Thanksgiving with a Clear Heart
As we reflect on the last year, I am one who routinely counts the many blessings I have received. Like every year, I recognize that I am blessed with the love of a wonderful family, I have good health, and I love that I get to call Austin and America my home. But this year, I am especially thankful. I am thankful for a man known simply as Syed.
By way of background, my wife and I help manage a local Christian-based food pantry that feeds hundreds of our community's homeless, underserved, and vulnerable residents. While we are a Christian outreach ministry, we are committed to feeding anyone in the community who has need, regardless of their citizenship status, religion, socioeconomic status, or ethnicity.
While spoken English is certainly not his primary language, his beautiful smile and his humility speak volumes.
Syed, an immigrant, Muslim man of Middle-Eastern descent, has been coming to our food pantry twice a week for the past year. An older gentleman, Syed is a gracious man who always wears a smile in spite of his circumstances. While spoken English is certainly not his primary language, his beautiful smile and his humility speak volumes. His personality is infectious, and all of our volunteers are drawn to him. Syed shops every week for he and his wife to ensure they have enough food to make ends meet, and parts from us with a "God Bless" at the end of every visit. We are always happy to serve Syed.
Syed, while poor himself, is a generous man. For example, a few months ago, he overheard a conversation between one of our volunteers and a man visiting the food pantry. The man, obviously homeless, was in need of a pair of shoes. The soles on the only pair of work boots he owned had begun to tear away from the old leather, leaving his feet exposed to the weather and the elements. Without saying a word, Syed left and returned the next week with a tube of super glue adhesive to assist the man in renovating his shoes, albeit temporarily. One sensed that Syed's own, personal experience had probably informed him of this simple "life-hack", and he was quick to share it with a man less fortunate than he.
Syed came into the food pantry this afternoon. It was a special day because the spirit of Thanksgiving was in the air. The outside air was crisp and cool, sweaters and smiles abounded, and an abundance of people amicably accepting their food blessings for the week made for a festive atmosphere. I watched Syed patiently waiting in the long lines, and choosing carefully only the goods he needed for he and his wife. An apple, two tangerines, a couple of banana's, a loaf of bread, and a little bit of meat. As he left the church pantry, I watched him make his way to his dated, modest sedan, at which point I lost track of him. A few minutes later, Syed reappeared in the front door, and quietly and bashfully asked to speak to me privately. After he pulled me aside, Syed reached in his pocket and pulled out and handed me the cash he had in his pocket. He gave thanks the only way he knew how, providing a modest donation so that others less fortunate might enjoy the same blessing as he and his wife during their own difficult times. Before I could return the money, he offered me his blessing and quickly disappeared into the sunny afternoon.
My hope on this day is that all of us, in spite of our differences, recognize with clear hearts the blesssings that envelope us daily, and see fit to give thanks not just on Thanksgiving, but every day.
I reflected on Syed's actions and was momentarily overcome. Here was a man, more specifically an immigrant in this great country, a man who's religion is not widely understood, who's culture is sometimes maligned, offering his thanks to a little Christian outreach which has willfully and joyfully chosen to serve him. While the sum he donated is not important, I can assure you that it would have been enough to procure a basket of fresh groceries at HEB, or possibly a nice sit-down dinner and movie for he and his wife. Instead, Syed decided to count his blessings on the eve of Thanksgiving, in a substantive but subtle way, and provide for the people in the community he now calls home; the people with whom he has found common ground, not because of religion but because of similar life circumstances.
I love the thought of Christians and Muslims, rich and poor, homeless and homebound, all coming together to give thanks for the many blessings they receive from God, from country, from community, from family, and from church. My hope on this day is that all of us, in spite of our differences, recognize with clear hearts the blesssings that envelope us daily, and see fit to give thanks not just on Thanksgiving, but every day.
Let's Embrace The Grace, together.
It's All Good.