Sunday, October 05, 2014
Angels Among Us
This past Thursday was my turn to go to Loaves and Fishes again. To distribute food to our clients. To walk with them through the pantry while they choose what to take home. Those three hours are among the most meaningful hours of the month. Because I don't want to forget my interactions with the people I serve, I jot down a few details about each one on the little post-it notes I am given with their names and the size of their families. When I get home, I staple them into my calendar-journal and pray for them every time I see them.
My first client was a man who came in with the muscle shirt and the baseball cap on backwards. Family of one. He was slow, thoughtful, and careful about his food choices not only because he wanted to choose things that would last a while in his kitchen, but also because he was going home by bus. So he was mindful of carrying the fewest number of bags. He also said that one of his arms was weaker than the other and grimaced when he picked up one of the bags. Big man. Slightly intimidating looking. Gentle in spirit - he wished me well and said, "God bless you," as he left. I had to check and recheck my unwarranted fears and prejudices during my brief time with him.
Then there was the slightly older gentleman with the long black denim shorts. Also a family of one. I often wonder what it is like to be hungry, to be in need of assistance in order to eat - and be alone. I wonder if their loneliness feels more desperate because they are by themselves or if there is a certain sense of relief that at least they are only looking after themselves. He too left with gratitude and shared a kind word of blessing for me. I shook my head and thought, "If only you knew how much a blessing you are to me."
After him, there was a woman who looked about my age, there with her teenaged son. Family of four. She said another of her sons was outside waiting in the car. The two of them expressed surprise and a certain sense of awe at how much food they were able to take home for their family. How many boxes of macaroni and cheese? How many cans of vegetables? All of this yogurt and cheese? Really? As I walked them outside to help them load it into their car, she said, "I wish I could hug everybody." I said, "I'll take a hug." After we embraced, she said, "I don't take this for granted. I'm about to cry; I'm so soft." I assured her that tears were perfectly fine, that I'm a bit of a softie too, and that as a mom myself, I know how much she wants to make sure her family eats well. All she could do at that point was nod as tears rimmed her eyes.
Between clients, the volunteers often share stories of the folks we meet. We also remind one another of how blessed we are to be able to go to the supermarket and purchase the groceries we want and need. We remind each other of the privilege it is to serve our Charlotte neighbors through Loaves and Fishes. We are grateful to the companies and the individuals that donate food and time and resources to purchase the food we distribute. We know that giving food away for free isn't going to solve the problem of hunger or poverty in our city, but we know that for some people, those cans and boxes and bags of food are what keep them, their parents, their children, their siblings, and their spouses from going to bed hungry.
The next woman came in wearing a lovely floor-length green and white sundress. I'm a huge fan of maxi skirts and maxi dresses, so I commented on it. She proudly said, "I got it for $5." There's nothing wrong with that kind of careful spending. As she left with her provisions for her family of one, she looked deep into my eyes and said, "I really do appreciate this." I wanted to hug her, but I decided that since she didn't ask or offer, I should keep my embraces to myself that time.
My last clients of the day were my favorites - two brothers, Wesley and Patrick. I had worked with Wesley a few months ago and at that time, he told me that although he was designated as a family of one, he lived with his brother. Because I am such a softie, I allowed him to pick a few extra items and made him promise not to tell anybody. Apparently, he told his brother because this week, when he showed up again with his brother, Patrick said, "He told me about you and that you are one of the good ones." I responded with a laugh and said, "I don't know about all that, but I'm glad to be here to help." When I greeted Wesley this past Thursday, I said, "It's good to see you again." He seemed surprised when he asked, "You remember me?" "Of course I remember you." Those two men walked through the pantry like they were choosing Christmas gifts - grateful for every can, every box, every bag, every morsel. They traded ideas about the various meals they would be able to prepare with the items they picked. It sounded like they are creative cooks in spite of the meager provisions they had at their disposal. At the end of our walk through the pantry, Patrick said, "You all work so hard here." I laughed and said, "We are here to serve you all. Why wouldn't we work hard?" Once again, I wanted to hug them, but did so only in my heart and mind.
This morning, the pastor talked about angels. The verses he read were from the thirteenth chapter of the book of Hebrews - Keep on loving each other as brothers. Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it.
His first question was this: do you believe in angels? He went on to explain that the word angel means messenger, so the question can also be asked like this: do you believe in messengers? Do you believe that God sends messengers to us nowadays? Do you believe that some people come into our lives to teach us lessons and bring us messages that are meant to challenge us and to change us?
Yes, I do believe in angel messengers among us. I believe that every person we serve at Loaves and Fishes is an angel, a messenger meant to teach us to love all people as our brothers and sisters. They teach us to welcome in strangers and discover that they can become friends quickly. I believe that the people in my church are angel messengers who are teaching me to not judge others based on race or income or appearance or the fact that they are "Southerners." I believe that the people who live on my block are angel messengers as well, angels who brought us meals during my kanswer journey and my daughter's illness. I believe that the people I met online who have since become non-virtual, real life, "let's get together" friends are angel messengers who have taught me about trust and taking chances. I believe that the people who greet me happily and heartily at Trader Joe's are angel messengers teaching me that everyone deserves to be looked at and spoken to and asked how they are doing. I believe that my children are angel messengers who are teaching me patience and love and how to laugh at myself, at them, and at the crazy world we live in. I believe that the folks I met in Sevilla, Spain in 2006 and in Nicaragua in 2008 and in Haiti in 2012 and everywhere else I have ever been are all angel messengers teaching me about love, about gratitude, about hope, about courage, about hospitality, about vulnerability, about faith, about welcome, about sharing, about food and wine and water and gathering around table together as brothers, sisters, and friends. I believe that each of us and all of us have entertained, are entertaining, and are ourselves angel messengers in this wounded, weary, hungry, thirsty, broken, mysterious, miraculous, marvelous world.
I hope and pray that Wesley and Patrick and Tony Lee and Gerald and Adrienne and Patricia all find meaningful and fulfilling work that pays them enough to provide food, shelter, utilities and a few extras for themselves and their families - and they don't ever need the assistance of Loaves and Fishes again. But if they aren't able to do so, I hope I'm around and can spend time with those angels again at some point in the future.
Someone once said that we need to be the change we want to see in the world.
I say that we need to be the angels we all want and need to see in the world.