I have many stories to tell from our Thanksgiving Meal. Life is so busy, and I’m tempted to just hurry on, but these stories must be told. It was quite a day, and it’s important (if only for me) to remember the people, the events, the stories of that day—to step back and see what God has done. So this is the first of several pieces, with more to follow.

For me, the day started with a toilet tank flower planter. Our toilet at Joe’s had sprung a leak from the bottom of the water tank. According to some guys who were supposedly “in-the-know” (as I know nothing about plumbing!), the bolts just needed to be tightened on the bottom of the tank. Two of these “in-the-know-men” disappeared into the bathroom to fix the problem.

All I know is that a few minutes later, some mild cussing began to emanate from that little room, followed by flustered, blaming and apologetic outbursts to me about how “so and so” tightened the bolts too tight and cracked the side of the tank. Now the leak was a steady stream, where before it had been just a slow drip, drip, drip.  We’d have to replace the tank.

Ugh. These kind of little expenses at Joe’s are frustrating, as we are always wondering how we’re going to pay the rent, much less fix a toilet tank!  But no way around it. We headed to the hardware store and spent the money on a new tank.  The “in-the-know-men” carefully installed it.  No cracking this time.

Now what to do with the cracked tank? Valley Brook, where we are located, is bordered on the east by the SE Oklahoma City Dump, so we are daily aware of the global crisis of what to do with seven billion people’s trash! We are most acutely aware during the summer, as the over 100 degree temperatures cook the refuse and fill our part of town with a not-so-delicate aroma of rotting food and roasting baby diapers. The last thing we want to do is add to that pile of mess, so I decided to recycle our cracked toilet tank.

I told everyone of my intentions, and they laughed. I wonder if they often think I’m more than a little crazy. Despite their snorting, I put a sticky note on the tank with strict instructions that it was not trash and to NOT throw it away. The tank sat in the hallway by the bathroom for several months, awaiting the day when I had time to paint it up and make it pretty.

The afternoon before our big Thanksgiving Dinner, I decided the time was right to get our flower planter ready. One of our regulars went out and bought a few pansies, and I pulled out from the storage room an old, mostly gone and way-too-think gallon of dark green paint.

What then ensued became for me a lesson in relinquishing control. Two of our homeless guys stood at either of my elbows, as I started slathering the thing with paint. I thought I’d first lay down a good base coat, and then figure out a plan to make it beautiful. As I struggled to cover that white enamel, both of these men offered their suggestions.

Okay well, a better description might be to say that according to them I was not doing it right. I ought to go “this direction.”  And “the paint ought to be thinned” (we had no paint thinner). And “this color is not really right.”  Followed by arguing with each other, “You don’t know what you’re talking about. It ought to be done this way . . . Have you ever painted anything in your life? . . . I don’t think you’d know a paint brush from a plunger . . .”  I’m telling you, sometimes these guys are difficult to love.

Suddenly, a phrase that John has said to me many times came into my mind, “If you can’t love ‘em, give ‘em hope. If you can’t give ‘em hope, give ‘em something to do!” Just for a moment, I wrestled with my choleric nature. This was my project. It was fun (or it was supposed to be). I wanted to be the one to paint our cool, toilet tank flower planter.

After a few moments of fighting with myself, I turned to both of the guys and said, “How ‘bout you guys do this together?”  They laughed and said, “We’d kill each other!”  One of the men (actually the most vocally critical of the two) said, “No, I don’t really want to do it.”  But the other, David, said, “Yeah! I can do it! I wanna paint some flowers on it!”

What makes this even more interesting is for you to understand that David has cataracts. Severe cataracts. He cannot see anything that is more than about 5 inches from his nose (which makes for interesting lessons in giving up one’s rights to personal space and how to react when someone’s spit lands on your lower lip—but that’s another story). Painting kind of requires being able to see the object being painted. Hmmm.

I relinquished the brush and told him to go for it!  I told him I wanted it to look pretty and festive, for tomorrow would be the Thanksgiving Dinner.  We would put it by the door where all the guests would be coming in.  And I told him I wanted it to somehow represent what we would like to say to all of our Thanksgiving guests.  David assured me that he could do it and that he’d make it beautiful.  I finished up my shift at Joe’s and left with the tank sitting there covered in a base coat of green. I had no idea what I’d see the next morning.

The morning of the Thanksgiving Dinner, David met me at the door of my car, a big grin on his face. He said, “Come and see our flower planter! It’s finished and I think it’s beautiful!”

The picture above is David’s creation. In my opinion, it is absolutely beautiful! Don’t you agree? Together, we planted our pansies and set it by the entrance to our Thanksgiving “restaurant.” As preparations were nearing completion, those who were to serve the meal (many of them homeless, recovering addicts and ex-cons) gathered to ask the Lord to bless our Thanksgiving Dinner. David asked if he could pray. In his simple, but profound prayer, he asked that God would send the Spirit of Peace to be there that day and to give peace to all those who came to celebrate Thanksgiving with us. Our toilet tank planter became the symbol of welcoming our 350 guests into the Peace of Christ. What a way to begin the Holiday Season.