When 8 turns into 400

In a world that often says “no” or maybe “not right now” or “I need more information”, when I encounter “yeses” I notice. It stands out. Working with the King Food ministry at my church, I experience those “yeses” as members of the congregation purchase a box of meat and vegetables and snacks to donate to those in our community who are food insecure. Depositing congregant’s checks with the accountant each month as the folks who need the food are identified, I am often in the tension between too much food or too little, that place of needing more families or more boxes. The program is not smooth yet as I strive to streamline processes with too many moving parts on my own. Still, each month I am awed by the donations and see the impact of giving a family a week’s worth of food, knowing their monthly budget has been graciously and beautifully impacted. People say yes to purchasing as well as receiving and the ministry chugs on.

This month was different, this month challenged deeply my abilities and my beliefs. While we usually have several boxes to donate that I need to manage as well as the boxes for individuals within the church, this time a woman at church told me she wanted to order 8 to give away. Initially I was thrilled but then became concerned, could I find enough people, would they come and pick up at our church, where would I store any that did not get a home… basically I began to whine about my big problem of 8 extra boxes.  I was trying to run this ministry alone, without considering that I have only to ask others for help and God would call the ones to rise up. As typically happens, when I whine, my God begins to teach me about focusing on my self instead of Him.

Eight extra boxes, I said. Eight of the biggest box offered, the one that feeds a family of 4 dinner for a week. So much food at 40-60% off the retail price, these boxes are a definite blessing to those who struggle to feed their children. Yet I fretted and moaned and worried. I lost track of the blessing as I focused on the daunting struggle to move food boxes from the delivery truck into our church and get it to a home within the safety time limit. I fretted about it to anyone who listen, I stressed that I didn’t have enough contact with those who needed the food, that I didn’t have a structure in place for them to come get it, rather than relying on my delivery to their homes. Too many moving parts, I whined. Then the delivery was delayed, requiring more communication with each recipient as King Food ministry dealt with a truck shortage as most around the country had been pulled to help with hurricane relief efforts.  The distribution was pushed from Friday evening to Saturday morning at 6, then 8 and then 10 until finally we were told the truck had been in an accident and distribution would not happen. Frustrated, I sent everyone home with the promise of more information as I received it and an inner question about the worth and viability of this ministry. It felt too big for me to manage alone.

Almost as soon as I reached home, I discovered that the accident, just 10 minutes away,  meant the contents of the truck, 500 boxes, were to be trashed.  The Sheriff felt we couldn’t get it to another freezer site within the time limits established by the health department, unless someone acted immediately. My 8 boxes became 500. First a call to Chef who marshaled his resources to get a refrigerated truck and driver to meet me at the crash site, then a call to key church members who sent out a wider plea for assistance all while I rushed with my little Plum in 90 degree heat to persuade the sheriff to allow us to salvage that food. When the refrigerated portion of the truck was reattached and stabilized, the sheriff inspected a box and agreed that we could take the food, given that we had another refrigerated source onsite. A chain was created between the broken truck and the new one, the last person working Tetris magic to stow as much as possible within the smaller space. We salvaged close to 400 boxes. Now my 8 was 400. I needed a home for it all quickly. Chef had the answer again: the huge freezer space at the commissary where he works was provided as a holding area.

I whined about 8 or 9 or 11 boxes this month so I was given 400. I was handed the challenge of a broken box truck with a driver who was injured and not in his home state. I was shown that this ministry is greater than my small role, that many hands are required to do the work of God and that I can coordinate it all if only I reach out to my friends.  The extra 380 boxes went to the local food bank and to a transitional housing facility. Eight found their way through our ministry to the recipients initially identified, yet thousands will now benefit from this very different donation. I am confident that next month when I have only a handful to distribute I will remember that God is the provider, that I am merely a conduit. My role is to get the food to the hungry, not worry or fret or whine about numbers. We can do great things through Christ who strengthens us, even as He turns 8 into 400.

One Bowl of Jesus at a Time

“If you girls are staying for dinner, you need to go ask,” I called as I do seemingly whenever Plum is here. His little friends join us almost nightly, certainly everyday for lunch and all the snacks in between. Partly because Plum barely stops playing to eat but also because the girls are hungry. They are always hungry. Without a clear picture of their family situation, I am left with only the result: when food is offered they eat. Last night I learned a bit more though, as I readied three plates to take to the patio only to discover that their dad had come to collect the girls, after permission had been “granted.” I think I may have been deceived all these nights. Little girls may not have ventured the entire distance to their home to do the asking, rather, just out of my sight, returning with the yes they wanted. Plum saw the irritation on my face as I scraped the extra plates and we sat down inside to eat. “Are they in trouble? Are you going to tell their parents?”

Chef and I locked eyes over our full plates of food in our mostly secure home, where we have never felt hungry, never worried about how to obtain our next meal or feed the kids. No, Plum, they are not in trouble.”But what about next time?”  I owned that I was frustrated because I set up extra plates but really it wasn’t too much extra work and next time if they were hungry we would give them food. He was puzzled, seeing in black and white that children had lied to adults. Skimming over that part, his friends deserve dignity instead I asked if we ever have run out of food or not had enough to share. His focus came back to the God who provides, not people who decide the rules. Indeed the details of who sits at the table and how often and why is not really our business.

Every morning while drinking my first cup of coffee, before I begin sudoko to waken my brain, I eat up Twitter.  Always a news junkie, going back probably to my high school days of journalism classes and my volunteer shifts in the school library where I put out the new magazines every week, these days I am voracious.  The events of September 11 kept me glued to the tv for hours, as is true of most Americans. I crave current events, not the celebrity variety but real stories from around the world. I love to know how we are connected, who has achieved some greatness against long odds, learn of new discoveries by scientists in far off labs. My morning coffee ritual lately though just brings pain and anxiety as I wonder how so much hate is running amok, how the name of my loving Jesus can be used to marginalize more and more people. My coffee grows cold as I retweet, retweet, fire off my own. I long for a point of entry, a place to stop the madness and show just who Jesus is. I worry about this child asleep upstairs coming of age in a world that mocks disabilities and encourages others to shout slogans that denigrate women and people with cancer and those who love differently. In a country where the focus is ever more becoming about MINE, I fear we have forgotten what it means to share. Soon enough though, two little girls come knocking on the door, asking Plum to play, snacks are prepared, communion happens.

As we read our books before bed, I randomly picked one we hadn’t touched for quite some time. Little did I know God was working to bring our blessings message home to this child. “Last Stop on Market Street” is a beautiful telling of a child and his gran who take the bus to a soup kitchen where they serve. Along the way the boy interacts with many people who might be on the fringes, yet he is being taught to see their worth. As we finished the story, Plum pointed to the illustration of the main characters serving up the food as others stood in line. “That’s kinda what we do, right gran?” Yes, child, we dish up bowls of our blessings and share them with whoever comes. That is how we are healing our little piece of the world. We are going to love our neighbors at meal times and snack times without questions that may cause distress. Communion means not checking to determine worth but instead serving up some Jesus when dinner time rolls around. Maybe I don’t need to worry about him so much after all. Maybe the point of entry is my kitchen, one plate at a time.

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