Monday, October 18, 2010

Okra, Chicken Sandwiches and Showing Christ to Others

The smell of Gumbo wafting from the stew pot on my stove is intoxicating. But, this is my life, and this is no ordinary journey to a pot of Gumbo, oh no!

This morning began like any other Monday, only with less energy on my part. I am struggling to resolve whatever virus has a hold of me. So, I slugged out of bed and got everyone moving. I just needed to drop kids off for their carpools this morning and then, I had a notion of reintroducing myself to my pillow at home to take a rest.

As I pulled away from the Church parking lot where I dropped one of the carpool children, I felt a twinge -- I should go to Mass. There were 30 min. to kill between that moment and the start of Mass. So, I quickly formulated a plan: 1) Go and get something comforting to make for dinner, a one pot dish; 2) drop it off at home and check email; 3) decide whether I want to leave the house again for Mass or lay my head back on my pillow.

It sounded good, so off to the store I went. As I was shopping and searching for comfort food ideas, Gumbo jumped into my brain. "Okay," I thought, "that shouldn't be too hard to make. And, it's so tasty!" Without a recipe, I proceeded to put together the ingredients I believed were in Gumbo. I checked out and headed home -- at this point, fully intending to make the stew and lay my weary head down.

Unfortunately, when I went up to the computer to check the Gumbo recipes, I realized that I hadn't bought okra: canned, frozen or otherwise. Well, this was a dilemma. How does one make Gumbo without okra -- I don't necessarily care for okra, but I know it's definitely a component of the dish.

Of course, when in doubt, ask your FaceBook friends. The Gumbo giants came to the rescue compelling me to go back out for okra! Sigh...

So, off I went to Mass, fully intending to get okra on the way home, then take a shorter rest before I had to do my household chores and afternoon carpools. It would work, plus I would have the grace of the Eucharist and the Holy Mass to carry me along -- a double bonus.

Ready to go along my way after making a short visit to the parish office after Mass, I stopped briefly to chat with a friend who had asked for prayers. "Of course I'll pray," I offered, "Trust that God will show you exactly what you are supposed to do and then, do it." Those words where not meant just for my friend, but for me. It was right after I spoke them that the woman approached us.

She seemed a little out of sorts. She asked for a ride and for money. I offered to get her help from our St. Teresa's Outreach program, but she declined. She told me that she was waiting for another woman who was going to give her a ride. Things weren't adding up.

That other helper turned out to be my friend with 9 children. My radar went way up. Did she know this woman? Did she realize that she was asking people for money and rides?

I called my friend over, we'll call her Ruth,  and found out that she was approached and agreed to take the woman, let's call her Noami,  to the Laundromat -- with her many duffel bags of belongings. I told Ruth what the seemingly homeless woman had asked of me, and then I suggested that I ride along with Ruth  and her children to drop the Naomi off.

What a ride that turned out to be. Naomi didn't want to go to just any Laundromat, but one that was 30 min. away. We tried a closer location, but that wasn't suitable. And, it wasn't that Naomi was unreasonable, she was just certain about where she needed to be. So we drove, and we sang hymns and we talked about the love of Jesus for everyone. I marveled at how the children laughed and played in their car seats as if this were just any other car ride they had been on. I was a little concerned, myself.

Then, Naomi asked to stop at a fast food restaurant. She was hungry for a chicken sandwich. Ruth agreed,  realizing all along that Naomi was acting a bit erratic. She had a difficult time ordering exactly what she wanted at the drive-thru, and when Naomi found out that it was still the breakfast menu, she became a bit agitated. She reluctantly ordered, but then abruptly exited the van to enter the restaurant to settle some issue.

Ruth and I looked at each other, as if to say, "Okay, time to assess what we had done, and what we should do now." Was Naomi going into the establishment to become belligerent? Would she do something rash? I decided to head into the restaurant with one of Ruth's sons to find out what was going on. To my surprise, although she was still a bit agitated -- and thankfully, I was able to slyly indicate to the manager that she was harmless -- Naomi had ordered a chicken sandwich for Ruth, one for herself and 8 kid's meals for the children in the car.

"Would you like a sandwich, too?" she asked me casually.

"No, thank you," I smiled at her.

We returned to the car and distributed the food. The conversation turned to Naomi's family and where she was from -- how she had children and a business. She had handed Ruth the chicken sandwich while we chatted. Ruth opened the sandwich and began to eat.

My eyes welled up with tears. I couldn't believe what I was seeing. Bite after bite, swallow after swallow, Ruth smiled and thanked the woman for her kindness. I knew what Naomi didn't know, my friend was a vegetarian. But, even that fact was not enough to make Ruth's pride get in the way of  the kindness she was just shown by this confused and challenged woman. What a witness to seeing Christ in others and doing His will with joy -- even when it might be a bitter pill to swallow, literally!

Naomi was obviously not destitute, but perhaps she had some psychological issues that required better supervision than she was receiving. Yes, she honestly needed some assistance to get to her desired location, but something about her indicated that there was more to it, an underlying issue. Remember Naomi had asked me for money earlier, but clearly she was able to pay for lunch and the Laundromat. Nonetheless, Naomi needed someone to help, someone to talk to, someone to say, "Yes, you are valuable in the eyes of God, too." Naomi found that today in Ruth.

What an incredible journey I got to participate in because God called me back out of my home to get that silly okra. What an awesome display of humility I got to witness this morning in those bites of chicken sandwich. And, of course, what a wonder to be served so unexpectedly by a woman both Ruth and I thought truly needed our support; who in the end taught us a lesson about the abundance of love that is returned when you simply help Jesus in His little ones.

God can use okra and chicken sandwiches to set the stage for acts of love and mercy, and make His point abundantly clear if you're paying attention.

By the way, after all that had transpired, I left the okra out!


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