The first time I volunteered at our night shelter my aspirations were selfish.
As a storyteller, I skulk around conversations like an addict waiting for my next hit of redemption. I was about to enter a war zone of the battle weary and couldn’t wait to get my pen out and listen. The opportunity wasn’t as much about helping as it was about getting a story.
But one of the rules about engaging with our guests quickly squelched any visions I had about hearing a good story. I learned I couldn’t ask personal questions.
Um, I don’t know how to do that.
And then I heard God ask me this question, “Would you serve the homeless if there was nothing in it for you?”
Like a punch in the gut, that question revealed the ugliness of my less-than-noble motives. So, I said yes and walked the familiar path to church after dark.
Exchanging my black wool coat for an apron, I stood next to a gas stove, every burner flaming under cast iron pots filled with chicken. Initially, I felt as if I were the only stranger invited to a dinner party of family members.
Awkward, hesitant, and out of my comfort zone, I watched four Ethiopian women move around each other as if they were dancing to a familiar song, inaudible to the rest of us. Wiping counters, filling tea pots, procuring knives and cutting boards, their work had rhythm and joy to it. They knew what needed doing because they had practiced working together often.
I attempted to find my groove by asking how I could help. Cutting onions was my first assignment.
Standing across from Bella over a giant stainless steel island, we sliced a giant bag of onions together as if our lives depended upon it. Pulling a tissue up to her eyes, she dabbed tears from her cheeks every time she looked up to answer one of my questions. Her gentle, kind demeanor brought sweetness to those pungent fumes.
“This is my favorite place to come,” remarked one of the guests waiting across the counter for me to scoop a second helping of creamy dessert into his bowl. “The people are so nice here and food is always good.”
The next week I peeled potatoes.
Before I found a peeler and apron, someone in the kitchen called out to me, “Your Shelly! I belong to the Sabbath Society and I love your emails.” I was dumbfounded. I wasn’t a stranger invading weekly dinner parties after all.
She explained how a friend introduced her to the Sabbath Society community and how that same person led her to faith.
It turns out the stories I was hoping for weren’t coming from the homeless guests but the people who serve unselfishly with joy behind the scenes. I listened to sobering stories of escape from a violent birthplace and humorous tales of raising children as a single parent. Winsome stories of first love blooming between a man and woman who now navigate sickness that comes with aging.
More than our yes, God wants our heart. We can serve the hungry because we think we should and yet remain stuck, looking for the Kingdom to come in the miraculous, sensational and grandiose.
Can I tell you something? Most of the time the Kingdom is staring back at me – on the bus, in the underground, and over onions in the kitchen.
God changed my story by allowing me to remember what if feels like to be small, overlooked; the awkward stranger trying to assess whether she belongs. Because when we let go of how we think God is going to use us, we come as who we are, not what we do.
It is in the posture of vulnerability that we see Him staring back all shiny and glorious, a giant smile of love beaming on his face.
We become exceptional at ordinary things when we know the Kingdom is near. In Christ, our lives are like a dance that flows with ease; a dance that tells the story of redemption and invites others in.
How is God changing your story lately?
This is so beautiful. It was needed for me today. Thank you?
Thank you, I’m honored. And I’m glad it was timely.
Do you ever catch yourself after you have just spoken familiar, Christianese ( what a professor called it)and stopping, the next thought that comes is, ” do I really, truly believe what I just said .”
Trust, believe, have faith.
All good words straight from my Bible.
In exactly one year we will relocate again.
If you had only seen this house Shelly. Huge!
I thought, how wonderful. God can use me in this house. He can use this house and he has, at times. I thought of this “space” as sacred for Him. And it has been. Circumstances change, He is constant.
We told our Kansas nephew, “sure you can stay here while you attend our university.”
We told my sister who is leaving her marriage, you can stay with us to get back on your feet.
We have the space.
Now( it seems) we are moving to another space. A smaller space.
My ways are not God’s ways.
His ways are perfect.
I am not ungrateful. I am in a place of learning.
It isn’t about the house or space. It has and will always about Him.
There are just some things in this life that we cannot figure out. Finding a place of peace in allowing God to lead is the place I am dedicated to achieving. I know your heart is sad and maybe even feeling abandoned but God is near. He only has your best in mind. This I know. Whenever I don’t understand the answers God seems to be giving me, I have to believe that He sees ahead, He knows, He loves. Always.
I am in a much better place now from the previous anger and subsequent sadness. That was before. These days as busy as they are with packing and Easter coming, I actually feel a kind of contentment.(I am grateful that I can celebrate Easter as early as it is this year instead of moving boxes on the day) Sometimes it’s seems downright silly and I laugh at it all.
I am not sad any longer. In the previous message about the questions inside my head, it was more of a lesson for me to feel the strength of the message and to confirn (again) who was behind the written word. It’s all good.
Thank you for this Shelly, it’s always a gift to read your words. I think for me it’s not so much how God is changing my story, but that he is opening my eyes to the real story he has for me, not the one I thought he had. We can be so preconditioned by our upbringing and bad theology to seeing certain things – pressure, shame, etc – as the marks of God’s hand, and I’m learning that his yoke is EASY, his burden is LIGHT, and this is the story he has for my life.
What a great place to be Devi. I feel like I’m standing with you there as well. I’m finding a new confidence that isn’t based on my circumstances but the knowing deep inside that God is taking care of me, He loves me deeply, He is committed to blessing. I think in changing my story, He has allowed me to embrace the story He is writing for me with abandon. I think we are experiencing the same thing. Always lovely to connect with you here and on Instagram. (I’m having so much fun over there!)
This is wonderful. God is definitely making me question my motives and remember that it’s about Him, not myself. His story, his kingdom, and I love it! Just readjusting my glasses which allow me to see life through his eyes.
Thanks for sharing on Twitter Zoe. Your heart and the way you want to see Him is such a blessing to behold. xx
I must echo Zoe Powell, below: God is drawing attention to my motives also. Too often my first thought in a situation is: Is this a topic I can write about on my blog? After all, “A writer should strive to be a person on whom nothing is lost.” – Henry James. But all that living-like-a-writer can interfere with God’s work on my own spirit. Thank you for reminding me to “let go of how I think God is going to use me, and first come as I am, not what I do. (So many other good nuggets of wisdom here also, Shelly!)