Disclosure: This story is a bit long, but it’s a testimony to God’s goodness and faithfulness. Every part is an important detail in highlighting how masterful God is at working everything out for good. So I hope you enjoy it and are encouraged!
At the Palm House we like to do things well. Don’t we all? Making mistakes isn’t what anybody wants, and when it comes to representing yourself or something you believe in it’s especially hard to mess up. But the truth is, we all do it! None of us are perfect, and that’s pretty comforting….
Personally, I’ve probably learned more from my mistakes than anything else. I guess the internal resolve that gets settled in me has been really important. I’ve learned a lot from victory and achievement too, I just feel like mistakes, the humility required to embrace them, and growing a drive to keep going has been key to my own development as a human being.
There’s this element that comes with making mistakes and making them with God that I love. It’s the fact that we can’t fail… We can mess up, we can get bruised, we can get our feet totally knocked out from under us, but with God, we can’t fail. He is The Master at turning our mistakes into good. He can take any situation, no matter how horrible, and bring new life from it. I have seen this quality in God more times than I can count. It’s one of my most favorite mysteries about Him.
I was thinking about this recently in light of the fact that we screwed up. It wasn’t a huge mistake, but it was something that could have been avoided. We serve a free meal every Sunday evening for the homeless in our community. Part of the work involved is coordinating a new team each week to come and supply, serve and clean up for this meal. We schedule groups for the year, so our calendar can get pretty full, which is a good thing! Unfortunately, it got a little too full, and we double booked two groups on the same day.
It was definitely not fun telling a group of 20 people that had given up their whole Sunday to prepare food for over 100 hungry folks that we already had a group to serve them. Fortunately for us they were an extremely gracious group, and in spite of being slightly disappointed for obvious reasons, they laughed about it and trusted that God would get it to the right people.
Now all we had to do was come up with a plan for how to use all this food and do so in a timely manner so that it didn’t go bad. We loaded up all the food in my van and I took it to the Palm House. I knew there were plenty of hungry families in the Palm House neighborhood, and in the back of my mind I believed God would work it all out. I just didn’t know how.
Well, He did…
Tuesday afternoon came along and I pulled all the leftovers out of the Palm House refrigerator and started to plate food. I didn’t know how many to make, I just filled up plates. I set aside two big trays of chili for the following Sunday, as our regular volunteer Larry Johnson was going to serve chili dogs and could use it (blessings all around!) This left me with two huge trays of chicken, a tray of sausage, a tray of mashed potatoes, a tray of rice, two trays of cornbread, a whole sheet cake, and various cupcakes and cookies. LOTS OF FOOD!
40 loaded plates later, I covered them up in foil and placed them in my red Radio Flyer wagon from home. I had made flyers to give out with the food letting people know that hadn’t heard of us who we were, what we do and how to contact us. The sun was setting behind the Episcopal church’s steeple in our neighborhood as I set out to distribute, not knowing where I would end up or who I’d get to talk to.
I started with different neighbors I knew that could use it, mostly multi-generation family homes. Lots of smiles, some confusion as to why I was pulling a wagon, but all around gratitude. It really is fun to give! It started getting dark and I still had a good bit to give away. After walking down several streets I knocked on a stand alone house in a dark corner of the neighborhood, and initially didn’t get an answer. As I walked away a man came out and called to me. I went to meet him and told him who I was, what I was doing, etc. When I asked how many people stayed in the house, he said 8. That’s a lot of mouths to feed! I gave him some plates and a flyer and blessed him before going on my way.
Between families I knew, random houses, and one neighborhood matriarch of sorts who lived on her own, most of the food got handed out.
By this time the sun was down and with the plates I had left I went to a house where some of the Palm House kids lived. They have a big white dog with different colored eyes in the front lawn that has a mean bark but won’t turn away a good scratch behind the ear. He always lets the family know someone’s coming before they get there, so they had the door open as I walked up. I went in and told the mom I had some extra food if they wanted any. She was super grateful and told me they had been eating Ramen Noodles for a few days, were making tamales for Christmas, and then going back to Ramen. So plates of food came just in time! The mom rocked her brand new grandbaby on the couch as I set the last plates I had on their table and wished them Merry Christmas before walking out the door.
God knew who needed food, and even though we messed up and had more food than we could use in one day, God had specific families in mind and used our mistake to provide for them!
It gets better though…
That night, I got a phone call. The woman on the line wanted to thank us for the food we gave them (she lived in the house where the man took food for 8 people) and asked if there was any way we could help her with presents for the 7 kids that lived there. They were all between the ages of 1-6. I told her I wasn’t sure but would get back to her. I messaged a few of the ladies on our board and told them the situation to see what they thought. They all wanted to help, so the next day I met them and they each gave some money for me to go shopping.
Socks, shoes, clothes, and toys… Two hours later I had a full basket. (Shopping for all those kids that wear weird toddler sizes while weaving through Christmas crowds was a trip!) As I was checking out I sent a text to as many friends as I could think of asking them to pray for these kids and the mom and tell me if they heard anything specific to encourage them with. My phone blew up! I stopped by my house to put all the encouragements together to give to them with their gifts. This was probably my favorite part, having blessings on paper to impart and speak over them...
As I drove to meet them at their house, I was feeling a lot… Blessed to be a part of something like this, excited to see their reaction, sad for this family that I could imagine struggled on a daily basis just to get by. But most of all, grateful that I knew God, and that He wanted this family to know in a personal, tangible way that He cared, that He saw them, that they weren’t overlooked.
I rolled up to their house and the mom and a friend were sitting outside. As I opened the door they greeted me with a huge hug and a stream of thank you’s.
I showed them everything I had, along with wrapping paper and gift bags so that she could wrap the presents for the kids to open on Christmas morning.
All in all, the encounter lasted maybe 10 minutes. I got to share with them the words and told them that with words like this, sometimes they are for today, and sometimes for the future, but that they were things to speak over each other and to hold on to.
I got more hugs, more thank you’s, and then drove away.
It felt like I was driving on clouds…
Every meeting, every conversation, every exchange of food was short and simple. There were no profound prayers, nothing deeply spiritual… But there was food. And presents. And love. And this deep realization that if we hadn’t messed up, we wouldn’t have had extra food. Without extra food, the family eating Ramen Noodles would have kept on eating Ramen. The dark house in the corner of the neighborhood would have stayed quiet, and I would have never gotten a phone call. There would have been no presents and no words of encouragement. It would have been a smooth, easy Sunday with just one group and no mistakes…
But there was a mistake. And it was a gloriously AWESOME one!
I want to be able to see life this way, see problems this way, see people this way. What if the problems people had were seen as opportunities for God to move? What if we could embrace our struggles and others struggles because of the assurance that they serve a purpose, and instead of seeing them through a lens of lack or defeat, we saw them as the segway into promises, hope, and life?
Life is messy. And we all mess up. But thank the Lord that He is a genius who loves us and sees everything, good and bad, and is ultimately about making the good shine through. And he cares and notices the smallest of details, from a mixed up schedule to a family in need, and weaves it all together into one endless tapestry of love.