Unexpected Thanksgiving

by Jen

“My sister will be so disappointed,” Danielle* sighed, her eyes sorrowful. “Not only did I miss her birthday, but now I’m missing Thanksgiving, too.” Danielle is one of the many teens who filter through the justice system. They come to the Juvenile Detention Center for any number of reasons and wait there to be sentenced or released.

I left that night imagining what it would be like to be locked-up over the holidays instead of with my family. A couple days later, the night before Thanksgiving, I felt intense loneliness weigh me down.

“Just be content!” I told myself. “Christmas is right around the corner and you’ll be home with your family.” But I couldn’t shake that heavy sadness. Then, a thought flashed through my mind: “This is exactly how the young people at the Juvenile Detention Center feel.”

The next morning I awoke with a mission—to make this Thanksgiving special! I ran to the store and filled four grocery bags with every available flavor of ice cream. I brought it all to the detention center and waited nervously at the front desk.

“Do you have permission to be here?” the security guard asked me.

“Let her through,” squawked a voice from his walkie talkie.

I struggled through the heavy doors with my arms full of the treats. “Happy Thanksgiving!” I yelled, bursting into the recreation area. The surprise and joy on the teens’ faces was priceless!

“Happy Thanksgiving!” they shouted back, oohing and aahing over the ice cream.

A wave of gratitude washed over me. I not only understood God’s heart for the lonely, but I now had a new awareness of the word “family.”

When I left, I said goodbye to each person by name. When I looked at Danielle, she smiled back—a shy, grateful smile.

As staff of the current Discipleship Training School, I am able to take the DTS students on this weekly local outreach to the JDC, where we talk, pray, and share God’s love with “throw-away” teens. It’s through this that God has confirmed to me that a big part of my life’s mission is to empathize with the lonely—especially those who are overlooked by society—and bring them joy!

* name has been changed to protect privacy