Happiness is a Little Boy with a Pitcher of Lemonade

“What do you like about going to Reconciliation Services and helping serve the Friday night meal?” I asked my nine-year-old son.

“I like making people smile,” he answered.

Who can resist smiling at a cute little boy with glasses working the room with his lemonade pitcher in hand? Some of the guests at RS have even offered him a few coins or a small tip, to which he always refuses, gratefully.

I have been taking my three sons to serve the Friday night meal for many years. When my oldest son was a baby—he’s 14 now—I would wear him in a carrier on my back so I could help out on Friday nights at RS. 

Now, each of my boys fall into their familiar duties when we arrive to serve. My oldest son likes to run out trays full of plates of food. My middle son bounces between back-of-house food prep and serving plates to guests. And then there is my youngest, my nine-year-old, too small to carry the trays, too distracted to prep the meals, too social to stay in the back. 

In the midst of these bustling Friday night gatherings, my nine-year-old serves with joy and zeal. He fills up pitchers of lemonade as he walks around the first floor dining area. He offers refills. He smiles. And often the mood of the room begins to change. 

RS offers an alternative to the “soup kitchen” model that moves folks through a line as they collect their meal on a tray. Guests arrive for the Friday night meal and find a place to sit around common tables with other friends and neighbors from the community. As they are sitting and enjoying conversation, volunteers serve them dinner. No lines, no balancing trays, but a simple meal served in a dignified way by volunteers who care, like my kids.

I am finding that cultivating a zeal for service and a love of neighbor bears fruit with consistent and persistent work. For me, that means I often take my kids along with me to serve. I can talk about serving others and caring for my neighbor, but I also need to show them what that might look like and they need to have opportunities to practice it. 

I don’t shelter my kids from the challenges of serving others. Sometimes the bus stop outside the RS front door is thick with tension, angry voices, sad faces, and desperate pleas. Sometimes it is a welcoming hub of smiles and hellos. We don’t always know what is waiting when we set out, but if we hesitated because of fear or discomfort, we would also miss the joy. It is good to gather items to give, but the lessons that are born from the giving of oneself, cannot be underestimated. Holding the arm of an elderly homeless man while he takes his seat, seeing the faces of young kids come through the door to have dinner, and hearing the strange murmurings of a mentally ill young woman, remind us that there are real people on the other end of our giving and that our time and attention are our most treasured gifts.

I try not to squelch their joy and zeal. One time my boys wanted to bring their Halloween candy to RS to hand out at the Friday night meal. It was hard to resist the urge to talk them out of doling out their artificial, sugary treats, but I did. As they shared their candy, people smiled and remarked about how generous they were to give up their candy. It may have just been candy, but it was their candy and they wanted to give it away. Why would I say NO to them giving their own stuff away? All of my boys play the piano, each to a varying degree of ability and complexity. Whether it is a clunky attempt at Christmas carols or the opening theme to Star Wars, each time they sit at the old, out-of-tune piano on the first floor of RS they offer up their talents, their joy, for everyone present. I need to allow them the freedom to be joyful and to offer whatever they have to give. 

I want to cultivate a love for people, not merely a habit of serving people. If we merely approach acts of service as part of a checklist for our holiday generosity or a way of fulfilling community service hours for school or club recognition, then we miss out on the deep well of relationship and community that comes from regular involvement in serving others. When I point my children back to the people they are surrounded by, the faces they see each time they are there, I can help them create stronger connections with the people they are serving, not merely the act of serving. They begin putting a name with a face and giving high fives when they enter the building. They become regular participants in the lives of others, not distant benefactors supporting a generic cause.

So whether it’s passing along Halloween treats, playing an off-beat and out-of-tune carol, or walking through the room filling up glasses of lemonade, let loose the joy and zeal of the youth. We have much to learn from them and they have much to offer. 

Article by Jodi Mathews

Blessed Are Those Who Reconcile

When my family moved to the urban core of KC over three years ago, friends and family cautioned us, “It is more dangerous over there!” Some said, “It isn’t safe!” The narrative of our part of the City had been told in terms of its crime and instability.

The neighborhood alerts on our community boards do sometimes reach a fever pitch, announcing another suspicious person, another break in, or worse. But it’s the city. We expect that, right?

Violent acts and violent rhetoric seem to dominate our landscape. From suicide bombings in far off places to murderous rampages and vehement speech closer to home, violence presses in on us. We turn on the news or browse the headlines expecting it, even looking for it. It seems inevitable to us that certain places or certain people would be violent.

But violence is as close as our own hearts.

I have cringed at the sound of a mother berating her child at the bus stop. I have called the police when the argument heard coming from a nearby house sounded like it was turning dangerous or if I heard gun shots closer than I’d like. I have taken an alternate route on my walk when I encountered two women shouting and degrading one another. Yes, violence is pressing in, but it is also pressing out.

In 1 John 3:15 it says that, “anyone who hates his brother is a murderer.” That isn’t some flowery metaphor or shocking image. It is fact. An act of hate is murder.

So what makes me different from the mother berating her child at the bus stop? Nothing, really. I despise her behavior. I despise what she represents. I despise how she treats her child. Therefore, I despise her, hate her, murder her in my heart.

In the end I put myself in the place of judgement over these violent “others” and assume that they are just degenerates and perpetrators, forgetting that their story is most definitely one of victimhood as well, with complicated and traumatic stories that have played out time and time again.

So how do we battle violence?


Gentleness, forgiveness and reconciliation. These are the weapons we must use.

We see examples not only in the Bible but in Christian saints, modern day activists, and mystical teachers—of how peace can disarm violence. St. Seraphim of Sarov, a Russian saint entreated, “Acquire the Spirit of Peace and a thousand souls around you will be saved.” We see in the Beatitudes in Matthew 5:9 in the Bible, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.”

Peace is this thing that we must acquire, hunt down, work for, struggle to maintain. We are urged to close the gap between ourselves and others in peace and reconciliation. Blessed are the peacemakers. Blessed are those who reconcile.

It seems an overwhelming proposition to me to take on a violent culture, the vehement rhetoric of today’s warmongers, the institutions and religions that perpetrate violence. That is why I must make my most strategic battlefield my own heart. This is where I begin my struggle to overcome violence. From there, who knows what may come!


Article by Jodi Mathews

Veneration as Celebration

As a mother of three boys, I know the power of celebration. It is one of a mother’s many responsibilities, to celebrate. I rejoice in the accomplishments and milestones of my guys. I watch them grow and learn, always looking for moments to celebrate, to venerate. And when the awards don’t come and the race is not won, I still encourage my kids, I still value them, I still celebrate and venerate them.

It is easy to celebrate a child, especially our own. We see such joy, such potential. We may even see our own strengths and influences in those celebratory moments. And in their innocence and humility, children see little shame in seeking praise. So, we readily celebrate small things. We honor the mundane. We venerate them simply because of who they are.

At Reconciliation Services we talk often of the mission to see each person we come in contact with as a unique person created by God and therefore worthy of veneration, celebration, honor. That word honor is synonymous with both venerate and celebrate.

That connection between celebration as veneration was so tangible to me recently.

It was a very active Friday night meal at RS. It was a cheerful energy, the kind that good food and intense conversation can conjure. Sometimes in that crowd there is a quiet celebration waiting to happen. Sometimes I am blessed enough to get to be in on it.

David walked in and greeted me as he often does.

“Do you remember me?” he asked. “Of course I do, David. I haven’t see you in awhile.” He told me he had a birthday recently. “I turned 52,” he said. I congratulated him of course and told him that I, too, recently had a birthday. He pointed out that I share a birthday with his uncle and then he named several people he knew with birthdays near my own. He recalled each person’s age and birthdate.  “You’re really good at remembering dates,” I told him. “Yeah, people say I am pretty good with numbers,” he said.

Then he reached inside his big winter coat and pulled out an envelope. He opened the envelope, which had his name neatly written on the front. “Would you like to sign my birthday card?” he asked. “Of course I would. Thanks for asking.”

David is a tall, quiet man. There is no arrogance in him. He is guileless and simple and gentle. He often wears multiple coats and carries a black leather satchel. You won’t likely see him without his hat on or a hood pulled up over his head. He is poor. He is homeless.

At first, I felt quite sad for him. Had he been carrying that card around for days just hoping someone would know, would ask to sign it? Only, David wasn’t sad. He was smiling, like he always does, and he was excited to see me sign his card. It wasn’t a sorry attempt at pity or attention. David didn’t announce his birthday to the room full of people gathered for the Friday night free meal at Reconciliation Services. Surely we would have sung to him, congratulated him, patted him on the back. He didn’t make his way around the room adding signature after signature to his precious birthday card. He asked me, just me.

David offered me a personal invitation to know him, to celebrate him. He made himself so vulnerable to me and in turn challenged me to be vulnerable too. I don’t like to feel vulnerable. I like my boundaries. I can serve the Friday night meal with a smile and willingly pour cup after cup of lemonade and wipe table after table. I keep moving. I keep doing.

David’s invitation was immediate and profound. It couldn’t be hurried or brushed aside. He cut right through my walls and said, “See me.” Was he an angel sent by God to test me, to prove me? Was it the voice of God Himself, saying, “I invite YOU”? Perhaps.

I’ve never carried around my own birthday card, seeking signatures. But I do long to be known, to be celebrated. David’s openness really challenged me. It brought me back to that place at my very core that longs to be close to God, to welcome his participation, his presence. Being vulnerable with one another makes this closeness possible--closeness with one another and closeness with God. We return to that celebrated state, that place of veneration, where we honor and are very much honored as well.

Can celebration be as simple as signing a homeless man’s birthday card? Yes, it is a good place to begin.

I remember you David. I see you. Thank you for inviting me to celebrate you, to venerate you. And thank you for venerating and celebrating me also.

Article by Jodi Mathews