I have mentioned before I am reading a book called, “Finding God in a Bag of Groceries” by Laura Lapins Willis. She is known for her work at the Community Action Committee. She listens to stories all day long from those who are having difficulties in life and need help. She helps with groceries and pays bills and any other way she can.
I can relate to her in so many ways. I too work for a Community Center. I listen twice a week to peoples stories about how hard life is for them. I hear stories of drug addictions, alcohol addictions, little or no education and stories from grandparents raising grandchildren. I have even heard of siblings raising their own brothers and sisters as mom and dad are in jail. But, I have also heard (more so lately) of people who had good jobs (some of them in the oil fields, or gas industry) and all of a sudden have lost their jobs. Their wives didn’t work because of the income that was coming in, now that income is lost and mom hasn’t worked for years and is trying to find a job and can’t. I hear stories about how everything was going well for them and cancer hit or some other serious health issues and they are no longer able to work.
In one of her chapters she is confronted by a church lady who tells her instead of giving handouts to these people she needs to fix these people. She needs to help these people become independent and responsible people; not people who keep coming back. Her answer is one that is so simple. I have had people ask me what we are doing to help people get off of needing help. What are we doing to help these people help themselves and not need us on a regular basis? Her answer was I can’t. I can’t fix unemployment by myself; I can’t go out and find jobs for them. I can’t take mentally challenged people and make them well. I can’t make addictions go away. I can’t give people enough money to make poverty go away in their lives, so I do what I can which is love them and share God’s love with them and help them in ways I can. I can’t educate the uneducated, but I can educate them in God’s ways and I can offer grace; not my grace, but God’s grace.
She had a group of local students from a college stop by one day. She in her book states that these kids came from privileged homes and most of these kids were not getting scholarships, but their parents were spending around $4000 a year for these kids to have an education. So many of these students had not seen or even heard of poverty. They were shocked as she told stories of things she had heard her clients tell her. I thought how sad this must be. How many in my own community is the same way? Their idea of helping the needy is giving a gift at Christmas or throwing some money into the red box at Christmas or maybe giving extra in the offering when needed. But, how many have sat and listened to stories of poverty, or addictions, or whatever without judging the person talking or wondering why they just don’t do better. We often don’t want these folks in our church.
As I thought about the volunteers in our center I realized one thing: most everybody (not true for all, but most) that volunteers have been there in those folks shoes at one time or another in one area or another. It might not be addictions, but it might have been poverty, it might not have been uneducated, but loss of a job. We can relate to these folks in one way or another. We know what it’s like to have been in their shoes and by the grace of God we are now on the other side. Maybe we are on the other side because someone took the time to talk to us, to teach us or just to love us and show us God loves us no matter what our circumstances are. The other volunteers are there because they truly love the people who come in and they want to share God’s love with each of them. God has placed them there for a reason.
Like most organizations we need volunteers. I ask and get the answers I just don’t have time, I don’t like the person or the organization that is running it or I don’t agree with what you do or how you do it, or and the list goes on. I have even had people tell me, “well I have talked to the person in charge and I just don’t like them or agree with them.” I am wondering how much of a copout that is. I have come to realize I don’t like the way everything is being done either and I may disagree with the person in charge, but does that excuse me for helping people? None of us can get along with everyone 100% percent of the time, but that doesn’t dismiss us from helping others. Through Laura’s book I realize it’s not about the organization, or the person in charge or the way I can or can’t do things, it’s about the people who need to come in and talk to someone, it’s about listening to them and focusing on them and not what’s going on around you, it’s about praying with them and letting them know God is in the midst of whatever they are going through. It’s about loving people just as God wants us to. I have to often tell them I don’t know why you are going through what you are going through, I don’t understand your situation and I can’t change anything, but I can offer you God who knows, who cares, who understands and who loves you very much. I pray with them and ask God to help them through this if they will just fully rely on Him.
Recently, God asked me something that stepped on my toes. I am so happy my husband and I are giving on a weekly basis an offering in church. We have struggled in this area, but through prayer and other circumstances we are now giving on a regular basis, not as much as I’d like but I realize I have to bring my husband along with me and not force him. What God showed me was this He was happy with my offering, but He reminded me it’s not only money He wants but my life. He asked me this simple question, “When the offering plate comes around are you placing your life each week in the plate as well, or is it just the money you put in? When you pray the offering prayer do you include your life or do just think of your offering?” Ouch! So, now each week I not only place my offering, but my life. When I pray the prayer of thanksgiving for the offering I think about my life as well as the offering. “I desire faithful love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God instead of entirely burned offerings.” Hosea 6:6
I have stepped on some toes today; I have stepped on my own. The questions for us today is, are we living lives that are pleasing to God? Are we helping those who are in need or judging them? Are we criticizing those organizations and volunteers because they aren’t fixing the problems? Are you helping to fix the problems or just criticizing others who don’t know how to fix anything, but offer love and hope to those in need? Are you willing to not only place your money in the offering plate, but your lives too? Are you willing to stop judging and start helping? There are many organizations that need not only money, but physical bodies to help meet the need. I am reminded of Matthew 25:44-45, “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?” “Then He will answer them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.’…”
Dear God: You have called me to help out in an area that is hard. I don’t have the answers, I can’t fix the problems, and I can’t make health issues go away. Sometimes I feel so helpless. All I can do is offer a prayer and some scriptures. All I can do is show them love. I can show them your love and I can love them through you. That is all you asked me to do. You don’t ask me to concern myself about trying to fix things that are beyond me. All you ask me to do is love them, share you with them and to stand back and let you work. I offer my life as well as my money to you this day and every day. Thank you for the opportunities you have given me. Amen