I want to tell you about Ms. Verdell Thomas. She was one of the most memorable people I’ve ever met at Cityteam, and she was humble. I think about humility a lot, because I struggle with it: I read about Jesus, a God who became a man, living and suffering along with us, and his example is powerful but can be tough to follow. I think that’s why there are people like Ms. Verdell–when we seek to become authentically humble, here they come–an example of the real thing.
There is so much work to do at a place like Cityteam, and even early on I noticed myself drawn to certain kinds of work. There are jobs that guarantee a certain level of human connection: holding a baby, or teaching someone to use a computer, or even serving meals. Honestly? Certain kinds of jobs just feel more fulfilling than others. And I’ve noticed over the years that I’m not alone. Most people are drawn to certain kinds of “jobs” at places like Cityteam.
Meanwhile, there is so much other work to be done, a lot of it less obviously “rewarding.” One of the toughest jobs for me was sorting through bags of donated clothing. People are so generous that sometimes we have piles and piles of clothes to sort through. And then the room will fill up again for next week. But that’s where Ms. Verdell could always be found, sitting in a chair in the back of the clothing donation room, surrounded by bags of clothes.
See, I didn’t even notice her at first. That job kept her away from the crowd, and she would simply arrive and go right to work. I had a hard time figuring her out, she was quite a bit older than me and she hardly ever smiled. Once I saw her, I had to find out her name and introduce myself. And then I saw her smile! “Well, hi!” she said, and of course she already knew my name.
Well, that began our friendship which sadly only lasted a few years before she passed. But in that time she affected me deeply. She’d bake every week and bring different pies or cakes for the volunteers to enjoy. Out of loyalty to her, I tried sweet potato pie and carrot cake for the first time. I’ll always be grateful for that introduction, although I’m still looking for any that tastes as good as hers.
But of course she taught me in much deeper ways than educating my palate. She showed me what true humility in service is. She tirelessly took on that donation pile, for hours each week. She had a greater understanding of just how important that work really is. Kids need those clothes. And the clothes need sorting so we can be sure they’re clean, safe, and in good shape.
Maybe that’s all humility is, really, the lesson for me, from Jesus to Verdell is this: see where there is need. See where there is suffering. And then go to work. Maybe it’s just that simple.
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