“You are valuable because you exist. Not because of what you do, or what you have done, but simply because you are.” – Max Lucado
This quote hangs in the dining area at Elijah’s Promise, and I often read it as I set the tables. I originally viewed these words as simply as they’re written. A pick-me-up for those who feel lost on their journeys through life, or perhaps a happy reminder that one still matters even if he doesn’t have it all figured out. My experiences at the soup kitchen this summer have made me consider this quote on a much deeper level.
When our house was under construction recently, Elijah’s Promise became more than just a workplace. It became my happy place. Upon entering the kitchen last Thursday, I was greeted by some new and some familiar smiling faces. A few people asked about my morning and updated me on what I had missed earlier in the week. My worries and cares immediately vanished just by engaging in a short conversation with my friends there. That afternoon, I got lost in service and forming connections with others, an absolutely wonderful place to get lost.
Later that day, after another enjoyable shift of prepping, cleaning, distributing sandwiches, and getting to know fellow volunteers, a pleasant, older gentleman entered the soup kitchen as the dining room emptied. He explained why he was late and hoped there were still sandwiches left from lunch time. When I returned from the back of the kitchen with his bagged lunch, the man’s round eyes brightened, a fleeting reminder that love lives inside us all. I was immediately overcome with complete gratitude for this man and the expression on his face. He ate his sandwich quietly on his own, but I bumped into him again as we left for the day.
We exited together, and he mentioned how delicious the coffee is at the soup kitchen. He thought it was a shame they didn’t have any real sugar left because “the artificial sweeteners ruin coffee.” Ha! If anyone knows about needing a proper cup of coffee, it’s me. I immediately ran back inside to grab real sugar from the storage closet for his black coffee, and when I returned, he thanked me and told me I made his day. At that moment, I wondered if this elderly man had any idea just how valuable he was to me. I wanted to reply, “Your kind words rejuvenate me. Your conversations bring me joy during a stressful time. Your gratitude inspires me. You are so much more valuable to me than you could ever imagine.” But instead of risking scaring the man away, I replied, “You made my day too, sir.” And that he did.
My energy and love are always restored after spending a few hours at Elijah’s Promise. My experiences with everyone there have been incredibly valuable and life changing. Thanks to the people I met along the way, I have not only learned a great deal about others, but I’ve also gained a better understanding of my own strength, compassion, empathy, and who I am. I feel determined to continue learning and to love others and myself more every day. Once again, I’m immensely grateful.