Blessings, serving and staying off the rollercoaster | Mark’s Remarks

Once in a while, we get the chance to serve with a mission opportunity close to home. We go to a local spot where there is a community center. We carry food, we serve the food and we work with the people we are serving. There are so many good folks coming to this place.

Most folks who go there to serve come home blessed.

This past weekend, we had the same opportunity. The word had gone out to two small groups that it was time, once again, to step up and serve.

Now, I’m going to be totally honest with you: I don’t always want to go. I immediately think of all the “dad” things I need to do. Furthermore, this is one of the busiest weeks of the year: the beginning of school. My first inclination was to whine, slump my shoulders and whine some more.

But there always seems to be a stirring in my heart. Plus, I always, as I said, come home blessed. Many of the people there are funny and entertaining. However, I’m telling you it’s not about what I myself get out of it. I have a hard time remembering that.

So, off we go. Although two larger small groups had been asked to serve, only four people including Michelle and I showed up. There were two gals from another church and a few workers from the community center itself. We hustled the food in there — much of it made by people who couldn’t show up to serve.

However, I was still in a snit for a while. This usually happens to me when I show up and few others do. I started getting aggravated at how I, the all-important school teacher, had sacrificed MY time to show up.  What could all the others possibly have going on? Had THEY spent the week, night and day, doing all the tiring work it takes to get the school year started?

Then, it’s as if the Lord nudges me a little. “Come on, Mark.” I start thinking about the season of life all the folks who were asked to serve are in.  We all have young kiddos.  Maybe the others were out of town or don’t have big brothers and big sisters to babysit for a couple of hours.  After all, many of them made large quantities of food and brought it to us.

I was ashamed. It’s not my business to worry about why no one else showed up.

The community center we worked in has a short church service, followed by the handing out of groceries and the meal we served. It really is a great thing. Several gentlemen stood up in front of the small crowd and harmonized on several well-known spirituals and hymns. All wonderful. The congregation was engaged. The lead singer shared some wisdom on the power of prayer and how the Lord takes care of us.

As I said, it was wonderful and inspiring.

And then it was time to eat.  We served up plates of spaghetti, vegetables and bread. A lady stood and filled cups with something to drink. Packages of cookies were opened and a few of us thought it would be a good idea to put the cookies on the counter so that those getting their plates could help themselves.

Then, the lady who lived in the neighborhood who was serving as “head cook” shook her head and smiled a knowing smile at us. “I wouldn’t put them cookies on the counter.”

As she said this, we watched as children and adults grabbed handfuls of cookies from the packages, even though they had a heaping plate of food in one hand. Before long, many cookies had been snatched up.

A very sweet looking little elderly lady came into the kitchen and helped herself to one of the plates on the kitchen counter. In my mind, I thought she probably didn’t want to wait in line.

As I was thinking I might do something else to help her out, she proceeded to grab a huge handful of cookies out of a package that had just been opened. She took enough to feed three or four people a nice little dessert.

I felt myself getting aggravated again. I wasn’t seeing enough gratitude. Oh yes, there were plenty of sweet folks who thanked us and said “God Bless You” and looked so very thankful.

But there were still many who grabbed more than they needed, asked for their bread to be warmed up or asked for bigger pieces of bread. Some tried to come back and get seconds before everyone was served. I was appalled.

And my little friend, who I started calling the “cookie lady,” came back into the kitchen three more times to grab handfuls of cookies, stopping twice to fill her pockets with bite side candy bars on a side table.  All the while, she smiled sweetly and said things like “Well my lands, how hard you all are working!” She was too charming to get upset with, but the neighborhood ladies who knew here rolled their eyes and tried to be patient. I could tell the “cookie lady” had been here before.

We ran out of food and were forced to head to one of the freezers to retrieve several leftover pizzas that had been placed there after a recent pizza party for the youth.  That pizza, with some cut-up tomato slices and the remaining cookies, fed the rest of the bunch. It was just like the loaves and fishes story in the Bible.

Still, I stood there in my snit again. Didn’t these folks know how to share? Didn’t they care that some folks, including all of us in the kitchen, wouldn’t have enough left over for our own lunches? Where was the gratitude? Where was the community spirit?

Then suddenly, there it was again. “Come on, Mark.” I didn’t know how hard life was for these folks. I didn’t know what they had or what they went without. I didn’t know if they would have many meals until the next time the center served a big meal.  The “cookie lady?”

Maybe she was stockpiling small meals just to survive.

And that was really the essence of the whole day: survival. Many of these folks only knew how to look out for themselves and take what was given out. Many of them were used to having nothing. I had a lot to learn, of course. I may still not know the full story for many of those people. But I knew we were doing what we are called to do.

How dare I get on my high horse and get all aggravated over some people who appear greedy or a little selfish. Who am I? What do I know? What do I have to give? Why should I allow my own bad attitude to overshadow what I was there to do.

Despite my rollercoaster of feelings and attitudes, I left as I always do: blessed. Maybe a bit wiser, maybe a bit more understanding and compassionate.  Definitely better prepared for next time.

It almost feels as if those folks did more for me than I could ever do for them.

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Mark Tullis

Mark is a 25-year veteran teacher teaching in Columbia. Originally from Fairfield, Mark is married with four children. He enjoys reading, writing, and spending time with his family, and has been involved in various aspects of professional and community theater for many years and enjoys appearing in local productions. Mark has also written a "slice of life" style column for the Republic-Times since 2007.
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