As I am sometimes able to do, I had coffee with a volunteer before we served on Thursday. I was tired, and he said I looked so. And that was not completely due to the fact I’d been awake since 4:15 that morning.
Being in and out of the heat these past four weeks had begun and continued to take a toll on my body; and my spirits. I finally choked out my feelings. “I think I’m bored in my work at the Storehouse,” I said.
And now I’m not so sure that bored was the appropriate word. I mean, there is plenty to do. The first two Storehouse directors were in part-time positions and I can’t comprehend how they did it. Because, there is plenty to do. And much of that is interesting. I enjoy seeing and speaking to the local donors that share food with us. I like handling donations and dealing with numbers. And I so enjoy our volunteers and clients. They are really interesting! Both groups!
Maybe a better word would have been defeated. No, wait, it’s ineffective. Yes, that’s the word.
And I know this because I likened myself to pastors who preach with all their hearts to congregations full of people with issues that hurt them or shape their lives. Those people have unmet needs and the pastor gives and gives. Then, a week later, most if not all of those people show up again at the next service, with basically the same issues going on in their lives.
I said I spend all week preparing for a good serve on Thursday and most of them are good. And from that I get a sense of accomplishment. But the very next day, I start picking up food for the next one.
My friend waded in. “That’s pretty deep psychological stuff, Mike.”
And then he began to speak about means and ends. He might have referenced something Oswald Chambers had written about boredom or the mundanity of life. I can’t remember all of what he said, but eventually the words that would change my morning, our entire serve that day, and possibly, each day of my life slipped from his mouth.
He said, “Mike, I think the process is the end.”
He was telling me that the purpose in the giving is to give. Not to accomplish some mission, reach some performance goal, land on a specific number. It is certainly not to give so that we don’t have to give again.
And right away, I could see the greater implications. We give away a lot of food when we serve. Just yesterday, it was thirty-three hundred pounds, to 101 families. And last month it was almost sixteen thousand. But the root of the Storehouse, in purpose and practice, is love. We exist to love on the people that Laura has always called, “the hurting in our community.”
We open the door to welcome people in our community that might not be welcome someplace else. Or, possibly, any place else.
We hear their intimate circumstances. “I know I’ve already been served this month, but my kids are in my house for the summer and I’m completely out of food.”
“I’ve been diagnosed with cancer and I may not be here for a few months.”
“I’ve left an abusive situation and I’m suddenly homeless.”
“Can I stand out here? I can’t go in the waiting room. There’s too many people. I get uncomfortable around so many people.”
We accommodate, we bless, we tease, joke, listen, weep and pray. And we love.
And my heart just rails against this because, in the first place, love can’t be measured. I could report, right now, how many cans of refried beans we gave away yesterday; or last month; or last year. But how do I report an answer to the question, “Mike, how well did you love?”
Remember the movie, Schindler’s List? It was the story of how the German industrialist, Oskar Schindler, saved so many Jewish lives during WWII. I was stunned by the depiction of his leaving the factory for the last time. He stood among a few of the Jews he’d helped and blubbered, saying, over and over, “I should have done more.”
It’s as impossible to measure love as it is to know how much is enough. Two more clients got their DHS benefits worked out yesterday. Flu shots will begin the first serve in October. Later that month, we’ll have cooking demonstrations. But that doesn’t seem enough.
And too, it’s hard to love. It’s difficult to carry the weight of our client’s stories. The sadness of opportunities lost, the consequences of long ago decisions, the frustrations of circumstances that have no remedy. It’s so much easier to weigh donuts or count loaves of sliced bread. And once they’ve been weighed and counted, I don’t have to do that again.
But to what has Jesus called us?
Isn't it to take his hand and to walk with him? To walk where he leads us. To be in each of the moments in a day, loving him with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. And loving and blessing those around us.
This, finally, was my heart when I opened the door to begin registering clients at 9:15. The first person in line was a client that I nearly fired a month ago. He can be abusive and rude to other clients, especially as they wait together in line. “Hey, how are you?” I said when I saw him. He held out his hand to shake mine. Remember, since the days of King Arthur, the hand shake has been a gesture of disarmament. Swordsmen were right handed, and harmless when shaking the hand of another.
A different client, who can also be very difficult to love, who wants more than one treat at the door, who can leave a mess in the waiting room, who can make our female clients feel really uncomfortable, was also there. He needed shoes. The ones he had were too small and hurt his feet. I looked and looked for a size twelve tennis shoe, but we didn’t have any. When I told him so, he was kind and thanked me for looking.
Then there was the lady we forced into the wheelchair before she just about passed out while saying, “I’ll stand. I’ll stand.”
A man stood in the second waiting line, the one for the cold food room. He’s a regular and one of our volunteers he doesn’t know as well as others teased him. "Hey," he said, pointing around at all of us, “These guys are my lifeline.”
And then there was the woman client I don’t know very well. She came out of the hygiene room and paused in the hallway to speak to me.
“Mike, this is wonderful. You guys are really doing a great thing here; it’s just wonderful.”
The process is the end. Yesterday, we worked the process and reached the end.
I wish I could do that every day.
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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