Monday, November 25, 2013

Just in Time for Thanksgiving

Really, I should say "Just in Time for the Holidays". About the time Thanksgiving is here, you see people warming up for Christmas. My preparation for our church Angel Tree event starts in September, and as social media expands, I see countless posts on Facebook and Twitter about helping families in our community with Thanksgiving dinners, groceries, and Christmas presents for children. I think this is wonderful, but as a person who sees many of these donations, I know that a lot of times, people give their leftovers. They give the jacket that their mother-in-law bought for their child and their child hated it. They give the jeans that have small holes starting in the knees. They give the green beans that are expiring in two weeks. Or the book that has ripped pages. This used to be me. I used to pick through Brianna's clothes and pick out the items she never wore, and then those were the items I would give away. My perspective has changed over the years though. Earlier this year I urged her to pick out one of her MANY winter jackets and told her we were giving at least one to the Angel Tree. She picked out her favorite one and told me that was the one she wanted to give. I will admit, I'm pretty sure I frowned. I mean, that coat was pretty cute. And it was her favorite! Why in the world would she give it away? But, she did. I couldn't think of a good reason for her not to give it if she wanted to. And shouldn't she give her very best anyway? Shouldn't I? We only recently discussed the Widow's Mite (Mark 12:41-44, if you are clueless), and about being cheerful givers. So I must be a good example to her. And I have learned, and continue to remind myself, that this stuff that I own... is just stuff. I don't deserve it more than anyone else. In fact, someone else probably needs it much more than I do. I pray that God continues to soften my heart about this, because I admit I am disappointed in people as a whole when I open up donations to Fed By Faith to find stained clothing or expired food. I know that sometimes it's a mistake. An oversight. But sometimes, it's because we don't want to give our best.

I just finished a book called "Stones for Bread" by Christa Parrish. I want you to read an excerpt from the book that made me go off on this rant. All you really need to know is that this is spoken from the point of view of Liesl, the owner of a bread shop called Wild Rise.

It began in high school, when our Key Club collected food for a local pantry. We went out Halloween night, and instead of gathering candy we asked for canned goods and brought a van-load back to the school cafeteria. We stacked the food on a table, organizing it as best as our hormone-saturated brains could manage - pasta and sauces here, other noodles next, soups, canned meats, rice, vegetables, the pickles and strange items on the end. I took a jar of blue-cheese-stuffed Greek olives from one of the bags, the dust on the lid so thick it was sticky. I couldn't blow it off, finding instead a box of Kleenex and scrubbing the top before adding it to the tower of beets and gherkins and mincemeat filling.

It bothered me for days, and I grappled with my feelings, the idea that someone would use a food donation to rid the pantry of disliked or never-used food. I mentioned it to Jennie, who said, "Maybe they just thought someone else would want them. There are people out there who really like green olives. Or maybe that was all they had to give."

I knew it was true. Some old man on a fixed income who adores olives but couldn't afford them would feast on them in his senior apartment, picking them straight out of the jar with his fingers and squeezing the cheese onto his tongue before squishing the olive in his mouth. He'd drink the packing oil and watch The Amazing Race, and go to bed full and happy.

Perhaps the person who donated the olives thought this, or for her, the donation was her widow's mite. I imagined she thought nothing, though. Simply saw the jar hiding at the back of their pantry, some Secret Santa gift from the office holiday party two, oh wait, three years ago, and dropped the olives into the bag with the extra package of bread stuffing from Thanksgiving, the four-for-a-dollar can of creamed corn, and a box of Rice-A-Roni that has yet to be eaten because she accidentally grabbed the wrong flavor.

Do everything as if unto the Lord. Offer up everything as if for the Lord, including jars of olives to the food pantry. Or leftover loaves of bread. Years later, that's finally how I make sense of it, where it settles out for me. If Jesus knocks on my door today, will I rummage through my home and give him the food I don't like, the outgrown jacket with stains and a broken zipper, the dirty Crock-pot in the basement, the one with the chipped lid and the mice nesting inside I've yet to find time to toss into the Salvation Army's dumpster?

Whatever you did for the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.

So I pack the bread in bags, like I will for any paying customer. I don't send burnt loaves or stale loaves [to the local food pantry] or any kitchen experiment I don't believe is quality enough to sell. I will not give to the least of these anything I will not offer to my Lord, should he walk into Wild Rise one afternoon and ask for a little something to eat.

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