Two stuffed chickens were roasting, filling the house with that special Thanksgiving aroma.
It was November, 1985.
We were living in Bolivia and enjoying celebrating our traditional holidays where chickens substituted for turkeys and expat friends for family.
It would be a fun gathering at our mission guesthouse.
That morning a neighbor rang my doorbell.
P. was a young mother in our church; her children, along with mine, were faithful in Sunday School, her husband was an alcoholic and mentally disabled after a motorcycle accident.
The six of them lived crammed in two small unfinished rooms in his parents’ house.
P. and I were becoming friends. Each week our children would play while we made soup and pudding in my kitchen, talking, praying, and sometimes crying, together.
P.’s trust in God amazed me. Joshua 1:9 was her go-to verse: Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.
That Thanksgiving morning she’d come to tell me she had no food nor money.
My soul groaned as I gave her some things from my pantry and watched her walk down the street with that puny little sack.
God, why is life so unfair?
Later, on the way to our feast, we stopped at P.’s house and I gave her one of the cooked chickens.
It made them happy, but it did nothing to alleviate my conflicted heart.
And when I saw the abounding tables at our dinner, I wanted to cry.
This is wrong. I don’t want to do Thanksgiving anymore.
In Bolivia, poverty was all around us: poor people of all ages, sick and hungry children sleeping on the streets, calling out, begging at our gate or restaurant table.
It was heart-breaking. Especially seeing it up-close with my friend P.
I couldn’t stand it. The more needs I saw around me, the more hopeless I became.
After seven years of life there, I had some kind of breakdown. A dark cloud of anger and shame dogged me.
Where are You, God? Why do You let children suffer?
Home in NC that year, I told Jake I was considering becoming an agnostic. I wanted freedom from the questions and pain.
I didn’t want to do it, but I attended a weekly study on Galatians, and I can’t explain it, but my heart got Jesus’s good news for the first time.
Because I tend to live like a practical atheist — self-reliant and self-righteous — all the needs of the world, like poverty, can feel like my responsibility.
But God revealed to me the poverty in my soul — my great spiritual needs — and at the same time He was teaching me how to turn to Him and find His grace.
Then one day — what a day! — God’s love poured generously into my soul, and it changed me.
A few weeks later, at our Thanksgiving table, I sat amazed at the joy and gratitude I felt, for God’s rich blessings in Christ.
And I looked forward to returning to Bolivia, believing — like my rich-in-faith* friend P. — that God would always be with me and give me the courage and strength I need.
After our first three years in Bolivia, P. moved far away and I never saw her again.
But three months ago she contacted me on FB and wrote some very sweet words.
I doubt she knows how deeply her faith impacted mine, but I’m thinking this week would be a good time to tell her this thanksgiving story.