This past Saturday I had the wonderful opportunity to serve in my church's food pantry. It was, in many ways, a very good experience. It was also an experience that left me sad.
I have this desire to invest myself wherever I am. As I am relatively new to the church I attend, I haven't had the opportunity to do much with the church. I was delighted to learn that they have a food pantry that serves the local community. Equally delightful was the fact that while it's open only one Saturday a month, it is open on a Saturday, and I have the time and freedom to volunteer.
And so, this past Saturday, I made my way down the brownstone next to my church, and I sat in a small room with two other women, and handed brown paper sacks of non-perishable groceries to people who came seeking a little help. It was wonderful to chat, if only for a moment, with so many people, to offer them a genuine smile and warm greeting, and to say a prayer as they walked away.
What saddened me on this morning was how my co-laborers spoke about the people who came to the pantry. They spoke of the half-way house across the street--where the majority of those who were coming for the first time reside--in hushed tones of disapproval. "He just got out of prison," one of them said with something akin to judgment of a man with multiple tattoos, crudely done by hand. They spoke about the methadone clinic "around the corner" from which at least two of the women come after their morning session, and who they strongly suspect (or perhaps have even witnessed) of selling the food from the pantry in order to buy drugs.
The things that made me saddest, however, where the comments about 1) handcuffs (that it's incredibly shameful, and who could possibly live with that experience) and 2) those who came in with the smell of alcohol on their breath (because couldn't these people even for one morning consider their personal hygiene).
My father is a recovering alcoholic and drug addict. All three of my siblings are alcoholics and drug addicts. Though two of them have overcome their addiction to methamphetamine, the third still, to my knowledge, uses "heavy" drugs; all of them continue to drink and smoke marijuana.
I cannot remember a time, growing up, when my father didn't smell of alcohol. Once my mother began to work outside of the home, my father was at home during bedtime. I remember waking him from his drunken stupor every night to get a hug and kiss before going to bed. He, I am sure, does not remember this at all.
Three members of my immediate family have been arrested--carted away in handcuffs. Two of them have spent time in jail. One is dealing with, or recently dealt with, the court system on drug charges.
As someone who self-mutilated for seven years, I am myself acquainted with addictive behaviors.
I sat in this food pantry this past Saturday, hoping that my presence and willingness to serve would bless those around me; hoping that my service would be understood as an act of love for those less fortunate than I. I was saddened by the way others spoke about those we were serving. Saddened because they were speaking, by extension, about people I know and love deeply. Frightened to say anything, because it so easily could have been me picking up a bag of food, smelling of alcohol or stopping by after getting my treatment at the methadone clinic around the corner.
God has been very good to me.
God delivered me from a dysfunctional family in which drug and alcohol abuse are prevalent.
God delivered me from my own addiction to self-injury.
God healed me of years of sexual abuse by a member of my immediate family.
God healed me from the trauma of rape and sexual assault.
God delivered me from the deepest valleys of despair and placed my feet on higher ground; the solid ground of His love.
God transformed my identity from one of "cutter" and "victim" to "Child of God," "Daughter of the Most High," "Heir to the Kingdom," "Co-creator with the Almighty."
God has been very good to me.
The reality is there is nothing about me that is more unique or special than anyone else. There is nothing about me that makes me more deserving of His incredible grace. I cannot tell you why He chose to be so very good to me. I can only tell you that He has been, and continues to be. I am daily overwhelmed by the love He shows me in all the small things that make me smile, the ridiculous things that make me laugh out loud, the delightful things that set me to giggling, the big things that bring tears of joy and gratitude to my eyes.
I deserve none of this any more or less than anyone else. I know how fortunate I am. I know that God has been very good to me. I am convinced that I do not know even a fraction of how good God has been to me.
As I sat there in that room this past Saturday, I wished that these women could, for one moment, see what I saw in those who came to receive a bag of food--God's children, broken and hurting, needing more than food, needing compassion and a blessing.
I truly hope that none of the people who came through this past Saturday heard or interpreted these women's comments as judgmental or condemning. But if they did, I hope my presence made a difference to them. I only wish I had done more, said something, shared part of my own story, encouraged understanding and compassion. I wish I had been less afraid of their words being directed at me. I wish I had been less afraid that their comments would be directed at those I love and deeply cherish. In the end, in many ways, my greatest love was for my own comfort and safety, for my own desire to be accepted and not judged.
I had a wonderful opportunity this past Saturday to serve. I was saddened by the judgmental comments of others.
I was even more deeply saddened, perhaps even a bit ashamed, by my own failure to speak up in defense of those I love and of those God loves even more.