At our Storehouse, there is an involuntary sense of Us and Them. We are the ones welcoming Them into the place. We are the ones with the hygiene and food items. They are the ones who need them, and last Thursday, there were 116 of Them.
We are constantly working against this notion which would separate Us from Them. We smile. We say our names and we use Their names. A lot of information, some of it deeply personal, is shared between us. At times, and in appropriate ways, We give a kind touch to Them, whether guiding Them through the Storehouse or in prayer. It’s our constant effort to demonstrate oneness in the Storehouse between clients and volunteers.
Because, the possible message at the second level of separation, the deeper one, is ugly. An outsider looking in can almost always tell a client from a volunteer. We are clean and have a healthy hygiene. We wear recently washed clothes and some may even be expensive. Our hair is combed, brushed, and possibly coiffed, maybe to impress, but, at the least, to not offend. Our language and use of humor may indicate a good or broad education.
The human heart beating in a broken, sin-stained world cannot escape measuring and ordering. We do it all the time with things. Kohls is better than Walmart. A Lexus is better than a Honda. Our hearts also do this with people. We can’t help ourselves. It's part of the human condition. It is better to be in clean clothes than not. It’s better to smell good than bad. It’s better to be entertained by any one of the CSI police dramas than the drama of the Jerry Springer show.
The broken human heart may even beat with the message that it’s better to be one of Us than one of Them. And worse, is the possible thought that any given Us is better, or a better person, than any given Them.
The reason this is on my heart is because I strained a muscle in my back four weeks ago. It’s completely healed. But, as my chiropractor, Dr. Josi Owens, explained, it ticked off some conditions in my lumbar region that had already existed for some time. This resulted in an irritated sciatic nerve on my right side. The most excruciating pain I’ve ever known radiated down from my hip to the top of my foot. On a pain scale where 9 is “I know you’re talking but I can’t process what you’re saying,” and 10 is “I am completely unaware of my surroundings” I reached 8 a couple of times. A steroid shot, muscle relaxers, and a borrowed TENS unit could only do so much and last week I was in the Conway Regional Physical Therapy Unit. After evaluation, my therapist wanted to schedule 8 sessions.
One of the results of my sciatic nerve having overstimulated my leg muscles is I have what is commonly known as foot-drop. The muscle in my shin responsible to raise my foot so I could tap it along with good music just won’t work and I’ve been walking with a slight limp.
When I found out how much physical therapy would cost out of pocket, since I have a $6400 deductible and haven’t yet made a dent in, I realized I might walk with a limp the rest of my life.
Suddenly, I discovered how quickly anyone can jump from Us, to Them.
Our clients have all kinds of physical and mental ailments. Many of them walk with noticeable discomfort. A lot of them are missing teeth. At one time, it could have all been fixed. Enough physical therapy, the work of a good dentist, and people can overcome, at least on the outside, what’s visible, a lot of traumatic experiences.
Why didn’t they? “Them” didn’t have the opportunities and resources “Us” did.
It can happen so easily. For example, each year in Arkansas, there are four to five thousand children in foster care. What happens when a foster child turns 18 years old? The foster family stops receiving benefits, and some of those foster children are forced to leave their homes. They are suddenly homeless.
You know, there is a deepest level, of the notion of separation between Us and Them, and it’s terrifying. Believers hold myriad beliefs about the grace and blessings of God and how material things fit into it all and the book of Job is unsettling.
Remember, Job was a good guy with everything a good guy could hope for in the material world. Then God gave satan permission to mess things up and Job lost everything, even his health. Then his friends show up and a deep debate ensues regarding whether Job really was a good dude and if it was possible he brought everything on himself. In the end, God shows up and straightens Job out and then, in my broken heart’s opinion, the best part of the story happens.
Job gets everything and more back. Because God loved him.
The most insidious thread of the Us and Them is how confused we can be about God’s favor. Is it an obvious sign God’s favor rests on Us because we’re clean and smell good and we’re skilled and happy-hearted? Is it also an obvious sign God’s favor does not rest on Them because they aren’t? May Jesus help us not to weigh a person's goodness or God's favor on the amount of suffering They experience. God works in ways we can't possibly understand.
It’s as subtle as a wink, but it’s oh so important in the way we approach and serve and love on Them.
Our pantry is desperate for proteins such as canned meats and peanut butter. Also, canned pasta, pasta sauce, chili, soups, and beanie weanies. Cereal and hamburger helper remain our two most chosen items from the grains sections and we are out of the later and close to being out of the former.
Finally, I want to say this year for Christmas, Jesus is giving the city of Conway the People that He Loves. The Them of our community are His gift to you. I implore you to cherish them, in any way you can, like you will the gift you have actually asked Santa to bring you.
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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