Leftovers That Aren’t

In the autumn of 2018, my husband and I were contacted by one of our sons to let us know that, because of prior commitments, not all of our immediate family members would be able to get together at our house that year for our traditional family dinner on Thanksgiving Day. So instead of celebrating the holiday on Thursday, we decided to get together over the weekend before Thanksgiving, and then celebrate the holiday with a big turkey dinner on Sunday.

When that weekend arrived, we were so glad to be together that no one paid any attention to the date. As far as we were concerned, it was Thanksgiving and we all had ample reason to be giving thanks to God for all that He had done for us, both individually and as a family. Our Sunday celebration simply capped off the good time that we all had together that weekend.

So on Sunday morning, after we arose to share in a “memory brunch” of quirky type food combinations that our children and grandchildren had indulged in over the years, we then headed off to church together to worship God as a family, for that is something that we don’t get to do very often. Our afternoon was then spent doing exactly what was expected for Thanksgiving. We first feasted on a big, traditional style turkey dinner with all of the trimmings, and then filled our evening with lots and lots (and lots) of televised football game watching.

The weekend was wonderful, and my husband and I could never have asked for anything more. But when Monday arrived, the atmosphere in our home was already changing. While our family headed back to homes, schools, and jobs that day, my husband and I were left lingering in bitter-sweet memories of other fun-filled times that like that weekend, had all come and gone way too quickly.  But by Tuesday morning, when many of our good neighbors and friends were just getting started to prepare for their own holiday celebrations that were yet two days in the future, my husband and I couldn’t just sit there lamenting the fact that our celebration was already two days in the past, and with good reason. With one flip of a calendar page, we were reminded that With Thanksgiving behind us, we could focus on the fact that Christmas was coming. 

So on Tuesday morning, I began the yearly transition of packing up whatever fall décor items I still had sitting around the house to make room for the Christmas ones that I could hardly wait to get out.  But this year, we had two autumn items that, because they were alive, could not be packed up with the rest. They were a beautiful bouquet of cut autumn flowers and a rather sizeable pile of colorful gourds and small pumpkins. Because every one of the gourds and flowers still looked as fresh as it had on the day when I had purchased them (which, because of our early Thanksgiving celebration, had only been a few days prior to then),  I simply could not bring myself to throw them away. Instead, because they still had so much pleasure left in them to give,  I decided that it would be far better for me to offer the flowers and gourds to one of my nearby neighborhood friends—one who was still trying to get together her Thanksgiving Day turkey dinner. Though it seems silly now, at the time it didn’t, for some unknown reason, I couldn’t decide which of my friends to call and make my offer. Who was the person who might really want to be offered to receive them?

So on Wednesday morning when I first got up, the flowers and gourds were still sitting where I had left them the night before, all because I didn’t seem to be able to make up my mind. But as I stood there thinking about all of the time that I was wasting on such a simple enough matter, a family suddenly came to mind with such strong conviction, that I immediately knew that they were the ones whom I was to call, despite not knowing their number, their name or even never having met them before.

The only reason that I had that day for even knowing about the family was due to a woman who happens be in the same adult Sunday school class that  I am in, and also happens to be one of my very best friends.  My friend had mentioned the family in a recent Sunday school class with regard to a particular matter that my friend had offered to manage for our class.

The next thing that I knew I was sending a text to my friend, asking her if she knew of a way for me to get in touch with the family. Moments later, I received her reply text back from Texas, where my friend and her husband were visiting their son’s family for the Thanksgiving Day holiday. In that reply text was the family’s phone number, which my friend then said was the only information that she had with her in Texas about the family.

But it was all that I needed, so I immediately dialed the number; which after only one ring, my call was answered by “The Family’s Mom”— to be known hereafter as TFM. When I told her my name and then my Sunday school affiliation, her silence told me that neither one of them were meaningful to her at all. But as I then mentioned the name of my friend, TFM made the connection and said yes to my offer of the gourds and the flowers. Apparently they had never been left over at all, but had always been intended to go to TFM and her family.  I then told TFM that my husband and I would be glad to take the items right over to her. That was when our conversation suddenly turned in a direction that I could never have anticipated.

TFM explained that she wasn’t at home right then; nor did she expect to be until much later that evening. Then in a sadness of voice that hinted at the news that was coming, TFM said that her aunt had unexpectedly died suddenly that Tuesday. So when I called TFM early on Wednesday,  she wasn’t at home preparing food or festivities. But instead, TFM was respectfully gathering with other family members, not at one of their family places, stockpiled with happy family memories, but at a funeral home, of all places. They were there thanking everyone who had departed from their own plans that evening to honor the life of her aunt, who could no longer take part in this world’s family holiday celebrations with them.

Tuesday to Wednesday… Wednesday to Thursday…  What a difference in this world that a day does make.

So surprised was I by TFM’s unexpected announcement that for just a moment I was completely silenced. Then I offered TFM my condolences and asked her if she had been close to her aunt. Again, she said, “Yes.”

The instant when I heard her answer, I immediately “checked out,” so to speak, and immediately seemed to go to my own little La-La Land. What I remember about being there was the enormity of the compassion that I  felt for TFM and her family.

I then asked TFM one more question before I hung up the phone.  I wanted to know if there was anything that TFM or her family needed that, if they were to receive it, would make a difference to them at that specific time in their lives. With only three words and no hesitation, TFM gave me this all-encompassing answer, “Oh, yes… anything!”

“Yes,” TFM had said such a thing did indeed exist. Anything, though?  I didn’t have a clue as to what might really help them. I didn’t know if TFM did either; if she knew what she had said or why she had said it. Only later did I realize the truth.

In this world where we all experience pain and suffering, we all want to know that someone does indeed truly care. So much so, in fact, that someoneanyone (even a stranger)—would care enough to be willing to do somethinganything (whatever possible)—to provide tangible, compassionate assistance in some manner. Only in the giving of ourselves personally, can we ever affirm to others, that none of us are ever alone in our sufferings. That was the message that God sent to the world when He gave us His Son to suffer for every single one of us.  

So even before my conversation with TFM ended that day, I already knew what the “anything” that I was going to do for TFM’s family was. That is why a couple of hours later, in addition to the fall decorations, my husband and I handed a pumpkin pancake, sausage and maple syrup breakfast to TFM’s children in a dark parking lot that night. The question that continues to be asked of me is why pumpkin pancakes? What in the world made me decide to take a pumpkin pancake breakfast to TFM’s family? Two things:  1) Pumpkin pancakes were the first and only food that had come to mind, and 2) I knew that I had all of the ingredients that I needed to make them. And since time was short, I really didn’t have much of a choice after that. I needed to get cooking with what I had in my kitchen right then.

Now, I can’t tell you at all what either TFM or her family might have been expecting to receive from me, a stranger who did not know even the first thing about any of them. But I can tell you what I received back. When TFM thanked me with her warm embrace, I felt compassion that would make me truly thankful to God for all that I have. Then, the next thing that I knew, my husband and I were saying our goodbyes to the family and getting back in our car to head home while TFM and her family stayed momentarily where they were, remaining behind. as we departed.

Earlier. though, I had asked my husband a question. Since he and I had both already eaten a big turkey dinner on the Sunday before, I wanted to know what he would like to have for our dinner for5 just the two of us on Thursday.  After thinking my question over briefly, h said,I really can’t think of anything that I want in particular, but for some strange reason, whatever we make, I would really like to have some coleslaw to go with it. I’m not sure, though, that we even have any cabbage left in the refrigerator to make coleslaw with.”  I started to laugh as I  heard his answer. Then I turned the tables and gave him my own honest answer. “It’s funny that you said that because I was actually just thinking the very same thing. I really want some coleslaw, too; but… I know that we finished the cabbage, and there’s definitely none left in the refrigerator. I know that we’re out of cabbage.”  And that was the end of our earlier conversation.  We simply left the matter at that.

So Wednesday evening, after our delivery to TFM and her family was finished, my husband and I were both pretty hungry, for it was getting late and we had not yet had any dinner that evening. So as we pulled out of the funeral home parking lot and headed down the street, we decided to stop at a restaurant that is located just a few doors down. But as we parked our car and were getting out, we noticed that our car was the only one in the lot. At that point in time, we really weren’t sure if the restaurant was open or not. So we checked their times on the door and saw that the place would be closing at 8:30 pm. When we looked in the windows, we could see that the employees were cleaning. So my husband pulled out our cell phone, and the time on it was 8:28 pm. My husband then tugged on the door handle, and when the door promptly opened, we walked in to order some take-out with two minutes to spare.

The employees who had been cleaning were as nice as could be. They stopped what they were doing, took our order, and then started to cook it.  Just as they finished filling the order, the manager came out and made us an offer. “I know that this is going to sound strange,“ she said, “but would you like to take home this bag of fresh cabbage? We had cut it all up for coleslaw before we realized that we wouldn’t need that much cabbage today. Now the whole head is leftover, but I really don’t want to throw it away. If you can use it for your Thanksgiving dinner tomorrow, then all you’d have to do is mix in whatever dressing you use and put it on the table, and you’ll have coleslaw to go with your Thanksgiving dinner. So what do you say? It’s already chopped and ready to go. So here, If you want it, it’s yours. Take it with you. You’ll have a head start on your Thanksgiving dinner tomorrow.”

I laughed aloud as I thanked her, and then I turned to my husband. By then he was carrying the two small bags of burgers and fries that we had come in to order, plus a much bigger bag that was our surprise:  a large, clear plastic bag of chopped cabbage that looked sufficiently large enough to provide us with coleslaw for not only our “Second Time Around” Thanksgiving dinner the next day, but also, most probably, for our dinners the entire next week!

“God! It’s God! He did it again,” I said, smiling really big as we headed back to our car. “There’s no other way. God did it again… And this time He did it with cabbage! Cabbage! Do you believe it? God gave us the cabbage that we needed to make the coleslaw that we had both said that we wanted to have for our Thanksgiving dinner.

God really and truly does all that.

(The story is continued below)

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Ms. J
January 2019

By the time that New Years Day was over last year, my husband and I had reached the same important conclusion.  The time had come in our lives when we decided that we need some help around our house a couple of days each week.  So by the next afternoon, following our agreement on the matter, my husband sat down to start making some phone calls to try to get us the help that we needed. Apparently God had laid out our path and we were on it, for from that point forward everything seemed to just fall into place.

My husband called first our regular cleaning service, and the woman who heads it said that she was so shorthanded that she didn’t have anyone who could help us right then. But later that evening she told her friend about the position, who then told her friend, who then called us back the next afternoon for a phone interview.  It went so well that we then set a time for her to meet us the next day at our house so that my husband and I could meet and talk with her in person, and so that she could meet us and determine if she wanted the position.

The woman arrived on time and the interview went well, so we decided to give both the position and the woman filling it a try the very next day.  We did, and all went so well, that since then she (whom I will be calling Ms. J from here on out) has been working for us two or three days a week at our house.

Then in June, I had an appointment at Emory University Health Center for testing, and my husband arranged for Ms. J to go with us that day, just in case I would need her assistance, which on that day I didn’t.  So after we had finished the testing at Emory, we returned to our car and headed back home again. If you have ever had to leave Atlanta in the late afternoon, then you’ll understand the kind of traffic that we were in.  We felt as if we were “getting nowhere” really fast.  So, just to have something to do in that stop-and-go traffic, I started sharing with Ms. J some of the God stories that we have posted on this website.

A little while later then, I started to tell her about the story above, which is the story  that is titled “Leftovers that Aren’t.” I had only gotten as far as the part of the story when I was having a phone conversation with TFM when Ms. J quietly interrupted me with a question that she wanted to ask me right then. Referring to TFM, she said, “Do you remember what the woman’s real name is?” I replied that I didn’t, and neither did my husband. So I then told Ms. J that I’d call my friend and see if she could remember.

It turned out that she did. But when I asked my friend if she remembered TFM’s real name, she answered my question with only the woman’s first name. I relayed her first name to Ms. J who then said, “But what about her last name? Does she remember her last name?”

Then to the astonishment of us all, I heard the answer in stereo:  both from my friend on the phone and Ms. J in the rear seat. At the very same time, they both said the same name.

My husband and I looked at each other and then at Ms. J.  She then proceeded to tell us “the rest of the story.” What none of us knew until that very moment was that Ms. J is TFM’s cousin. So when TFM had told me on the phone that her aunt had died unexpectedly, the aunt that she was talking about was Ms. J’s mom—her mother.

Later that week then when we were back at our house, Ms. J  me something that I could ever forget hearing her say to me.  She said, “I’ll never forget sitting around the table at the funeral home on Thanksgiving, eating pumpkin pancakes with my cousin. .My mom used to make pumpkin pancakes for TFM and me, and the three of us would sit down and eat hem, as we talked with each other about all kinds of things.”

As I said before:  That is our God who did that, and don’t you ever forget it.

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***11/22/2019 ADDENDUM:  Ms. J has asked me to add the following information to the story, and I  be.lieve that it is important and warranted that I do so.

Last week one day when Ms. J was at our house, I told her that the two of us would make pumpkin pancakes together on her next scheduled day to work for us, for that day would also be the last day that we would see each other before Thanksgiving. But as it happened, when that day arrived, I totally forgot about making the pumpkins until after Ms. J had finished working that day and was on her way home. As badly as I then felt, I didn’t think that I could do anything at that point to change the outcome.

But the following day, my husband and I had plans that went awry ourselves, and we didn’t leave town that day as we had originally been planning to do. So I then phoned Ms. J to see if she were free the following day to help us out at our home again, and she said that she was. So the next morning we had a wonderful time making the pumpkin pancakes in which she found so much comfort. As we talked, Ms.J mentioned several times that the following day was the actual anniversary of her mother’s passing; until that is, she suddenly realized a mistake that she was making in her thinking. The one-year anniversary of her mother’s passing was that very day when Ms. J stood in our kitchen with me making pumpkin pancakes for her family to eat and be comforted by on Thanksgiving morning. I hadn’t really “forgotten” the week before, any more than Ms. J was really confused about the date that morning. God was just getting everything set up to occur in His perfect timing.

 

 

 

 

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