The Bag Lady and Thanksgiving Dinner
Usually bustling with activity, even on cold days, the park was practically empty now. Everyone was home with friends and family enjoying their Thanksgiving turkey. Jimmy was tempted to have a bit more dinner himself, but his second helping sat on the car seat beside him along with a big hunk of Mom's homemade pumpkin pie and a Thermos bottle of hot coffee. Jimmy wouldn't succumb to temptation and eat more today.
For the past two years, Jimmy had established a tradition for himself. He had never suffered a hungry day in his life. The son of an unwed teenaged mother, he was given up for adoption as an infant and was taken in by a Christian family. When he was fifteen, to honor his Lord as well as his parents, he decided to take his second helping of Thanksgiving dinner to the park to share with a homeless man or woman.
His first year, he had found a man who had been on his own since he was thirteen. In the summer he worked odd jobs, but in winter he lived at the local rescue mission where he earned an occasional dollar by cleaning up the place. The second year, he shared his Thanksgiving dinner with an elderly man whose wife had died long before and his children had moved to another city. They never contacted their father nor offered to help him in any way. "I reckon they're ashamed of me," the rheumy old man had said.
Throughout the year, Jimmy often thought about the two men. He had gone to the mission to try to find them, but they were gone without a trace. Now Jimmy wondered who he would meet this Thanksgiving.
As soon as he arrived at the park, he saw a ragged woman sitting hunched over on the bench of one of the heavy concrete picnic tables provided by the city. She wore an old battered red coat and a dark wool cap over her matted, graying hair. Close beside her was the tattered bag that carried all her worldly possessions.
Jimmy pulled the car into a parking place and got out. He took the covered dishes and the Thermos bottle from the front seat and began walking toward the bag lady. When he stood in front of her, she jumped as if she had suddenly been awakened from dozing. She looked up at Jimmy. Suddenly her eyes brightened and she started to speak but, instead, she lowered her head and stared at the frozen ground.
"God bless you, ma'am," Jimmy said, smiling. "I have brought you some Thanksgiving dinner. Would you do me the honor of sharing it with me."
The woman looked at the food. She was very hungry -- she hadn't eaten since last night's dinner at the mission. She nodded and Jimmy served her food, uncovered the plates, put a napkin and silverware on the cold concrete picnic table, and poured her a streaming cup of coffee from the Thermos. Then he watched her as she ate. Although it was very cold in the park, he felt warm inside. The God of love was clearly at work within him. He loved his tradition and he intended to continue it -- and more -- for the rest of his life.
When the woman had finished, he cleared the table and put the dishes into a pile. He poured another cup of coffee into her Styrofoam cup and closed the Thermos. Then he reached into his wallet and pulled out a twenty dollar bill. He thrust the money into her gnarled hand. Then he reached over and kissed her lightly on the forehead.
"May God richly bless you, ma'am," he said softly. "And thank you for giving me the honor of sharing my Thanksgiving dinner with you." With that, Jimmy picked up his dishes and returned to the car.
She had stayed in the city purposely to see him grow, but remained carefully in the background and out of sight so she would not embarrass him or cause him pain. Her own life was a shambles -- time spent in state mental hospitals and, at other times, living on the streets. But she had seen him grow into manhood and was very proud of his many accomplishments. Today, she had longed to tell him who she was, but could not bring herself to do it. Instead she thanked God that He had so richly blessed her today, in spite of her trials.