I saw God today, in a place I wouldn’t have expected. It wasn’t a Church where most people go to connect with God, but rather a soup kitchen on the East Side of Buffalo.
Having gone on Kairos, a three-day retreat aimed at helping individuals work past hurts, obstacles and failures and realize their own successes and the loving people that surround them, I decided to go on a new retreat at Canisius College called the LT4 Retreat. LT4 or “Living the 4th” is a way of taking the Kairos experience, and living it everyday after that three-day retreat ends. The next day is the 4th day, when the real excitement begins. Taking the joy and love gained from that retreat and putting it into practice for God, others and even yourself.
Today’s retreat, a new chance of putting the LT4 motto to practice, included service at Saint Luke’s Mission of Mercy and prayer and reflection afterward at Harvest House. The day was full of beautiful encounters with God.
I could tell the day would be phenomenal when I stepped out of my house at an early 7 a.m. and could feel the calm in the air. A gentle breeze came and hugged me as I closed the door behind me, and looked out at the fields behind my house to see the sun just rising. As I drove to Canisius down Route 5 and over the Skyway, I looked out over Lake Erie, it was frozen over, but such a beautiful site to see – a calm white and blue body sitting so motionless with the sun now above clouds showering the frozen lake with bright yellow beams. It was a heavenly view and one that kept me so at peace. That is where I first saw God today.
But I would keep encountering Him. The next encounter was one I would never expect: at a soup kitchen.
I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not the most eager person when it comes to service. I like to be in my own sphere of comfort and help from afar. It’s very ignorant of me but yesterday changed that. The weird thing about this is that I have done service before and met incredible people and did something that left me feeling so fulfilled, yet I don’t get to engrain it into my schedule as much as I should. But today I was reminded of how real service, of being with people who face injustice can be so life fulfilling and transforming. I have never been to Saint Luke’s before, but I can see why this place is such a gem for the Buffalo community.
Two women who I was waiting on had recently lost their nephew who was shot and killed walking out of a store. They had asked the woman working the event if one of the volunteers could sing a song in his honor, and when she did, the two women broke down crying. In the moment I didn’t know what to do besides just give each of them a hug. There was this natural barrier between us, I, a volunteer, and they, two women seeking aid from a soup kitchen. But I felt that in that moment of a simple hug that wall came crashing down and with it two very different people, from two very different walks of life could share something in common.
That is when I saw God for the second time.
We looked into each other’s eyes, both women’s eyes bloodshot soaked with tears and I couldn’t help but feel like I was looking right into God’s eyes. It was because I was looking into His eyes.
He is in all of us, and I think we don’t quite realize that every day we encounter God, by every person we come across. He is in the poor women crying over their lost nephew. He is in the homeless man hoping to stay warm for a few hours with a few cups of coffee. He is in the mom clutching a ticket hoping she can win a toy for her toddler son. He is in the person who we shout at over the phone because our order was messed up. He is in the overwhelmed student who can’t seem to focus on his work. He is in the corporate CEO who has to downsize his company. He is in that ambitious worker, who just lost their job.
He is in the people we least expect, because we don’t expect God to be in others.
But after all, He made each of us right?
He made the people that we are angry with, the people we are ignorant to, the people we don’t understand, the people we judge, the people we ridicule, the people we hate. But he is also in the people we laugh with, the people who help us, the people we work with, dance with, sing with, he is in the people we love.
With the 150 people that filled Saint Luke’s looking for some warm food, some conversation and the chance to win a coat to wear, or a crock pot to cook dinner in, I saw God abundantly. My heart was so full by the people I met, the people who cried and broke down and for a minute allowed me in my very small way to try and comfort them. When we can all put our hearts on the line, to be vulnerable and to accept a hug from a stranger, God is never more present than that moment.
After praying and reflecting with fellow students on how we “Live the Fourth,” I have come to realize that whether its volunteering at a soup kitchen, holding the door for someone a few steps behind, doing a small favor for your overwhelmed coworker, or raising money and awareness for a cause close to your heart, there are so many ways to Live the Fourth.
The best part of all this is, is that even if you haven’t been on retreat and fully understand what Living the Fourth means, all you have to realize is that you need to take each day as an opportunity to see God is all things and in all people. You can give of yourself in little gestures or grand acts of kindness to help someone in need. But all the while you are helping yourself, too. You are connecting with God in a whole new way that you may never have thought possible. And in those moments you will know and feel how capable you are of seeing God, of changing this world and living life with a purpose.
Did you see God today?
I’ll give you a hint, he is everywhere you go. As long as you keep your heart open, you will feel his presence.