“Mike, there’s a raccoon in the warehouse.”
Now, really, can people control what is going to happen in their day? Some of us plan and others don’t, but aren’t we all just responding, moment by moment to what comes at us?
I once heard some philosophical guru say, “We don’t live life. It lives us.”
And, although he was pretty lost about everything else, he might have been spot on with that one.
News of our furry visitor was one of the first things I heard on Tuesday, the day we stock the pantry. On Wednesday, he, or she, left the warehouse with the help of Conway’s Animal Control department.
The only damage to goods through that entire ordeal was a partially eaten package of chicken-flavored Ramen. It was on the bottom shelf and the raccoon had pulled it to the floor, torn it open, and then walked away after having only had a bite. Apparently, even a raccoon knows the nutritional benefit of Ramen is suspect.
At some point in the 24 hour period, I heard someone express aloud that the creature was “cute.” And I just couldn’t disagree more. That nasty, germ-ridden, possibly disease-infested, oversized rodent had invaded the space where we keep our precious calories to give away to the People That Jesus Loves. I told volunteers I really wanted to decapitate it and display its head outside the Storehouse on a pike so all the other four-footed vermin would know they weren’t welcome in our house.
In our volunteer team meeting I bemoaned the raccoon experience but said it still wasn’t as bad as losing 250 pounds of meat due to a twitchy freezer.
And now, in the inevitable recoil, I wonder if I make too big a deal out of the quantity and quality of the food we have in the Storehouse. Yup, that’s right. I said it. I might place too high a value on our food.
But it’s the Bible’s fault. Well, just one verse’s fault. Well, okay, it’s the fault of my interpretation of a specific verse. It’s Matthew 25:40. Come on, you know that one. It’s the summative remark from Jesus in the sheep and goats lesson regarding His second coming. The sheep, he said, had done kindnesses toward Him, like a cup of cold water, or a visit in the hospital or prison. And when they said they’d never done that for Him, He said that when they had done it for His brothers and sisters, they had done it for Him.
This is a powerful verse about benevolence, and it is one of the bedrock verses of the Storehouse. Here’s an aside: On our application for volunteering in the Storehouse, we ask potential volunteers why they want to serve. A recent applicant just wrote, “Matthew 25:40.”
That’s so cool!
But the list of kindnesses Jesus mentions: providing food, water, a warm invitation, clothing, medical attention, and a prison visit, although they provide for a better life, and I would add to this list, medical screens, SNAP benefits, flu shots, the totality of which make for, like I said, a better life, they don’t make for an eternal one.
And sometimes I can get confused about the essence of the purpose in our Storehouse. But you know what helps? Occasionally, I stand just outside the cold food room where our check-out volunteers, and well, often the personal shoppers in there too, pray for our clients. And they don’t just pray. They allow our clients to touch them. Sometimes it’s just a held hand. Sometimes it’s an arm around a pair of heavy shoulders. And too, there’s the times when a client rests her weary head on a prayer’s loving shoulder. And then, there’s the full blown embrace, which usually includes weeping, sobbing, a broken spirit held in the tender arms of the grace of Jesus, offered by our volunteers.
But when I’m away from that scene, working throughout the week to prepare for the following serve, I can gravitate right back to this confused state about our purpose. It’s possible these two stories will explain why.
This summer, we were contacted by an agency in our city that was providing a children’s program a couple days a week in which they offered the children a sack lunch. Not all of the lunches were being taken and they didn’t want the overage to end up in the dumpster. We didn’t either.
So two days a week, I drove to the agency to pick up the leftovers. For reasons we weren’t told, the agency needed to keep their donation on the down low. And we honored that request. Someone would roll out a plastic garbage can, with sack lunches in the liner instead of garbage. When the can came out, I’d hoist the bag in the truck. If we did it right, our agency wouldn’t even make eye-contact with theirs.
The challenge was, hungry people eventually knew food was being rolled out. And one day, I pulled up after the bin had come out and a fella was digging around in there. He already had three sacks in one of his hands. And my first thought was, What the heck! Those aren’t for you! They’re for me!
But two seconds later, I had regained my, what? Composure? My normal mental state? My “Matthew 25:40"? And I asked the guy, “Hey, do you need another one before I take the bag?” Because, they really were for him.
And he did.
But it wasn’t until much later on a day I was picking up another donation, from another agency, that I realized why I’d entertained those preliminary thoughts.
This one is on the DL, too. I get a text. I step inside the fence that hides their dumpster. I gather their donation and slip away, hoping no one notices.
But on this day, I realized that one of the several cracker boxes was empty. Someone got to this before I did.
And I was immediately ticked. Because, I’m ashamed to say, I didn’t get to give it to the person who took it.
It didn’t come from my hand. I was robbed of the recognition and appreciation of the recipient.
And the place that comes from, I’m even more ashamed to say, is a competition with Jesus for credit. I want to be the hero. I want to be known as the great giver of Conway.
And the deepest absurdity of it all is that I can only give a better life. Jesus can give an eternal one.
No, the Great Giver is the One who showers grace and love on a heart like mine, with such bitter black spots.
Last night, the Ministry Center hosted a celebration event for our donors and volunteers. The food was catered by a couple of families we met through the Brookside relocation. We planned to give away the leftovers, but their containers were too big for a residential fridge. Cindy and I had to take them to the Center.
As we were leaving in the dark, about 8:45, Cindy froze in her open door and hissed, “What was that!?”
Motionless, we listened for something amiss. Then we saw it. A raccoon, traipsing the length of the eve.
I am the Storehouse Director and get the privilege of writing about the people that Jesus loves.
Contact Mike Rush at firstname.lastname@example.org for all things "Volunteer".
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