We have lost all sense of normalcy.
Which I guess is better than losing all sense of decency, but I’ve always thought that was a little overrated. And too, it was my loss of feigned decency that opened the door to my eventual working with hungry, dirty, pungent, and precious clients in the Storehouse.
However, I digress.
“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.
I’m on day 437 of a read-the-Bible-through-in-a-year program.
I’ve recently finished First Kings, the end of which tells the story of Elijah on Mount Carmel. For those of you not up on that tale, I’ll recap it here. Elijah had prayed that it wouldn’t rain. And it didn’t. For three years. Then he challenges the false prophets of the false god, baal, to a show down on Mount Carmel. 450 of them show up and beg baal to light a fire on the wood they’ve piled up. They even dance and cut themselves.
When nothing happens, Elijah taunts them and then takes his turn. He commands servants to bring water, a most precious commodity in a three year draught, and pour it on the wood. Then they dig a trench around the pile and the water fills that up. Then Elijah prays. BAM! Fire from heaven. It burns up the wood, it vaporizes the water. It demonstrates real power, real authority, genuine sovereignty.
And I wondered, again, why Elijah poured water all over the altar. But this time I realized it was about making what was to follow even more impossible in the human perspective.
At the Ministry Center we constantly wade through what seems possible and impossible. And in the Storehouse too.
Jesus had something to say about the impossible. All three synoptic gospels tell the story of the discussion about wealthy people and heaven. In at least one case, he’s been talking to a wealthy fellow and suggested that he give away all he had. Then there’s the whole “camel passing through the eye of a needle” thing. Jesus senses their dismay with the entire concept and finally says, “With man this is impossible, but nothing is impossible with God.”
And of course, my fleshy heart reads that as anything I want to do that I think would please God is possible. There is not enough paper for me to journal all the experiences when I’ve gotten out ahead of Jesus, doing something that He never asked me to do, something that is absolutely not my part.
But we believe the Storehouse is a gift from God. It’s His. And we get to join Him in His work there.
And we wonder what’s possible. And impossible.
I was standing in the cold food room when a volunteer from our computer desk stepped into the doorway; frantic, wild-eyed, waving me toward her. “Mike you’ve got to come! A client has passed out.” Then she took off down the hallway. I was close behind her.
The scene inside the client waiting room was also frantic. Panic-stricken. Our client was out of her chair; one of the wide walkers that also has a seat. But she was only partly out. Her knees were on the floor, her body being held upright by other clients.
I stepped back into the hall through which I could see all the way down to the cold food room, where I spotted Marguerite. I yelled her name several times. She’s an RN. Not long after that, someone yelled for Cleve, also a volunteer in the cold food room. He’s an RN as well, but spent the bulk of his career as a nurse anesthetist.
Someone said, “She’s completely out, Mike. You have to call 911.”
It was a series of goofy circumstances that led me to bring donuts and cooked chicken to the Storehouse this morning about 6:40 am. When I got to the building, I could see a half dozen cars in the lot, and several people in the line. They looked settled in; some of them must have arrived around 6:30.
Three hours before we open the door.
Not all of them brought chairs. Are the rest going to stand for three hours, I wondered. And what about bathroom. Aren’t they going to need a bathroom?
And I wondered what it is that brings these people here, so early, to stand in line for three hours.
Have you ever heard the story about the deer on the island? It’s an interesting lesson in abundance and scarcity, two economic terms about which I know precious little.
There was this land mass, upon which scads of deer grazed, that eventually suffered an epic weather event causing part of it to be completely surrounded by water; and island. And, as there were no natural predators and plenty of vegetation, they survived and populated the space where they lived.
As the population grew, the deer ate more of the vegetation and eventually there was not enough to support the size of the herd.
Whereupon, the deer population began a period of attrition.
Whereupon, the vegetation began to increase.
Which caused an increase in the deer population, until such time as the vegetation could no longer support it.
And on and on.
At the Storehouse, we’re trying to determine if July is an outlier, which is a statistics term about which I know even precious littler. Or if it’s the new normal. We served 120, and then 100. And last night we served 85, when our previous highest evening serve had been 64. In fact, not long ago, 85 was a great daytime serve when we had four hours instead of three.
And I’m on my face at the foot of the cross, asking Jesus some pretty critical questions, the greatest of which is possibly, what is our tipping point? What will be the thing or things that cause client attrition? Will clients quit coming because…
Like many good rituals in the Old Testament, our day began with animal sacrifice. Well, that’s not completely true. The sacrifice had already happened. Our day began with the detritus, which is a fifty dollar word for the puke-making stench of rotting residue.
See, we get food items that are too large for distribution. The case in this point was a 40 pound block of frozen chicken legs. They had thawed in the kitchen cooler so we could rebag them. But the bag leaked and the blood ran into the drip pan below, right next to the hot air blower. And it stayed there. For days.
Highest honors to Cat and Kathy for working the morning hours in that wretchedness. Of course, we did what we could, but they could barely breathe. I emptied the pan. We wiped and toweled. Someone went for bleach. Then they couldn’t breathe for a new reason.
I’m going to write the regular Thursday after-serve article, but there are really no words for what happened in the Storehouse today. We served 124 families that Jesus loves. Our old highest was 101. We’d been close several times before, but today was completely off the charts.
The day began for me when I drove by the entrance to bring this morning’s donated food around the back. I was surprised when my eyes filled with tears. It had been two weeks since we’d served, three since a daytime serve. There was a line of maybe 40 people already. A couple of wheelchairs and walkers were in the mix; several had brought their own chairs to sit while they waited. Obvious broken bodies; not so obvious broken hearts.
Well, if it’s anyone’s fault, it’s the calendar.
Our Storehouse serves on Thursdays. And I probably should have looked over the entire year to see what days of importance landed on a Thursday in 2019, but I didn’t. I’ve been playing this week by week.
But a few weeks ago, I suddenly realized the 4th of July landed on a Thursday. And when I asked our volunteers about serving, most of them said they would be away with family and friends.
Yesterday was the last Thursday in June. So, you guessed it, we served in the evening.
It was our third evening serve.
And we served 64, the most for an evening serve, and it was a good night. But numbers aren’t what make it good. Of course, they’re important. At the end of a serve, you can hear the question being asked by volunteers all over the Storehouse. How many? How many?
But it was good because people who care and love ended up in the same place with people who need care and love. And, of course, food.
And that’s always good. When the people who love Jesus are paired with the People That Jesus Loves, it’s good. The Holy Spirit shows up. He gives the givers grace to give. He gives the receivers hearts to receive it.
But not everyone shows up in a good mood, you know. Or with a grateful spirit. Or thankful. Most of them do, nearly all of them. But some of them are indifferent. Shopping with us is just another thing they have to do, possibly between two other things they have to do.
They’re tired, and harried, and last night, they were hot.
I stepped out to register clients fifteen minutes before we opened. I worked my way down the line, greeting clients, explaining to new ones, and basically enjoying them all. Then I stood in front of a lady who was covered in sweat.
I got her name and birth date, and then she said, “I think I’m going to throw up.”
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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