“My cup overflows with blessings . . . ” (Psalm 23:5 NLT).
My cousins Jessie and Jolene run a soup kitchen in down-town Portland for the homeless. They do this full time and it kind of surprises me because Jolene was a wild child growing up. She is about ten years older than me and used to be loads of fun, but we didn’t see much of her after she was about eighteen.
Jolene moved away from home and even her parents, my Uncle Buzz and Aunt Lola, didn’t hear from her for a couple of years. We were all kind of worried and prayed for her a lot. Then, she came home for thanksgiving when I was 12 years old and brought Jessie. They have been married now for three years and work for an inner city Gospel mission. Their story is great, really.
This year, I had this idea that when my sister and I get off for Christmas break this year we should get Dad to let us spend our vacation with Jolene and Jessie in Portland helping at their kitchen! We would have fun! Well, in the middle of November when I brought the idea to Dad, he wasn’t sure about doing that for Christmas, and my older sister Shanna thought I was crazy.
“You want me to spend my vacation where?” were her exact words. She went into a long tale explaining how Matt, her boyfriend, and she had already talked about some fun dates for Christmas. She couldn’t possibly go and leave Matt alone now could she? I could have reminded her that Matt had a large family and would never be alone, but I let it go.
I kept thinking about the soup kitchen at the Gospel mission in Portland and how they did extra special things for the people at Christmas time and would need extra help. I just knew that I would have so much fun helping them. Maybe Dad would let me go and stay with Jolene and Jessie by myself! We live in Eugene, Oregon, and it is not that far to Portland. It would be more fun if he and Shanna came, too, but you can’t always convince other people of your ideas.
Hmm. I remembered what I needed to do. I prayed. I asked God to work it out if I should go to Portland. I asked Him to work on Dad and Shanna if they should go and make it a fun family time together. I felt better about the whole Christmas holiday thing after I prayed, and I just let God deal with it and kept up with school and homework and all my after school projects.
Dad Works It Out
Well, it was Wednesday of the last week of school and Dad came and picked me up. Usually Shanna picks me up, but he said she had to get to work early. She works after school at this flower and gift shop run by a church friend, Mrs. Blaney.
While we were driving home, we were quiet for a while because I was thinking about the school Christmas play and all I had to do. I was helping decorate the school gym for the program. Eventually, Dad asked me, “So, Carla, do you still want to go to Portland for Christmas?”
Wow! I had just about forgotten all about that! “Yes, I sure do!” I answered, wondering what Dad would say next.
“Well, don’t get your hopes up about your sister going because I think she has her heart set on staying here, but I did call Jolene late last night after I spoke to Shanna. I know you haven’t kept bugging me about going, but somehow the idea kept coming to mind anyway and I thought, Why not?
“I figure we can help out at the soup kitchen for about five days, and then spend some time up in the mountains and do some skiing and such. See, I had planned on taking you both up there as a surprise the week after Christmas and I’ve already booked a place near Mt. Rainier for three days. Shanna might at least join us for some family time in the mountains.”
I couldn’t believe it! I felt like dancing, but since we were in the car I leaned over and carefully placed a kiss on Dad’s cheek instead. I was excited, “Oh, Dad! That would be great! And you know I love skiing!!!” he laughed. He likes it when his girls are happy.
I thought it was wonderful how God had answered my prayers about Christmas break! How cool! It was fixed up much better than if I had made myself a pest about it. I just prayed and let God take care of it, and He sure did and with a ski trip, too!
Before I knew it, I was up to my elbows in hot water washing pots in Jolene and Jessie’s kitchen. An old guy with clean hands and shirt, but scrubby beard was putting away the pots and other items I washed. Jolene had introduced Kent and me before she went over to attack all the papers on her desk in the little office off the kitchen. She said, “There’s always a snow drift to shovel through over there on that desk. I have to do some shoveling every day or the desk would be snowed under for sure!”
That was funny and I laughed, but I didn’t envy her job! I knew enough about paper work from school work and school clubs!
I liked Carl, the head cook. Oh, that’s right! He called himself a chef not a cook! Whatever! After I caught up with the pots he let me peel the potatoes he needed for a mountain of mashed potatoes. As I brought the washed potatoes over to the counter by the steamy pot of water, he let me toss them in. We talked about names and our names in particular.
“So your name is Carla,” he said, “Sounds like we just about got stuck with the same handle.”
“Oh, yeah! Carl and Carla!” I agreed.
“We’d better stick together then!” he said with a chuckle. “Carl and Carla against the Kents, Jessies and Jolenes of the world!” We laughed and he added raising his voice. “And then there’s the Doras!” Looking over at a lady I hadn’t met yet over in the corner putting a huge salad together.
“Carl, you’d better watch what you’re saying over there!” She said in a threatening voice with a twinkle in her eyes. She looked at me and winked, “Can’t trust that Carl, now, you hear. You be on your guard!”
I smiled, and then looked around the kitchen for Dad. “Where’d my dad disappear to? He’s missing out on all the fun!”
“Oh, don’t worry any about him. He’s off with Jessie, and they are having a little fun of their own. They went for supplies, and not the regular every day ones, either! No, they’re doing some Christmas shopping!”
“Ooh!” I grinned.
I kept up with the pots every day and did “preps” for Carl. “Preps” are the things like washing and peeling potatoes, peeling and chopping onions (I really loved doing that, ha, ha!), spooning up the pudding into individual bowls for serving, and other stuff like that in preparing meals. I really saw more potatoes and onions in those few days than I ever had before in my life!
I had fun at meal times because I got to stand next to Jolene in the serving line behind the deck as the people came through getting their plates filled. She kept introducing me to everyone. “This is my cousin, Carla, from Eugene. She’s up here with her dad helping us celebrate the holidays. Her dad’s down at the end of the line by Jessie handing out drinks.”
She told me people’s names, but I knew I’d never remember them all. Still, she knew them, and it felt like they were all just one big, happy family. I saw their old clothes and bad hair styles, but Jolene saw them as her close friends that she loved. I hoped I turned out to be half as kind and caring as she is when I became an adult!
One thing I found while I was helping with the soup kitchen is that I really slept well at night. I went to bed feeling so rich and full of thankfulness for God’s goodness to me. I felt sad for some of the people I saw who were having such tragedies, but there was hope that their lives can change for the better through the Love of God. They might even find Him by visiting the mission!
Yes, sometimes at home I used to have trouble sleeping because I was worried over what some of my friends did or thought of me or something like that. I noticed that it felt good to be doing things for Jesus and living my life for Him. Now, I have no trouble sleeping, thanks to what I learned helping out that week in Portland. The answer for me is that helping others and forgetting yourself can give you peace of mind and good rest!
A Great Christmas!
Christmas Eve was special because there was singing around the Christmas tree. Jessie led out and played the guitar. Jolene stood next to him, and they both sang into the mike. I didn’t know Jolene could sing that well! I loved the sound of her voice so full of love for Jesus. I sat next to Dad and we shared a book with Kent.
I knew my sister Shanna was doing what she wanted to do, but I felt she was really missing out. I knew I missed her, but we’d be together for skiing in a couple days! Still, I looked around the room, and I was glad to be there.
Not far from where we sat, I saw Carl and Dora sat together. I had found out the evening of my first day there that they were engaged. The dining room was packed and the tree wasn’t fancy, but it was beautiful! Those carols were more meaningful to me that night than ever before. As we finished with “Oh, Holy Night” the tears in my eyes made the whole room glow and each face I could see around the tree was shining!
Christmas day was great! I was in the kitchen right after breakfast and didn’t leave until eight o’clock that evening! I was so tired, but happier than I ever remembered being. The Christmas dinner was a big success! We had tons of guests!
I kept looking at the front door, because Jessie was there with a couple volunteers from a local church. He greeted the people as they came in and made sure that not one went out without picking a gift. There were blankets, jackets, hats, slippers, stuffed animals for children and lots of other things tied with bows.
Of course there was Christmas music playing in the background and smiles everywhere. I looked across the dining room, and even those who still looked sad seemed to have a look of peace on their tired faces. Yes, I was so glad I was there and a part of the place on such a super day!
Not only does helping others help you get a good night’s sleep, it gives you joy all day long and a reason for living! I do have lots to be thankful for. God gave me a great idea for Christmas, and He worked it out so it could happen. I got to be with my cousin Jolene and get such a blessing reaching out to people in need. Like it says in Psalm 23, “My cup overflows with blessings . . . .” My heart is overflowing with all the good things God poured into my life this holiday season!
Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright ©1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.