A week before Thanksgiving, my husband, John, and his college buddy, Tim, scouted out St. Paul’s run down central district. Tim, a former missionary kid, persuaded John and I to help feed the homeless. We considered ourselves nothing more than “poor” college students with little to offer this outreach.
A dilapidated diner grabbed Tim’s attention. “Let’s go in.”
Tim gently pushed open the wooden door dangling from its rusty hinges. The stench of grease saturated the room.
“What can I do for you?” asked an elderly lady wiping the counter.
“We’ll have a cup of coffee,” Tim answered politely. The coffee poured out jet-black, thick like gravy, tasting like tar.
“We’re serving a free turkey dinner at my apartment on Thanksgiving Day,” said Tim. “We can feed five homeless people. Would you get the word out?”
On Thanksgiving, I peered through Tim’s apartment window. Four shabbily dressed guests crawled out of Tim’s car and shuffled up the sidewalk. My stomach did somersaults.
“Please, Lord, help me show these people Your love.” My anxiety soared as they stepped into the apartment. Trying to hide my uneasiness, I grabbed a pot of hot coffee and began serving them. Within minutes, their hearts opened.
Marion’s voice crackled with sorrow, sharing painful memories of growing up in an orphanage. Then she reminisced about past boyfriends with flirtatious, falling-in-love stories. The bedraggled men sitting across the room flashed toothless smiles.
Paul, tall and skinny, shared his sordid story about his dying mother in Duluth. Skimpy finances deterred him from being at her side.
George, a husky man, slumped in the corner of the couch, recounted stories of selling newspapers in sub zero temperatures. Guilt struck me. Many mornings I complained about walking one block to catch the city bus.
Bill, heavy set and balding, paced the room like a caged animal. I asked him to set the table with me, but he resisted. At one point he left the apartment and returned reeking of tobacco.
Finally, we settled around our makeshift dining room table—three card tables pushed together. After bowing our heads and giving thanks, our guests shoveled food into their mouths. I had worried needlessly about preparing too much food: a 25-pound turkey, dressing, corn, 10-pounds of potatoes, Jell-O-salad, and rolls.
After dinner, with satisfied stomachs, warmed hearts, and food clinging to the men’s unshaven beards, Tim took a bold step and passed out hymnbooks. Between off-key songs this homely, ragamuffin choir shared more hardships. Compassion swelled in my heart.
When Bill had endured enough chatter and singing, he insisted on going “home” to his 9 X 12’ motel room, and he cajoled the others to follow suit. We exchanged warm handshakes, and they shuffled out the door in their over-sized, worn coats.
In the car Paul shared more sad stories of his sick mother living in Duluth. Moved with compassion, Tim and John drove Paul to the Greyhound bus station. Tim purchased a $13 ticket for Paul. As they were leaving the terminal, Tim had a hunch. He headed back toward Paul and spotted what he had suspected. Paul was exchanging his ticket for a $5 bill.
Upon hearing this, my budding compassion withered. “We sacrificed our entire day off serving beggars. We invested our meager funds buying them food. How could Paul be so devious? And not one of them thanked us!”
For days I entertained more critical thoughts before truth intervened. “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in… whatever you did for one of the least of these…you did for me” Matthew 25: 35, 40. Jesus’ words played over and over in my mind.
Finally my heart softened. I saw my selfishness and pride. I remembered Jesus’ unrelenting love for me. While I was a sinner, Christ died on a cross for me whether I ever love Him in return. When I don’t live up to His standards, He doesn't judge me because He didn't come to judge but to save me from my sins and failures. Salvation’s truth shined brilliantly.
Suddenly I perceived Paul through Jesus’ eyes… a sinner Jesus died for. He stands in need of forgiveness just as I do. Instead of judging Paul, I began to pray for him.
I mark that Thanksgiving the greatest because I discovered genuine love comes with a price tag. I’m learning to ask, “What am I willing to pay?” For Jesus the cost was loving me enough to die. For me, it’s loving others in practical and even uncomfortable ways...regardless of whether I receive appropriate rewards.