And meanwhile life goes on, because that’s what it does, if you’re lucky. So we carry on living with these lines everywhere, our hearts hardened to people who are, actually, probably just like us. And it scares me more than terrorist attacks, more than suicide bombers, and here is why: something made those people turn. Something made them think their way was so much higher, better. They turned on the people around them. And I think anything can feel normal, after a while.
I don’t want division and hate, anxiety and fear to feel so normal that we pass it on to our kids without even realizing it. I want to live like children of the light. But sometimes the darkness pervades and the light feels powerless to even illuminate the step in front of me. It feels that way now.
Still, I shine my weak light where I can. That means helping those we know in ways that we can. And for the last ten years, for us, Thanksgiving and Christmas have been times to help strangers. It started with a free turkey I didn’t need, and the response overwhelmed me. So most years since, I have posted on or searched Craigslist, looking for families to help. I know there are plenty of good organizations that help others in similar ways, and we support many of them. But there’s always been something to me about helping those on the outside—beyond the reach of a church, or those who missed the cut off. That’s often how I feel, like I’m forever missing the cut off. There’s something desperate but also beautifully hopeful about posting an ad for help that no one might ever see.
Because it’s not about having turkey on Thanksgiving or gifts under the tree. I know I have not solved any problems. But by giving them what they needed to make Thanksgiving, maybe I gave them the chance to feel normal, if but for a day. Maybe they were able to rise above their worry, if only for that one meal. Maybe they could sit across the table from the people they love with a sense that there was enough. Maybe in that instance they saw a glimmer; maybe they knew that love still exists, that good and God are still strong enough to triumph, and if they read my card they knew why I did it.
When Daniel was young, times were often hard. Though both parents worked hard, there wasn’t always enough. He can’t recall a missed holiday, but he remembers strangers at the door with bags of food, especially for Thanksgiving.
We have been blessed with more than we need, at least for now. We have not mistaken this for anything short of God’s providence—it is not because we are better or work harder than anyone else— and we accept it uneasily, aware that we are no more deserving than others who go without. We have received a ridiculous, extravagant love we did nothing to deserve, and we believe "to whom much is given much is required" (Luke 12:48). We don’t deserve recognition; giving just comes with the territory.
Of course you know there are no shortage of ways to help. I’m not telling you to troll Craigslist for needy families or invite strangers to your table. I’ve had plenty of fellow Christians question my methods: “How do you know they really need it?” they might say, or, “Aren’t you afraid for your safety?” My answers are always, “I don’t and I’m not.” It’s not my job to vet the neediness of people who ask for help. My guess is if they are willing to accept food a stranger has picked out and meet at a truck stop, they’re needy enough.
What if they are just angling for free Christmas gifts? Again, not my problem. What if they are actually in as much need as they say? What if there really is a child in their home praying each night for a break, for a sign that God hears her prayers? I’d rather operate out of fear that she might otherwise surmise God doesn’t hear her and help, than turn her mother away because the whole thing might be a fraud.
I do not fear for my wellbeing while doing good. I fear for my soul if I feel the stirring in my heart to help and yet do nothing.
Today I received an email from a single mom of a seven-year-old girl. She’s a welder and out of work just in time for the holidays. I had offered to buy her Thanksgiving dinner, but she replied this morning that another couple has already done it. The love she feels this Thanksgiving, even in the midst of her need! I was so encouraged to see there are others extending their hands in meager offering, knowing it’s not enough, but helping anyway.
I guess I needed that encouragement, and I want to encourage you. Whatever you decide to do, it won’t be enough. I hope you feel a stirring in your heart to do it anyway. Fight the rising clamor that tells us we ought to band together with those just like us and protect what’s ours. Fight the darkness with light, however dim.