A Lesson in Gratitude

(Originally published, November 21, 2022)

Sunday evening, I was on my way back to the church after delivering and helping to serve a hot meal to hungry folks at our local homeless shelter. Every third Sunday our faithful team prepares the meal at our church and my job is to make sure it gets to the people needing to be fed. During the pandemic we could only drop off bagged meals at the shelter door, but before Covid, my helpers and I would deliver hot meals to about eighty people gathered in two local parks. As I headed my Honda back home, I thought about all those times, Novembers long past, when we tried to give a taste of Thanksgiving to our hungry friends in the park. 
I remembered one dreary November night, the Sunday before Thanksgiving. Our cooking team had prepared the traditional homemade feast with all the trimmings in one clam shell container – turkey and dressing, sweet potatoes, green beans, cranberry salad, and hot rolls, topped off with a slice of pumpkin or apple pie. I pulled my Pilot to the park side curb and started unloading the meals as a long line formed on the sidewalk. It was already dark, and a steady drizzle made the cold wind more miserable. 
Many of the men were strangers, but some knew each other, a few were friends. As I handed out the meals, most of the guys headed off to find shelter, some place warm to get out of the weather and gulp their dinner. But a handful of men sat down together around one of the few all-weather tables in the park, set in concrete with no roof, no shelter from the wind or the rain. 
And there they sat, in the dark, in the rain, in the cold wind, eating their Thanksgiving dinner with a few friends. To listen to them talk, one might guess they were sitting around a bright dining room table, the room made toasty with a big fireplace. Laughing and enjoying themselves, bragging about the food, savoring every bite, swapping stories, remembering Thanksgivings back home, before homelessness. 
I brought them seconds, an extra meal to take with them, and one of the men gave me a soggy smile. “That was just about the best Thanksgiving dinner I ever had,” he said. “Happy Thanksgiving, Pastor, and thank your good people.”
I’ll never forget that evening, a lesson in gratitude, an example of thanksgiving like I’d never seen before. Every year when I sit down for Thanksgiving dinner at my house or my mother’s table, I think of my friends in the park celebrating together. I pray for them and I long for the day when we all sit down together at the banquet table of God, finally and forever home.


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