Where's The Sour Cream!
By Kara Russell “Where’s the sour cream?” That’s how I was greeted by a guest of Family Promise when I
dropped off a tray of homemade tacos during a recent host week. Let me confess that I don’t like to cook…at all. Most nights, I struggle to work up the energy to cook for my own family, let alone for people I barely know. And here I was, delivering what I thought was a well-rounded, thoroughly prepared dinner for eight…and I was “thanked” by being reminded I’d forgotten the sour cream.
My first response was surprise, tinged with a bit of resentment. “Shouldn’t you just be grateful for the tacos?” I wanted to ask. “Who are you to pick and choose your toppings?” Fortunately, I kept my mouth shut. It wasn’t until much later that I realized our guest wasn’t in the wrong for politely requesting sour cream. I was in the wrong for feeling offended.
As a Family Promise volunteer, I’ve been “trained” to let go of long-held stereotypes about the homeless. “Don’t assume people are homeless because they’re addicts. Don’t assume it’s because they’re lazy. Don’t assume it’s because they’re uneducated, or unintelligent, or looking for a handout.” I thought I’d done a pretty good job of dismantling those stereotypes in my own mind. But there was at least one assumption I’d held onto: Homeless people should be grateful for whatever they get.
I was forced to look inside myself. How many times have I sent back a meal because it wasn’t prepared just the way I liked? How many times have I called a waiter over to remind him he’d forgotten my fries? It wasn’t because I was ungrateful for the meal placed in front of me…it’s just that I like fries! People experiencing homelessness are no different. And why should they be? They have their personal preferences, too.
The lesson I learned that night is that I was wrong to show up expecting something in return for my charitable act. I expected to feel good about it. I expected to be thanked. Turns out, volunteering isn’t always a feel-good exercise. Sometimes you may feel unappreciated. Sometimes you may feel disappointed. But true CHARITY (from the Latin “caritas” and Greek “agape”) translates to “unconditional love.” We should not give with the expectation of being thanked, or of feeling good. We should love one another as God loves each of us—fully and unconditionally. We should give because we have been given so much.
“Love one another, as I have loved you,” Jesus commanded. It’s the one commandment we can never forget. Even when we forget the sour cream.