Saturday, April 6, 2013

A Guest In The Guest House


On Easter Sunday this year our whole family served breakfast to over 80 homeless men at the Guest House in downtown Milwaukee. A couple of months ago, a friend of ours who works at the shelter mentioned that they are always looking for volunteers. Donna thought it would be a good way to spend our Easter Sunday. Get outside our comfort zone a bit, and have an Easter "outside the box." I was hip on the idea the minute she mentioned it. I love service projects and am always keen on getting my family out there with me/us for a number of reasons. This particular one did not disappoint in that respect.

One of the differences between this agency and say, just serving a meal in a soup kitchen, is that a group leader is assigned to raise donations for all of the food and materials for the meal. It's sort of an all encompassing project in that you solicit, buy, bake and serve the entire meal. We were both shocked and awed by the way people rose to the challenge and pitched in to cover all the meal ingredients. It shows the beauty of our local and in a few cases, distant, community. One woman sent granola bars all the way from New York State. Others from out of state contributed financially. That people care this much and are willing to give selflessly was humbling.

We woke the kids at 5:15 on Easter morning and piled in the van to drive to Milwaukee. We picked up a couple of our friends' kids and met a couple of our friends at the center. When we arrived, there were a few men hanging around outside smoking. When it was clear who we were, a couple of them offered to help unload the van. It was a case of the needy seeing need and reacting. Again, humbling.

Despite the small kitchen the whole family crowded in to get the food warmed up. Sarah and I poured cups of juice and milk in preparation for the line. The men hung around tables and hallways drinking coffee, watching TV or chatting. All of them were courteous and respectful. I got more pleases, thank yous and God Bless Yous than I could handle. Totally humbling.

The way the center works, the men sleep there at night, and get fed one hot meal a day. They also have career, mental health, and substance abuse counseling. In trying to set up the tables, I had to check behind a door and got to see one of the sleeping areas. It was a large room with a series of bunk beds. Each resident gets a small box for personal items and a bed. It wasn't much, but each man was grateful to have a place to sleep.

At one point after all the men had been served, I sent Sarah around to offer more juice to the various tables. To her credit she never balked at the mention of it. I thought for sure she would stiff arm my suggestion, but she never did. She treated these men like they were customers at a restaurant. No fear, no judgement, no pity. When I heard a couple of them joking with her and making her laugh, it made my heart sing. Sending her to the Dominican Republic a couple of years ago on a mission trip changed her in ways I'm only starting to see now. To Ben's credit, he served in the kitchen without a grumble too.

With these kinds of service projects, I always have to keep in mind where my heart is. I always have to question whether it is for my personal edification, or because I truly care. I keep coming back to the fact that I do it out of love for my brothers. Brothers of all colors, ages, and faiths. I do it because I would want someone to do it for me. In the past, if I have ever told any of you about my service, be it in the Big Brothers program or something through church, it was only because I was excited about it. It was never intended to be about me.

I love what I see when I serve. I love how I feel. I love to see how people receive it. And the reason I tell people about it is because I want them to feel the same way. It's not about me, it's about them, whoever them is at the time. It's about having a good story as Donald Miller always says. One story is another average, forgettable Easter morning service and meal with the family (both of which we had after serving.)

Another story is the Easter breakfast that our family will never forget. And that is a story I would want to read.

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