My Crazy Week, Part 3: God's Work

OK technically the crazy week has run into the next week, making it a collection of crazy weeks. While the wordplay is fun and interesting, I just find it hard to keep up with everything that's happening. Today I argued on the phone with 4 different collection agencies regarding a bill from 1997. The twist in the story: none of them claimed to have the debt on file, and would not take payment. Imagine that...a collection agency that turns down $666 from a willing payee.

Later this evening, just as I was getting ready to deal at the first table, Mom called to tell me her Park Avenue broke down...on one of the snowiest days of Michigan. Instead of working, I drove an hour to pick her up, find out the transmission was shot, get it to the repair shop, and get home. Thankfully I got the car at my last job, and Bossman said he could get another transmission in for $450 out the door. Ask any mechanic...$450 for a tranny job is amazingly cheap.

It's good to know people. It's even better when you know people who aren't just giving one thing in hopes for another, they do good because that's what they're supposed to.

Last week I started volunteering my time at God's Kitchen in Grand Rapids, a soup kitchen run by Catholic Social Services. Not only do they run the daily kitchen, but they also provide a Meals On Wheels program that runs throghout the entire city of Grand Rapids. And just like any other volunteer program, they are always in need of more help.

I mentioned months ago about not waiting to be a Capuchin, how I can act and be a Capuchin each day with my actions. In the spirit of Lent, where we give up as well as give alms, I thought working at God's Kitchen provided the perfect opportunity to get into the action.

Just for a little history, God's Kitchen was started in the 1970's by a Catholic Worker Group in the heartside district of Grand Rapids. The outreach started as a group serving soup to homeless people out of the back of a Volkswagen van. As their outreach grew, they were given the old Capitol Diner on Division St. To this day, the meal served is called the Capitol Lunch in honor of the building, and the old menu still hangs on the wall, showing cheesburgers for 50 cents and pop for a nickel.

I called the week of Ash Wednesday, telling them of my interest in doing some work for them. I was asked to come in on Tuesday of the following week and help out with the lunch. She asked my availability, and I laughingly told her how I wasn't working during the day, and that since I was planning on joining the Capuchin community this fall, that work here seemed more important than any other work. We decided to let things go, and let God decide where he needed me.

That first Tuesday I worked out on the floor while the clients ate. I spent most of the time cleaning off tables, throwing trash away, and generally making people feel welcome instead of making them feel institutionalized. They are not only guests, but they are my brothers; this is the way I am feel. But honestly, I didn't feel like I was doing much at first.

I was a little let down. Outreach like this is what I wanted to do with my life...helping the poor and disenfranchised. Yet here I was, doing the work of God, but not feeling anything. Sure, I felt the altruistic happiness of doing something good for another human being. but I expected to feel that sense of belonging...a notice from God stating that "Yes, you have found where you need to be."

One table was a little shaky as I cleaned it, and accidently spilled one of the guest's coffee. I greatly apologized, saying "I'll get that cleaned up right away, sir," and quickly cleaned up the mess.

"What's your name?" he asked me. I promptly told him, looking away from the work and smiling.

"You know, Vito, I just got out of prison yesterday and I really didn't feel anything different until just now. When you called me sir and started to clean up the mess, it kinda snapped me back into the real world...I forgot what it was like to be a free man."

That was the voice I was hoping for...not a booming word of God from the sky, but a meek thank you from a man who'd been beat down by the system. It was so metaphorically on-point, I almost hugged the guy right there.

Doing the smart thing, I congratulated him on his return, got his name, and wished him well. In a way I felt justified in being where I was, helping those in need. In reality, we all need a little help of some kind, whether it be a warm meal, someone to make us feel at home, or someone to let us know we're on the right track. I don't expect every day at God's Kitchen to provide such an epiphany, but as long as people need a place to eat or a homebound person needs someone to bring them lunch, I'll do what I can.

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1 Response to My Crazy Week, Part 3: God's Work

February 20, 2008 at 5:43 PM

That's just a beautiful story and an excellent post! Thanks. What an inspiration! I don't volunteer at a soup kitchen, but I do volunteer at a Shrine, and at our Catholic radio station. You know, even if you offer a simple thing like a smile at the right time for someone, it's "God" to them at that moment! Bless you!