Nov 27, 2009

A Thanksgiving to Remember

I received a wonderful gift this Thanksgiving. My wife suggested that we have a Thanksgiving meal for those I serve. I said sure, without thinking. Then I started thinking it through and thought, "Oh, my! What have I gotten myself into. This is going to be so much work!" However, it was weeks away, so I just brushed it aside. I had plenty of projects between now and then for Street Youth Ministry.

Finally, the Thanksgiving meal came to the top of my to-do list. I got permission from the Congregational Church of Austin (I'm commissioned by Covenant Presbyterian Church) because it's right in the heart of the area I minister in. I scored a big turkey on sale at HEB. Someone donated a boxed meal for 6. I figured I'd be cooking all evening long on Wednesday. Things were progressing. I invited people to come through facebook.

Then something wonderful changed. A woman called up and said, "I want to do a turkey for you. I want to smoke it because that will make handling it easy for you. And I'm sending homemade macaroni and cheese." You can't imagine how much weight lifted from my shoulders knowing I didn't have to roast a turkey Thursday morning! And with that first offer, amazing things happened. Suddenly people were bringing stuffing, gravy, pies, sweet potatoes, cranberries, casseroles, drinks. In truth, I didn't make a single item for our Thanksgiving feast. On the evening before, Lifeworks called and said they had leftovers from a meal and were leaving them in a refrigerator at the Congregational Church for me. Now we had had, more turkey, cranberries, pies and more.

I rustled chaffing dishes from my home church. I borrowed tables and chairs from another church. I took a CD player so we'd have tunes. My wife brought games, a puzzle, and dominoes. I went down at 12:30 to heat up the food in a nearby kitchen I had access to. A few people who had told me they would come to help arrived. I put them to work setting up tables and chairs. The event was to start a 2pm, and by that time we had it mostly set up. A few clients had begun to arrive.

Downtown was completely quiet. It's rather magical. There is no pressure, no body hurrying anywhere. No traffic noise. No construction noise. Nothing. I walked the street to invite clients. I found them sitting on the sidewalk. They were carefree with no crowds pushing back. The received the invitation with great appreciation.

By the time I got back, the lawn was full of people! They were sitting at tables playing puzzles. They were standing making crafts (an edible turkey). They were filling in post cards to send home to friends or family. They were playing dominoes. They were making a group poster of things they are thankful for. And they were filling plates with the feast that had been provided.

They were clients, friends, and family. All mixed together. Some friends came by only to show support on their way to family events. Some stayed for the afternoon to hang out with street kids.

I was so content to sit back and watch it all. I took it all in. It was an amazing gift for me. I was higher than anything I can imagine. Better than any drug could ever be!

The point of the day was to provide a safe and welcome place for the street dependent young people to hang out. I wanted to capitalize on the quite of the day and create an almost traditional, family-oriented Thanksgiving experience. It was not about the food or addressing immediate hunger, although some of that happened. I wasn't sure that this goal would come across, but I really hoped it would.

The kids got it! They totally understood. One guy said, "Terry, I've been to 3 feedings this week. But this is the first time I've felt like family all week. Thank you." Another said, "This is so great. It feels so much like family."

They created a wall of thanksgiving. Here are some quotes

Today I'm thankful for:
for my family, friends, and dog.
my mom
my baby
my wife
peace, love, and happiness
my dad
keepin' it real

I'm so thankful for my wife who had the wonderful idea to have this Thanksgiving dinner, for my family who patiently gave their Thanksgiving to see the day realized, for the many friends and supporters who prayed, cooked, gave, and attended, and for the many young people God has put in my life.

When I got home, I was able to write down by name 40 people who attended, so I figure about 50 came. And I was able to to list at least 26 friends and supporters who attended! At least 5 more provided food but couldn't attend. What a blessed great day. And what a blessing.

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