It’s the week after Thanksgiving. Most of us are feeling stuffed, guilty for once again over-indulging, and longing for the remnants of that pumpkin pie to magically disappear off of our waistlines. Or maybe it’s left you feeling relieved that your relatives, although fun and lively, are finally out of your house. Perhaps you are moaning and groaning because of the excess laundry, dishes left to wash, and utter exhaustion from so much entertaining. And let’s not forget, the instant stress that sets in with the anticipation of Christmas now only weeks away. Sound familiar?
What does it take to be truly grateful for what we have? What would happen if we never had Thanksgiving before?
If our past Thanksgivings were barren with grilled cheese, noodles, and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches eaten alone in a cold and dark apartment, would we finally be entirely grateful and sincerely celebrate Thanksgiving with humble hearts, not worrying about the mundane chores and added stress?
This is the case for one of our residents at Lifehouse this year. This Thanksgiving, she and her daughter had the first real Thanksgiving they had had in years. Melanie has been living on her own since she was a teenager and a typical Thanksgiving celebration was essentially non-existent for her. Melanie recalls a previous Thanksgiving where she had no lights or heat in her apartment.
She said, “Buying food was not an option. I was starving. I had sleep for dinner almost every night. You just go hungry, but there’s no food, so you just go to sleep. I had sleep for dinner, so being here felt good.”
Melanie reflects on Thanksgiving at Lifehouse this year saying, “Here it was more peaceful and quiet. It made us really thankful because all of us were homeless, so to be able to share this with somebody else and their babies…everybody thought we had no hope. We sat around the table and talked! Everybody was like, ‘this is my first Thanksgiving in a while!’ ’”
This year, 2 wonderful volunteers brought food to our residents at Lifehouse-turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy, and all the fixins’! Melanie said, “It really meant a lot to us. It really made us feel special…they just did it out of the kindness of their hearts, and we’re not used to that.”
After a big meal, shared family style in the kitchen, the women and children enjoyed a homemade desert, made by one of the House-moms, who stay with the residents 24 hours a day. “The House-mom didn’t make us feel like we were just residents, we felt like actual family for once. We all sat and ate together, and she made us chocolate pie! It felt good not to be judged,” said Melanie.
Melanie is so thankful for everything she has at Lifehouse-the simple things that you and I take for granted every single day.
“It makes me thankful knowing that I have people that are giving me and my baby nutrition everyday, lights, and we get to wash our laundry. I didn’t wash clothes forever. I hand washed everything and hung it up to dry, and they were still smelly and dingy. You know how it feels to be baptized and start a new life? That’s what Lifehouse feels like.”
This is real gratitude. Lights in your house, heat for your bodies, and the ability to do laundry, are everyday commodities for most of us. We tend to complain about paying the bills to heat and brighten our homes while simultaneously loathing laundry day. How has this turned into the attitude of “typical” Americans? Why are we not truly grateful?
I found the answer to this question in the heart of Melanie. Melanie decided to come to Lifehouse because not only did she have nowhere to go in the face of a crisis with her baby, but also she had no one to give her spiritual guidance. Melanie was so excited to learn that Lifehouse not only would be feeding her physically but also would be feeding her spiritually. Melanie has always been a spiritual person, but struggling to maintain every day basic needs for her and her daughter had clouded her faith. When she found Lifehouse, she said, “I knew this was the place I needed to go. You just have to be patient and wait for God.” This is where true gratitude is found-in full faith and trust in Him.
After all that Melanie has endured, she remains strong, steadfast, and determined. She plans to one day cook for everyone in her own home, make all the dishes, and donate lots of food. In 4 years, when she leaves Lifehouse, she knows exactly what she wants to be doing.
“I really have big dreams. I want to help. I want to give back. But first, I need to be at the point where I can give back. And I’m telling you, once I do, I’m just going to be giving, giving, giving because it feels good-especially to strangers, and I won’t even tell them it was me. I’ll just let them think God did it.”
#GivingTuesday: How to Donate
Please take moment to do your part in giving back on this #GivingTuesday by donating here, so more women and their children can experience what it’s like to celebrate Thanksgiving next year. Like Melanie said, it feels good, and just let them think, God did it!