I grew up serving Thanksgiving Dinner to others on Thanksgiving Day. My parents and the church I grew up in had this crazy idea that serving on Thanksgiving would be a good way to give thanks to God. So, while everyone else got to watch football, I was getting up at 7am to go to the Long Beach Senior Citizen's Center on 4th and Orange to begin setting tables, rehearsing songs we kids were going to sing and bring joy to the elderly. I helped brew the coffee and greet the needy as they waited to enter. Once they entered, I helped take hot plates of food to them—eventually graduating to gravy server
We had our family thing as well…in the afternoon. However, even then, mom and dad had people over to eat who weren't part of the family…but needed to know they were loved. You know—the college kid away from family, the little old lady whose kids had forgotten her or had lost her husband, and others who simply needed to be with people on such a holiday.
When I was younger, I must admit, I resented it. Not the serving the needy on Thanksgiving part. It was the "family" Thanksgiving dinner I resented it because it meant I had to sit in the cheap seats…mom and dad gave "them" the good seats at the table. My parents' home also wasn't very big, so it was always overcrowded. And, if I thought long and hard I could probably think of a host of other selfish reasons I just wanted a Thanksgiving where I knew everyone sitting at the table. I would like a padded seat for once…so I could focus on how thankful I was for all God had done for me. As you'll notice, there are a lot of personal pronouns in this paragraph.
And that was the problem.
It wasn't until I got to at least High-School that I started to realize that I had it backwards. Mom and Dad had it right. I was wrong. Dead wrong.
It's OK, I suppose, to say thank you to God through a Sabbath day of sorts celebrated with family and food. It's OK to sleep in, and to spend the day relaxing…thanking Him during the mealtime prayer. However, it's also wonderful to thank him by caring for the needy and by showing hospitality to those who are lonely. I'm so thankful for that tradition and what it taught me. I'm thankful that I was taught by example not just to remember that I'm thankful on Thanksgiving, but to demonstrate my thankfulness to God through service.
On Thanksgiving morning, we'll be up early again. I'll wake up in the same house. I'll get my own kids up and dressed. We'll drive through central Long Beach, past Poly (my old high school) and see the football team practicing. We'll see the people pushing shopping carts, the graffiti and the shop signs in Cambodian. We'll make our way to the corner of 4th and Orange, where I have nearly every Thanksgiving for 30 years. Anna and Olivia will now sing the songs for the elderly and pass out food. They'll come home to grandma and grandpa's house, where a house full of relative strangers awaits them. We'll all eat with them joyfully. In doing so, we'll show God we're thankful. Words are OK. But, actions speak a louder word of thanks.
May the actions of Christians this holiday season shout Thanksgiving to God, who has given us more than we can thank him for in this life or next.