Saturday, March 30, 2013

You Want Me to Wash People's Feet? Say What?!?

Today, I participated in a volunteer outreach with an organization called Samaritan's Feet as a part of the NCAA Final Four festivities here in Atlanta. To commemorate the event's 75th anniversary, the organization's goal was to give out 7,500 pairs of free shoes to impoverished men, women, and children in the area. As I mentioned in my last post, volunteering is one of my passions, so I was eager to jump right in and get started...that is, until I found out what I was really going to have to do. When I arrived at the Georgia World Congress center this morning, I assumed I'd be greeting people at the door, sitting at a registration table, or walking back and forth to retrieve shoes and distribute them to the hundreds of people who were already waiting in line when I arrived. 

"All of those positions are available," said one of the volunteer coordinators in charge of assigning positions. "But what we really need are foot washers."

"Foot washers? You mean we're literally going to wash all these people's feet?" I asked the kind gentleman incredulously.

"Yes, unless they decline it. Its more of a symbolic gesture, but it allows us to look these people in the eye and give them a word of encouragement and human connection, which can mean way more than just a pair of shoes. Will you consider it?"

Hell no! My voice cried out in my head. I was down with volunteering my time to help those in need, but get down and wash the feet of perfect strangers, many of whom were homeless? No. Thank. You. 

"Sure, I'll do it." I heard the words pour out of my mouth, but I don't consciously remember saying them. Its funny how your spirit can speak up for you when you're about to miss out on an experience you  really need. 

He ushered me over to my station, and I could feel my heart pounding in my chest. What was I going to say to these people? And would I really be comfortable washing a complete stranger's feet?    I could feel myself growing more and more nervous. You and your damn big mouth, I silently reprimanded myself. You couldn't be satisfied at a registration table, you had to come play Jesus for a day. Welp, here goes...

The first recipient sat down at my station, and surprisingly I forgot how nervous I was. I also realized that I didn't have to search for the words to say. The conversation came naturally, as people shared with me all the various circumstances that had lead them to a program like this. I was so touched and humbled by how truly grateful they were for something as simple as a pair of shoes that I forgot all about my initial apprehension toward washing their feet. My favorites (of course) were the kids, who giggled and squirmed as I told them jokes and tickled their feet, and offered me some of the sweetest hugs I've ever had as I gave them their new shoes. 

I needed today more than all those people who received shoes. Sometimes I can get so caught up in my own ego, pride, and sense of self-importance that I forget a simple truth: that at some points in my life, I was one wrong decision away from being one of the hundreds of people in that line. That at any moment, I could lose my job, or my health, or my financial security and find myself in the same situation. That I was not too good or too pretty or too educated to humble myself and serve others. And while all those people I interacted with today may think I was doing something for them, they actually did way more for me than they even realize. Even though I was uncomfortable with the idea at first, I'm glad I pushed myself to do it anyway. It ended up being just what I needed.


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