I am an introvert. In fact, I am an inveterate introvert.
What makes that especially challenging is that as a pastor’s wife, I frequently find myself in new situations which require me to ramp up my introverted tendencies a bit and climb out of my quiet comfort zone. I often have to challenge myself to exude confidence and cheer even though I might feel underequipped to deal with all the things that land on my plate in any given week.
After thirty years of marriage to a preacher (with fifteen of those years spent traveling full time and being constantly with strangers), I have come a long way toward being confident and comfortable in settings that at one time were way out of my comfort zone. And yet those introverted tendencies persist.
Which is fine. Being introverted is not a weakness. It is who I am. And I love being introverted because a lot of cool qualities come with it. But my line of work is a bit of a challenge for an introverted personality because I am happiest being alone and what Steve and I do as pastors is all about being with people. Listening to people. Welcoming people. Helping people feel comfortable. Counseling people. Walking people through great joys and horrendous sorrows. Just. Being. There.
Although I have discovered great richness and satisfaction as a pastor’s wife, continuous people-ing will never be my natural habitat.
Last Monday, I was presented with yet another another opportunity to take a step outside of my introverted comfort zone. Twice during each winter, our church opens our facility to house and feed the homeless for a week at a time. Each church in the community that signs up for this outreach provides an evening meal, a place to sleep, overnight monitors, a hot breakfast and a sack lunch.
Monday was the night our family (along with another woman) volunteered to cook and serve our homeless guests and as I was at home preparing my part of the meal I was thinking, “I’m not sure what to talk about with these precious, displaced folks. What do we even have in common? We can’t discuss unclogging toilets, putting up a Christmas tree, cleaning out the garage or rearranging furniture. What topics can I think of to help them feel comfortable?”
Sure, I knew we had in common that we were all human beings; that was a no-brainer. I got that. And yet beyond that, what was there? I was fighting the niggling anxiety that I wouldn’t know what to say, wouldn’t know what to talk about while we ate, wouldn’t know how to form a conversational circle that would welcome everyone into its center.
Steve, Sarah and I got to the church early to get the food set out before the eight men and two women arrived. We all went through the line to get our food and then Sarah and I (along with Patty, the other helper/cook) sat down at a round table with the two women guests while Steve sat with some of the guys. I rearranged my napkin and plastic fork nervously while frantically searching my brain for some fascinating and fabulous conversation starter.
I needn’t have bothered.
One of the women glanced up from her plate and said, “That chocolate pie on the counter looks so good that I really thought about eating dessert first.”
Well. What is the most perfect thing for women to talk about who don’t know each other and don’t have a whole lot in common? Chocolate, of course.
So we talked about chocolate (in all its lovely permutations) for a little while and when that topic died down, there were miscellaneous memories to be told and various stories to be recollected. And then one of the ladies mentioned a new grandson of hers and we were off on that subject for a while, discussing how sweet babies are, and how fast they grow, and how amazed we are when we turn around and discover that our toddlers have mysteriously morphed into adults. And then somewhere in the course of the conversation, I mentioned that I used to clean houses for a living and that set us off on a whole new conversational tangent as we discussed various jobs we’d all worked in the past.
As the delicious meal and delightful conversation came to an end and I started clearing things away, it struck me that we really weren’t that different at all. Yes, I have a home and they don’t. Yes, I have my own bathroom and they don’t. Yes, our lives are very much not the same.
And yet our differences were not erased by what we don’t have in common, but what we do. We all have families and friends whom we love. We all have stories to tell from years gone by. We all have life experiences that have shaped us and made us who we are. And it was all those stories and life experiences that constructed the path that brought us to one particular evening, one particular table, one particular circle of fellow pilgrims. We sat and talked and were reminded in subtle, unspoken ways that we all laugh, we all cry, we all dream, we all mourn, we all hope. We are all the same in all the ways that are the most important.
It was an honor for me to share a meal with those women who don’t always know from day to day where they will sleep. It was an inspiration to witness their pluck and their courage and their sense of humor, to see how they refused to allow hard times to define them. They were mothers and friends and workers and dreamers and lovers of chocolate. They were a lot like me.
It was a good night. Good food. Good company. And another good chance to step out of my comfort zone and invest time and compassion into the lives of people who received help with dignity, people who shared their thanks freely, people who were hungry for far more than just food.
I hope that as they ate, they felt like God Himself had reached out to them through our compassion and through our casseroles. I hope they knew that they were important and that they were loved.
Because love is the sustenance that none of us can live without out. And that is the thing we all have in common.
Here are a few pictures; they aren’t the best quality because I was using my small camera and the lighting wasn’t good. But they will give you a little better insight into the evening.
Steve and Sarah are sitting with George, the man from our church who oversees our involvement in this national ministry called Room In The Inn. They’re waiting for the guests to arrive.
Several of the air mattresses spread throughout our youth hall.
This is the container that holds the clean sheets, towels and washcloths for the guests.
The local company who provides and cleans these linens doesn’t charge a penny for doing so which just proves all over again that there are still good hearts and good people in this world.
Just about time to eat!
As a shout out to the churches of the Outer Banks--most of them take turns provide housing and food to the homeless every night of the week from October through March. I’m proud of our churches out here and their congregations who take the time and have the heart to make a difference.
This ministry of Room In The Inn is also a national organization that you may be able to find in your own city.