For one Arizona grandmother, this Thanksgiving is bittersweet yet filled with a joyful tradition that unexpectedly began four years ago with a mistaken text.
Wanda Dench thought she was texting her grandson an invitation to Thanksgiving dinner. But seventeen-year-old Jamal Hinton got her text, complete with a smiling selfie, while he was in class. He realized immediately it wasn’t his grandma behind the invitation, but he asked if he could still have a plate.
“Of course you can,” she replied. “That’s what grandmas do . . . feed everyone!”
He and Dench, along with her husband and Jamal’s girlfriend, struck up a friendship that has lasted over the years.
“Whenever we met, we would spend four or five hours, just talking and talking. It was never awkward, Wanda and Lonnie became two close best friends to me,” Hinton said.
Dench and her young friend celebrated their fifth Thanksgiving together last week so that Jamal and his girlfriend could be tested for COVID before celebrating with family. But the group was smaller. Dench’s husband died of complications from COVID in April.
Dench said she was not looking forward to this year’s meal without her husband but is glad the tradition continued. “I can’t even explain how much joy I had, having good food with my favorite company. We laughed, we had a great time, we reminisced about the past. It was so good for all of us.”
Jamal recalls the first time he met Lonnie: “Right when I walked in the door the first time I met him, he didn’t even reach out for a handshake. He just immediately pulled me in for a hug.” Hinton said, “He was the kind of guy to always bring your hopes up whenever you felt down. Losing him was losing a best friend.”
Dench is using the pandemic as a teachable moment: “Just have patience. I know it isn’t easy, and everyone is frustrated and just wants to get back to normal. But we need to have hope and always care about other people.”
God calls you a friend
I’m sure when Dench sent a Thanksgiving invitation to the wrong person four years ago she did not know that the “accidental friend” would be a source of strength during one of her most difficult Thanksgivings.
God often brings people into our lives with whom we would not normally strike up friendships. In the Bible, God did this with Naomi, who had just lost her husband and two sons, and Ruth, her widowed daughter-in-law, who refused to leave her alone (Ruth 1–4). God did the same with David, a shepherd, and Jonathan, a son of King Saul (1 Samuel 18).
I doubt that, when Ruth became her daughter-in-law, Naomi realized she would one day become her closest friend and source of encouragement and bring a needed source of sustenance.
Or that it would lead to Ruth’s marriage to Boaz and the birth of David’s grandfather, the father of David’s father, Jesse.
Or that it would lead to the lineage of Jesus.
More than likely, while David tended his father’s sheep in the fields of Bethlehem, he did not realize that one day his most enduring friendship with Jonathan would save him from King Saul (1 Samuel 23) so he could become king and, eventually, be part of the genealogical line from which the Savior would be born.
Most of the time, we choose our friends, but sometimes God brings people into our lives for purposes we cannot see at the time.
Jamal said of Dench: “There’s nothing about her that is mean, or uncaring. It feels like I have told her my whole life story, and she always listens and shares her own story. She’s just the most loving person. She’s pretty much perfect.”
This Thanksgiving, I have a Friend I can tell my “whole life story” to and who has shared his story with me: “No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you” (John 15:15).
We may not be with as many friends and family as we wish this year or have an “accidental friend” with whom to share our holiday.
But we always have a Friend who listens and shares his life with us.