Thanksgiving meal with us, and what a joyous time we had. From the cranberry salsa, to the playing with the Yorkies, to the delicious food and wine, to football, to my chair breaking at the head of the table in the middle of our meal and me landing on my patootie, and to the yummy desserts that followed – a grand time was had by all. There was wonderful grace found in this Thanksgiving gathering. Grace for Phyliss and her kids…and grace for our family.
So now Phyllis and her family need a roof to gather under. She has an income, and her kids all have jobs. One is out on her own. They just don’t have a roof over their head. She has money in the bank to put down as first and last month’s security on a place, but finding a place that will rent to her with an eviction on her record is nearly impossible. I’m praying for a gracious landlord that will rent to her regardless of what it says on paper.
Grace can be found in the hard. And grace was truly found in this gathering at the Glass house this Thanksgiving.