At the end of a long and grueling summer, my partner and I drove to one of my favorite places: the mobile food pantry that sets up outside at my alma mater, Texas Wesleyan University. Even on one of the hottest days of the year, I packed water, donned my signature cowboy hat, and headed to the east side of town to the parking lot by the old fine arts building, to a place that provides others with much-needed food and fills my soul with another kind of nourishment, one that leaves me smiling for days on end.
I help at the food bank because my heart bursts from finding the mystery of God in the most unexpected places. Many people feel deep joy after sharing grief and hope together at a 12-Step meeting, the sweet recognition of being seen by fellow travelers, which bolsters the soul and energizes the body for returning to a world that can feel cold and uncaring. Others feel great pleasure in caring for children and shaping their hearts to love. While there are manifold ways of offering care to a hurting world, I have discovered that giving people much-needed food transports me to the land of milk and honey.
My heart bursts from finding the mystery of God in the most unexpected places.
As we sped down the highway, we quietly lamented recent developments in the news, the war in Ukraine, and instability here in the States that distressed us, but we also felt consoled by our deep commitment to each other and by searching for signs of Glory even amid the rubble of present circumstances. Our concerns turned toward our neighbors, women of color, and impoverished families who are especially burdened by the lack of adequate resources for living well. And we answered the call to feed the body of Christ that day with tender compassion.
When we arrived at the food bank, we went to our usual work stations, my partner helping other volunteers sort through canned goods, sweaty bottles of milk, and sacks of red potatoes, while I made my way to the long line of cars across the street, greeting my friend Sherrie and stepping in to register people for cardboard boxes of food. The walk across the street became holy ground as I welcomed older Black men and women, young Latino families, the disabled and homeless to receive what’s rightfully theirs, Psalm 136:25 coming to mind: “He gives food to every creature / His love endures forever.” Access to nutritious food is meant for all of us, not just those who have money, while the failure of imagination by those in power gives the least to those who need help the most, people whom Christ loves and with whom he stands in solidarity.
He gives food to every creature / His love endures forever. — Psalm 136:25
As I greeted our neighbors in limited but loving Spanish, my thoughts drifted towards the historic Poly neighborhood itself, a place that’s been a blessing to the Fort Worth community in spite of the pain of personal and collective loss. I felt helpless to change laws that would directly benefit all our neighbors who need better access not only to healthy food but also safe housing, comprehensive healthcare, and quality childcare. The grief I felt is an ancient and familiar one, a companion in my daily life, a longing perhaps for a new earth where everyone will be cared for. And although I cannot change the laws of the land, I work out my grief through being of service, helping care for the poor who are so worthy of our attention, love, and presence.
There are no perfect solutions to the calamities we face, but Christ calls us to spread our arms wide with kindness for all, even in the most unexpected places, sharing deep truths together.
I looked at the long line of cars roping around the next block, then Sherrie pointed to a young man near me. His agitated manner and darting eyes gave me pause, so I called on my courage to respond graciously in spite of my fear and greeted him warmly. He was a young Latino man with long, greasy hair that fell into his eyes, silver-rimmed glasses, and a quick smile. As I registered him for a food box, he opened up about his past and the need to make amends. Struck by his honesty, I encouraged him that there was still time. His anxious eyes met mine and he said, “I love you, man. Thanks for helping me.” I believe Christ spoke to him using my mouth as I smiled and said, “I love you too. We’re so glad you’re here today.”
I love you, man. Thanks for helping me.
After walking him over to the food pickup area, I marveled again at the wildness of joy that arises when we release the need to control the present moment and open up to the stark beauty of what simply is. This is how we entertain angels among us, boldly welcoming strangers with the light of Christ flowing from our hearts to theirs in hopes of shared grace and loving rest.
At the end of our shift, Sherrie and I took our families out for Mexican food at a local dive where most of the customers speak Spanish and the lighting is soft. We ordered plates of salty chips and tangy salsa, grilled fish and shrimp, burritos filled with smoky black beans, buttery rice, and sautéed sweet potatoes, tomatoes, corn, onions, and garlic. Our feast mirrored the one we’d attended that morning as we recalled our best moments together, the ways we’d been able to care for the strangers and unexpected angels among us.
We celebrated the end of a long but good day of work, love, and service. Cracking jokes and laughing, we enjoyed being ourselves together, loving not just the unexpected among us but also within us. Maybe our work as Christians is to honor the gift of new sight in lean times, opening up to what is possible rather than what scares us. Who knows what bright new possibilities exist beyond the borders of our imagination?