One Sunday morning I woke up wanting a church service like I attended at The Dreamcenter in downtown Los Angeles. I wanted a service where the homeless guy sitting next to me smells of liquor and if you go to the altar, you better take your purse with you! I didn’t want to dress up. I wanted to be with people in the trenches, making a difference in our community. I decided on Highland Community Church.
We arrived, walking past a couple of locals hanging around the parking lot smoking cigarettes and into a packed room. I was already pleased with our choice. The energy was ecstatic and we were excited to be a part of it! As we sat there listening to amazing testimonies of perseverance, addiction, poverty, and victory, I was reminded of my time volunteering in the inner city of LA. I recollected the Harvard Law Student, the ex-major league baseball player, and the others I met who were addicted to crack and/or heroin choosing to live on Skid Row. (Yes, Skid Row is an actual place of several blocks where many people live on the streets in downtown LA.) I would go there with with groups trying to build relationships with the residents. You know how the waves in your brain make smells stick to your memories? Well, there is a certain stench you always remember about Skid Row, a mixture of urine, sweat, and depression that gives me chills as I write this article.
I was reminded of this particular funk after the church service, when the entire congregation was invited to lunch. The food smelled incredible but some of the members did not. The poverty stricken and the prominent worked alongside each to cook a whole Sunday dinner for everybody in attendance! They do this every Sunday! I was humbled thinking of how they missed the phenomenal service because they were cooking for us!
I was thankful as I watched such contrasting individuals interact so graciously and politely. I wanted to talk, or give money or something, particularly to one of the ladies with several children around her and with the iconic, desperate smell, I had become so familiar with while working with the defeated and downtrodden. However, instead of a conversation I could only muster up, “Your children are so cute!”
I was surrounded by people you may think could use my help in some way or another, but I was on the outside looking in to their loving community. As nice as every single person was, I was still a first time visitor. I didn’t have relationships with them like I’d built in my two years in Los Angeles. It takes time to build relationships, which is how any real difference is made in our community.
Knowing this stern fact, I quickly sought out a couple of the people I knew from the ministry team. We were honored to sit with these dedicated servants. They told us stories about their community, my community too, but I hadn’t come around to call it my own yet. Then one of them asked me a question and the answer still resonates with me today.
He asked, “What is the difference between a grateful heart and a thankful heart?” I had never thought about the distinction before. I was perplexed. I thought of the definitions. They were synonyms and I couldn’t figure out the difference, so I reluctantly replied, “No, I don’t but please tell me.”
“A thankful heart is great. A thankful heart will tell you thank you for the party you just threw, as they walk out the door. But a grateful heart will stay late and clean up the kitchen after the party. Anybody can be thankful, but are you truly grateful?” He explained.
I immediately started thinking of how I wanted to apply my thankfulness into actions, serving, while creating a state of gratitude. Instead of simply being thankful because I am pleased with a situation or outcome, my heart needs to be grateful for the experience regardless of my expectations. It is a great time to honestly ask yourself if you are being thankful and grateful.
*If you would like to be a part of giving back with Highland Community Church, click the link. Chicken and Rice is a great outreach which runs every Saturday 10:30am-1:30pm, along with many others.
Written by Jacy Jenkins
*This article is also featured in Her Magazine and was edited by Shelley Dean