Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Story Contest Winner: Faithful Fulfillment



By John Taylor, Colorado Vincentian Volunteer

       “Wow!  I can’t believe it’s already 1:30!” I said to Archie, my supervisor and the St. Martin’s activities coordinator. Serving time for the celebration started at 2:00PM. Somehow, the Spring Dinner had snuck up on us.

       The Spring Dinner is a festive remake of Easter Dinner for the St. Martin’s residents.  There are brightly colored plastic-woven baskets at each of the 6 tables full of plastic eggs that have colorful beads glued to their shells all sitting over a synthetic neon mesh grass. It's one way we serve our residents and help them to feel more at home.

        When I first started volunteering with Archdiocesan Housing of Denver, I was excited to know that I would be working for a Catholic apostolate.  I had joined the Colorado Vincentian Volunteers with hopes of changing the world, or at least the world for some, in a Catholic manner.  I felt called to feed, clothe, visit with, care for, and welcome Jesus in the brokenness of this world.  When I first arrived to St. Martin’s Plaza, I expected to see many crosses or crucifixes, residents carrying on with their faith, and people visiting a chapel or meditation room.  A visitor might say that none of that exists here, as I used to believe, but today I know it does. 

       The crosses or crucifixes are the hearts of the people, broken, but leading lives befitting their individual circumstances.  I see the faithful carry the crosses of their broken bodies: a single lung, one leg, little or no sight, failing knees, and so on. But they do so cheerfully.  Yes, they smile in the midst of telling their stories of struggles, pain, and also pure joy.  Ms. Stream, Mr. Bronze, Elra, and other residents preach the goodness of God and His hope while we commune over coffee and cinnamon rolls.  It’s their lifeblood and redemption, and mine too.  The world is a sanctuary, a chapel, a place of goodness, hope, and redemption for those whom I serve and who truly serve me.  We are not limited to our brick and mortar structures in order to live in devout faith.

“This smells delicious!  You’ve done an amazing job with this meal, Archie!” I hear as residents begin to stream  into the community room for Spring Dinner single-file due to the bulkiness of their scooters and walkers.  Once again, Mrs. Flower asks us if the turkey and ham dinner has any cheese among the ingredients.  It's a reminder to the team to pay very careful attention to the needs and conditions of residents with diabetes, lactose intolerance and other crosses.

       Archie fills the partitioned plates with portions of turkey, ham, broccoli, scalloped potatoes, and a roll.  As I distribute the meals to the seated residents, I am thanked and possibly asked for more juice or another variable request.  

       I had always hoped to be appreciated or honored for serving God as I served His people. But throughout the course of this year, I have come to welcome and embrace the value of the idea that ‘we did it’ instead of thinking ‘I did it.’  Yes, everyone wants to be valued. But we are the Body of Christ, which has a need for all of His parts.  This lesson of humility and eagerness to partake in His Body began with my supervisor, who has shown me how to serve (cutting onions, baking muffins, assisting in loading and unloading of the van, etc.). I have also found that our need to be companions to residents provides sustenance that's more than just physical food.  The staff further contribute to this lesson of community by conversing about life’s events and sharing in charity for each other.  

       More than anything, the residents have shown me God’s love in many ways, shapes, and forms which I still do not completely understand.  The residents have fed me bananas, potato salad, soda, empanadas, and chili; but, I have also been fed by word and deed.  I’ve learned that despite a bad lung or failing kidneys, life is a joy full of mystery and excitement that must be shared.  Everyone has a story worth being told and listened to, and I have surely learned from and appreciated them. This outpouring of love manifested through charity is alive in this resident community that is concerned for each other’s health and well-being both in body and in spirit. And although there is not enough space and time to hear from all the tenants, I cherish the rare privilege to spend time with each of them.  I have learned that the great love God calls us to is worth living every day. We are building a great (yet imperfect) Kingdom here in this place and time for all God’s children to dwell.

       Archie has left to attend to her paperwork in the office as I remain in the kitchen cleaning the soiled pots and pans after the Spring Dinner.  The pots and pans once held raw, uncooked, and inedible nourishment that then became seasoned, baked and cooked to the merit of its goodness by a team of hands. It's something I've come to appreciate and value because of my time here.