One of the things I discovered during my year of firsts was how fun it was to share them. My family members and friends were such good sports and willing participants in the adventure I was enjoying. Today, I had the honor of sharing a first with the person who inspired that adventure, Lu Ann Cahn. During Lu Ann’s 30 Dares in 30 Days tour, she graciously stopped in Joplin so we could meet and do a dare, or first, together.
We chose to experience a first that gave back to the community. We volunteered today with Watered Gardens, a ministry that provides shelter, food, and a variety of services and items to the homeless and those in need. Located at 531 Kentucky, in Joplin, the mission of the Gardens is based on Isaiah 58…“Is this not the fast I chose … To divide your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into the house; when you see the naked to cover him … And you will be like a watered garden and like a spring of water whose waters do not fail.” Although I was familiar with Watered Gardens, I have never been inside the facility or volunteered my time there.
Trish with Roger, Andra and Lu Ann
I am grateful to Trish, Volunteer Recruiter and Coordinator, and James, Co-founder and Executive Director, for setting up today’s service opportunity for Lu Ann and me. Both met us at the facility today and James gave us an overview of the ministry and answered our questions. I was impressed with the programs offered and Shop Worth, which provides an opportunity for the residents to create products, such as jewelry and bags of roasted coffee, that are sold. Each person is valued and given a task to complete for the day. I liked the friendly atmosphere and the general busyness as men and women pushed brooms, mopped floors and cleaned the gathering room.
Donning aprons and plastic gloves, Lu Ann and I got right to work in the industrial kitchen, helping Jean prepare lunch. We sliced bread and slathered on melted garlic butter. We spooned up servings of Jean’s wonderfully aromatic bread pudding, filling two tiered carts with plates of the dessert. Pairing spoons and forks, we rolled them in paper napkins. I have never done that before while wearing gloves, and we laughed until I got the hang of it. All the while, Andra, reporter from the Joplin Globe, and Roger, Globe photographer, kept us company, jotting down notes and taking photos respectively. Lu Ann and I chatted and laughed and shared stories about our firsts. I found her so easy to talk to and be around, like a life long friend who came for a visit. She occasionally grabbed her video camera and interviewed me or James and once recorded a conversation between the two of us, flipping the camera back and forth. At the end of that chat we stood side by side for a “video selfie”, as Lu Ann deemed it, which made us both crack up with laughter. Roger snapped a pic.
At last lunch was ready, all the food donated by individuals or local businesses. On the menu today was fried chicken (until that ran out…and then chicken nuggets), mashed potatoes, mixed veggies, garlic bread, and Jean’s bread pudding. The sliding door covering the service window slid upward and people began to line up in the long hallway outside the kitchen. Jean and kitchen manager Casie allowed Lu Ann and me to stand closest to the window, so we could chat with the good folks picking up lunch. We started a food line, preparing each plate with generous servings of food. I passed full plates to Lu Ann, who then handed them to each diner as they passed by. It was an honor to serve these hungry people, many of whom had just come in out of the cold, the briskness of the day clinging to their clothes and making their cheeks pink. Men, women, teens, and children filed by, many of them saying “thank you” or chatting for a moment. The food lasted just long enough. As the last few people came in to eat, we scraped the serving pans. Jean estimated between 60-70 people were fed today.
Before serving lunch, James asked Lu Ann to share a few words with the group gathered in the dining room. I was touched by her acknowledgement that we are all on a journey. And we can choose to make a change, one small change at a time. She spoke about how stuck she felt in her own life and how doing firsts, even the small simple firsts, opened up her life. Standing there, listening to Lu Ann, watching the attentive faces turned toward her, I agreed in my heart with all that she shared. We are each on our own journey. Where we are today is not an indicator of where we will be tomorrow. There is always hope. And good people like James, Trish, Jean and Casie who are willing to lend a helping hand along the way. Many of the people I met today are without a job, currently, and therefore unable to pay rent. Some have just moved into the area and are out looking for jobs and housing and need a place to eat and sleep. Some have encountered difficult situations that they are dealing with.
All are valuable. All have something to offer. Lu Ann and I heard bits of their stories, looked them in the eyes, smiled encouragement, served them lunch. I went to Watered Gardens today to help. I left feeling ministered to myself, touched by the resilience of the human spirit, and with a new appreciation for others. I am grateful to Lu Ann for her visit and her willingness to reach out and touch lives, and for the staff at Watered Gardens for allowing us a glimpse into their facility and their world. Steve Maraboli says, “A kind gesture can reach a wound that only compassion can heal.” Compassion is present at Watered Gardens. I will be back.
James and Lu Ann, as she signs a copy of I Dare Me, which she donated to Watered Gardens.