One of my favorite places to be is the Welcome Table, a homeless ministry in a church in downtown Asheville, North Carolina. Every Wednesday, they serve hundreds of homeless people a delicious meal, sometimes serving as many as 600 people in one afternoon. Afterwards, they open up the sanctuary for a worship service that embodies a “holy chaos” as ministers, homeless people, college students and CEO’s on lunch breaks all praise God together.
This year, I’m blessed to be home in Asheville for the majority of the summer. For the first time, I’m able to go help serve meals before the services on Wednesday. This is not your typical soup kitchen homeless ministry. Instead of moving through an assembly line of food, visitors are served family style gourmet meals. The first day I served, I helped pass out platters of lemon poppy seed chicken adorned with banana peppers and sprigs of fresh cilantro, collard greens, roasted potatoes, fresh salad, buttery cornbread and fluffy raisin bread pudding.
The two incredible men who run the kitchen plan the meals well in advance, taking joy in creating delicious dishes that match the quality of something you could buy in a nice restaurant. One of the men explained to me how important the presentation of the food is. He said that he didn’t want them going through a soup kitchen line as if they were in a prison. He wanted them to know they didn’t deserve leftovers or second best. As fellow human beings, they deserved the best.
How often do we get rushed, stressed, burned out or lazy and give people our second best, particularly people we may think don’t deserve our best? What a striking portrait of love for humankind it would be if we treated everyone with the respect, compassion and thoughtfulness we sometimes reserve for those we consider by our standards or the world’s to be “worthy”?
Yet sometimes when you open your heart and give your best, people may not notice your kindness, may not bother to thank you or may accuse you of ulterior motives. It is important to not be discouraged.
At the very first table I served at the Welcome Table, a women asked for more chicken, which we couldn’t give seconds of. I apologized and offered to get her more salad or bread instead. She was furious. She pointed her thumbs down at me and told me my service got two thumbs down. She then told me I could go and send someone else over to refill her water, that I was a disappointment.
At first, I was stunned and didn’t know how to react! Yet, we have to love people where they are, knowing that we are all in need of a little grace. So I pulled myself together, smiled back at her and said, “Alright, great! Let me know if I can do anything else for you!”
Sometimes life isn’t all peachy. Sometimes we go out of our way to give our very best and get two thumbs down in return. Maybe you refused to cheat on a test like your friends did and ended up getting a lower grade in your class because of it. Or maybe when you don’t get the playing time you deserve, instead of complaining or being rude to your coach, you wait patiently with humility – something no one ever compliments you on. Some of the greatest acts of kindness go unnoticed and unappreciated. I think that these are the times when the core of our ministry and character is tested. One of my favorite poems of all times provides inspiration for the times when we may think that our hard work is insignificant or meaningless. Written by the selfless Mother Teresa, it helps us to remember what to do when we get two thumbs down. Do it anyway.
“Anyway” by- Mother Teresa
People are often unreasonable, illogical and self centered;
Forgive them anyway.
If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives;
Be kind anyway.
If you are successful, you will win some false friends and some true enemies;
If you are honest and frank, people may cheat you;
Be honest and frank anyway.
What you spend years building, someone could destroy overnight;
If you find serenity and happiness, they may be jealous;
Be happy anyway.
The good you do today, people will often forget tomorrow;
Do good anyway.
Give the world the best you have, and it may never be enough;
Give the world the best you've got anyway.
You see, in the final analysis, it is between you and God;
It was never between you and them anyway.
Christina Maxwell is a college freshman at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, Michigan majoring in Musical Theatre. Originally from Asheville , North Carolina, Christina was a participant in the Distinguished Young Women program and was selected as the Distinguished Young Woman of North Carolina for 2012 and the Distinguished Young Woman of America for 2012. Learn more about Christina here!