Next Thursday we will be celebrating Thanksgiving Day. While our whole Christian experience is lived out of gratitude, it is so good to stop and reflect on the many reasons we can be thankful. If you’re like me, then you have learned that being thankful is a matter of perspective; either we can see life’s blessings as a gift from God, or we can perceive those blessings as something God owes us.
Below is one of my favorite stories that affirms the truth that being thankful is a matter of perspective. I’m not sure who sent me the story; the title at the top of the page is “The Rich Family in Our Church” by Eddie Ogan (From Wit and Wisdom- June 1998).
I’ll never forget Thanksgiving 1946, I was 14, my little sister Ocy,12, and my oldest sister Darlene, 16. We lived at home with mother, and the four of us knew what it was to do without many things. My dad had died 5 years before, leaving mom with seven school kids to raise and no money. By 1946, my older sisters were married and my brothers had left home.
A month before Thanksgiving Day, the Pastor of our church announced that a special Thanksgiving Day offering would be taken for a poor family. He asked everyone to save up and then give sacrificially. When we got home we talked about what we could do. We decided to buy 50 pounds of potatoes and live on them for a month. That would allow us to save $20 of our grocery money for the offering. Then we decided that if we kept the electric lights turned out as much as possible and didn’t listen to the radio, we’d save money on our electric bill.
Darlene found as many house and yard cleaning jobs as possible, and both of us babysat for everyone we could. For 15 cents we could buy enough cotton loops to make three pot holders to sell for $1. We eventually made $20 on pot holders. That month was one of the best of our lives. Every day we counted the money to see how much we saved. At night we would sit in the dark and talk how the poor family was going to enjoy the money the church would give to them. We had about 80 people in church, so we figured that whatever amount of money we had to give, the offering would be 20 times as much! After all, the Pastor reminded us every Sunday to save up for the special offering.
The day before Thanksgiving Day, Ocy and I walked to the grocery store and got the manager to give us three crisp $20 bills and one $10 bill for all our change. We ran all the way home to show Mom and Darlene, we had never had so much money before. That night we were so excited we could hardly sleep; we had $70 for the sacrificial offering. We could hardly wait to get to church.
On Thanksgiving morning, rain was pouring. We didn’t own an umbrella, and the church was a mile from our home, but it didn’t seem to matter how wet we got. Darlene had cardboard in the bottom of her shoes to fill the holes. The cardboard came apart and her feet got wet, but we sat in church proudly. I heard some teenagers talking about the Smith girls having on some old dresses, but I looked at them in their new clothes and still felt so rich.
When the sacrificial offering was taken, we were sitting in the second row from the front. Mom put in the $10 bill, and each of us put in a $20 bill. As we walked home after church, we sang all the way. At lunch mom had a surprise for us, she had bought a dozen eggs to go with our fried potatoes.
Later that afternoon, the minister drove up in his car. Mom went to the door, talked with him for a moment, and then came back with an envelope in her hand. We asked what it was, but she didn’t say a word. She opened the envelope and out dropped a bunch of money; there were three crisp $20 bills, one $10 bill and seventeen $1 bills. Mom put the money back in the envelope, we didn’t talk, and we just stared at the floor.
We had gone from feeling like millionaires to feeling like poor white trash. We kids had such a happy life that we felt sorry for anyone who didn’t have a mom and dad for parents and a house full of brothers and sisters and other kids visiting constantly. We thought it was fun to share the few pieces of silverware we had and who would get the fork or spoon that night. We had two knives which we passed to whoever needed them. I knew we didn’t have a lot of things other people had, but I never thought we were poor, we were just thankful for what we did have. That day, I found out we were poor. The minister had brought us the money for the “poor family,” so we must be poor.
I didn’t like being poor, I looked at my dress and worn out shoes and felt so ashamed that I didn’t want to go back to church. Everyone there probably already knew we were poor! I thought about school, I was in the ninth grade and at the top of my class; I began to wonder if the kids at school knew we were poor. I decided I could quit school since the law only required going through the eighth grade. We sat in silence for a long time; and then we went to bed.
All that next week, we girls went to school and came home, and no one talked much. Finally, on Saturday, Mom asked us what we wanted to do with the money. What did poor people do with money? We didn’t know, we’d never known we were poor.
We didn’t want to go to church on Sunday, but mom said we had to. Although it was sunny, we didn’t talk on the way. Mom started to sing, but no one joined in and she only sang one verse. At church we had a missionary speaker who talked about how churches in Africa made buildings out of sun-dried bricks. He said $100 would put a roof on a church.
After the missionary finished speaking, our Pastor said, “Can’t we all sacrifice and help these poor people?” We looked at each other and smiled for the first time in a week. Mom reached in her purse and pulled out the envelope. She passed it to Darlene. Darlene gave it to me and I gave it to Ocy. Ocy put it in the offering. When the offering was counted, the minister announced that it was a little over $100. The missionary was excited. He hadn’t expected such a large offering from our small church. He said, “You must have some rich people in this church.”
Suddenly it struck us! We had given $87 of that “little over a $100”. We were the “rich” family in the church! The missionary said so. From that day on I’ve never been poor again. I’ve always remembered how rich I am because I have Jesus.
“Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge your harvest of your righteousness. You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God… Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift.” 2 Corinthians 9:10-11, 15.
May God be praised as you and I reflect on the blessings he has so abundantly poured out on us, regardless of whether we perceive this past year as good or bad.
Happy Thanksgiving, Mike Altena