Thursday, September 03, 2015

Thankful Thursday - Being Fed by the Hungry

Today was Loaves and Fishes day for me. I thought I was going there to provide food for a few needy neighbors. Instead, they fed me. They made me laugh. They brought tears to my eyes. They shared their children with me. They shared their stories. They shared themselves. All I did was bag the groceries they chose.

One gentleman didn't speak much English, so I had the honor of leading him and two of his companions through the pantry while speaking the language of heaven - Spanish! When I mentioned that we had coffee if he wanted it, he informed me that coffee is bad. Especially because he had had kanswer. In fact, he is currently moving through a second bout with it. He showed me his port. I showed him my port scar. Then we high fived each other as we gave thanks to God for bringing us through.

An older gentleman walked with a walker, explaining that he had suffered a stroke. He carefully chose each item, asking me to read labels as we made our way through. Don't tell anybody - but I have him a jar of peanut butter that he didn't have enough "points" for. I know, I know - it's a tiny gesture, but it made him smile.

A young married couple, with two of their four children in tow, thanked us profusely for the provisions they were able to choose. She was a fortunate wife - her husband is the one who is the chef in their house, so he made most of the food decisions.

The hardest part about being there today was seeing the number of very young people who came in as families of 1 to get food for themselves. Why are there young men and women in their 20s who are already struggling to provide for themselves?

Even as I write that question, I know it's a silly one to ask. Why should anyone of any age in this nation be hungry? Not have enough to feed their families? Not be able to find productive and meaningful work?

Why are dead children washing up on the shores of our world's beaches? Why are presidential candidates seemingly okay with that? Okay with building walls to keep out the hungry and poor, the same people whose hurting and desperate parents and grandparents and spouses showed up on the shores of this nation seeking refuge, asylum, and a safe place to live? What about the message of the Statue of Liberty in New York's harbor? Does that message no longer ring true?

Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses, yearning to breath free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore,
Send these, the homeless, tempest tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.
 Author: Emma Lazarus

Why are any of us okay with any of the suffering that is happening overseas, across the street, and in our own homes? What am I going to do and say to make a difference in someone's life, anyone's life?

I recently read someone's poignant response to these questions - what can we do about all the suffering that is going on in our world? the violence? the racism? the hatred?

Answer: Anything.

Do something. Do anything.
Everything we do to fight injustice, hunger, suffering, pain, fear, it all matters.

I'm not sure what I can do to alleviate the suffering in Syria or India or even West Charlotte that causes people to want to flee their homelands and their homes.
I'm not sure what I can do to resolve labor issues in China or Nicaragua or Haiti.
I'm not sure what I can do to create jobs for the homeless and recently incarcerated.
I'm not sure what I can to to change the minds of people who still think it is okay to fly the confederate flag and deny others the right to vote or get married or simply to live.

But I can walk clients through the Loaves and Fishes pantry and
I can collect all the names of all the clients and pray for each one to find work, to find joy, and to find comfort and dignity and hope even in the most challenging of circumstances and
I can ask them what I can pray for on their behalf and
I can stand with one gentleman, put my hand on his shoulder, and pray with him in the hallway as he heads back to his rented room and
I can laugh with harried young parents and
I can shake hands with their young son who introduced himself to me as "Batman" and
I can show people my kanswer scars and
I can put my Spanish to good use and
I can encourage a friend whose engagement recently ended and
I can send a letter to a dear friend's son in prison and
I can sign petitions and
I can send money and
I can look the homeless man in the eyes when he approaches me and listen to his story and
I can smile at the Indian woman who works at the gas station and
I can visit the folks at the senior center and the nursing home and
I can vote and
I can pick up garbage when I walk and
I can invite my neighbors to go for walks with me and
I can teach Sunday morning formation classes (to myself and others) about how hard we work to build our sacred towers, make names for ourselves, and ignore the plight of those who suffer around us and
I can weep for the suffering in the world and
I can keep my heart and mind and eyes and hands open for new ways to both feed others and be fed and
I can pray and pray and pray some more and
I can trust that any one of those things or some of those things or all of those things will matter.

Here's the thing, if we each and if we all do a few small things with great love, as Mother Teresa said, we may not change the whole world, but we can change the part of the world we are in. On the rare occasion, we may end up changing the whole world for one person. Far more frequently, the previously hungry child who will go to bed with a full tummy, the worried set of parents that won't need to worry about food for a week, the person behind bars who will open a letter from someone who cares about them - that person's joy, that person's gratitude, that person's bolstered dignity feeds the soul of the one who was able to intercede and get involved. We, the ones who think we are doing "a good deed," we are the ones who are fed by the hungry, helped by the needy, and comforted by the lonely.

Sometimes I feel selfish and guilty for all the joy that I receive when I serve at the pantry.
(Not really.)

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