As Thanksgiving and Christmas approach, unlikely arrivals may appear at your holiday gathering. Extended family members, prodigals, and those from distant places will suddenly appear without warning. God is bringing friends and families together to experience unexpected moments of reconnection.
49-years ago, today, I stuck my thumb out on a freeway on-ramp in Portland, Oregon, to hitchhike home for Thanksgiving. I was a student at Multnomah University (then known as Multnomah School of the Bible). It was a spur of the moment decision. For days, I was thinking about my mom’s pumpkin pie and dad carving a turkey.
I was broke and had no plans to return home. In a moment spurred on by a sudden feeling of loneliness, I grabbed a toothbrush and left my basement apartment. I walked to the nearest freeway on-ramp, raised my thumb, and headed south. My attire in those days was blue jeans, a green Army field jacket, and cowboy boots. Those were simple times.
It was late afternoon when I caught my first ride. The driver was an older man in a pick-up truck who was a grandfatherly type. He took me south of Eugene on Interstate 5. He gave my 5 bucks when he finally dropped me off at a rest stop. It was raining and after sunset. I looked out at the parking lot and saw a familiar van from my previous college days at Whitworth University in Spokane, Washington. It was what was called a “hippy van” in those days driven by a guy and girl I knew. I slept the night under the van on bare asphalt wrapped in a thin blanket my friends gave me.
The next morning before dawn, a diesel truck driver gave me a ride south to Ashland, Oregon, where a college girl picked me up and got me all the way to Sacramento. She dropped me off atop a freeway interchange where a CHP officer cited me for walking in a restricted area. I was so tired that I got the giggles. The cop also started laughing. Another ride took me just south of San Francisco, where I finally called my folks on a payphone and let them know I was coming home for Thanksgiving. Dad drove from our home in Los Gatos to pick me up. The journey home started with an unexpected longing in my heart.
I shared this piece of my personal history for a reason. There are people we love that God wants to awaken a hunger for reconnection. He will use something as normal as a hunger for a Thanksgiving or Christmas meal to spur them on to take the first steps toward home. For me, it was as simple as experiencing hunger pangs and loneliness. Those emotions increased and finally caused me to raise my thumb and spend the next 24 hours in transit.
This holiday season, expect the unexpected. God may have a loved one making their way home as I write these words. Their arrival will make this Thanksgiving and Christmas unexpectedly wonderful and memorable.