The Coast Guard has a number of jobs that it does. The one job we often think of first for them is maritime rescues. They are the people who are called when something tragic happens on the water. They are a resource that most will never encounter, but in that moment, when something has gone wrong, the sound of their presence brings great relief to the soul in trouble.
But they operate more often than we think. One of their many, non-emergent jobs is to patrol the coastline on our big bodies of water. Their steadfastness to ensure the safety of our waters brings comfort and assurance on even the brightest, calmest days. The dependability of their routine adds a measure of security to all who visit the waters.
Five years ago, God nudged our hearts with whispers about hungry children taking home back packs of snacks and a few meals to make it over the weekend during the school year. These bags were being sent home in community after community that surrounded South Lyon, and so, we paused to assess whether that need was also in our midst. We met with our local food pantry. We spoke with the secretaries at the schools. We prayed and thought, and suddenly, we realized that while food was important on the weekends…what about the summer when there was no school at all to help with meals?
Realizing that need must exist since there were children in our community on the federal lunch program during the school year, we prayed for guidance on how to help these families. From there, we began our Summer Lunch Bag program. Starting with one school, several families registered. Over the years, we have modified how often we provide and expanded the program to include more schools.
Now our program is not for those looking to lessen their grocery bills. It is not for those wanting to save up for something else. We have tailored it specifically for those who are lacking food during each month of the summer. With that as our threshold, we have been blessed to come alongside those who are struggling in significant ways.
Most of these households have a working parent. One who is working as much as they can to bring in enough to keep their heads treading above water. For those with two parents, oftentimes, one parent is battling an illness or has become disabled. Many during our registration have spoke of how humbling it is to have to ask for help; that it is the last thing they have wanted to do. More often than not, I tell them that our program was designed to help people just like them. That the people who help provide the food are everyday people looking to bring aid to those in their community…they want to help when there is a need.
The first delivery can be a bit awkward for those new to the program. Not in a bad way, but in just meeting, getting down the timing, and the waiting that occurs as we pass along bags to the families. Not knowing anyone, yet knowing everyone there is struggling in some way. After handing them the bags, we routinely ask if they have any prayers that can be said on their behalf until we meet again. For those new and unsure about our program, they often decline. And we are okay with that. Asking for food is hard enough; sometimes being vulnerable about your other needs is too much. But we always ask…patrolling, in way, the potentially deep waters of the hearts that lie before us.
In the midst of something gone wrong, a rescue swimmer is often dropped down into the water or onto the boat to assess the situation and find out what is needed. Is it something mechanical that is in distress? Can the vessel be saved? Or is there a person on board in need of medical help? Do those on the vessel need to be ferried off? The rescue swimmer relays the information back to those on board the helicopter and the appropriate decisions of how to help best are made.
And sometimes, the swimmer has to save someone in the water. Should that be the case, the person in the water must be compliant. They cannot fight or panic as it can take both the rescuer and the one being rescued down. An understanding all who want to serve should come to respect. We try really hard not to obligate people to share their prayers. Sometimes, they can’t think of any. Other times, the concern, fear or pain is too much to convey. At the first sign of struggle, we politely step back and continue on…giving space at a safe distance that allows them to process the request without being pressured to do so.
Our second delivery this summer illustrated well this principle. We had a family register late this spring. One parent is working but the other has been very ill, battling a significant disease. Financially the medical bills had taken its toll as well as shortened work weeks in order to accommodate doctors’ appointments and treatment. When this parent arrived at the first delivery, he was cautious and had little for prayer. I reassured him that it was totally okay, and gently shared we’d keep the other parent’s health in our prayers.
Now FBF’s primary goal is to build faith in God, but often, we are just blessed to watch as the Master Builder works. One family has been in our summer food program since its inception. She is a single mom with three kids and an amazing faith that God is with her and with us. She knows our routine and gladly shares her prayers with us, and we share our prayer needs with her. During that first delivery, the new parent, while waiting to pick up the food bags, watched as she gave us her concerns.
This time, her family was again one of the first waiting for us, and so when this other parent arrived shortly thereafter, we were still transferring bags and all the goodies that were brought. As I handed her a package of toilet paper, she became animated with joy. Her apartment had just flooded. The neighbor’s, above her, air conditioning unit had sprung a leak that pooled into her home and soaked everything. Now, this gal is a planner but sometimes the best laid plans don’t anticipate such unforeseen trouble. Sometimes a sunny sky does not share that a dangerous storm is building off to the west…
All of their paper products were destroyed and she was desperate for toilet paper. Already struggling, this cost was unanticipated with no way to meet the need that had arisen before the end of the month. As we transferred the laundry detergent, she began to praise God out-loud for His knowing exactly what she needed to wash all that had been soaked. The next set of things, feminine products, brought added amazement as those too had been destroyed. She openly exclaimed her awe of His provision, and we stood there in just as much awe of how God had moved hearts to help such a direct and specific unknown need.
As I turned to take care of the other parent, his eyes sparkled from hearing the testimony of someone who wasn’t trying to testify…someone who was sincerely praising God in that moment where her fear of how had turned into praise for His love and care. Handing him several of the items and explaining quickly where they had come from and how, I noticed he seemed less reserved. As we continued to unpack the load for his family, he began to eagerly tell how helpful the stuff had been the prior month and would be this month. The abundance of items was exciting and overwhelming for all the families, and he was clearly moved.
While I handed him the last remaining items, another family pulled up. Understanding better the routine of our visits, I gently asked if there were any prayers until next time? He nodded, much to my surprise. Upon finishing our brief conversation, he leaned in to give a big hug. A common occurrence when people share what is on their hearts. Those requests are so important…to them, to us and to God. They know that we do not have the answers for why or even how, but the kindness that comes from being willing to intercede on their behalf can mean a lot. Common among many of them is that life was going well in their stretch of the sea before they became overwhelmed by something…a storm, a wave, a malfunction, an unexpected flood…
You see, prayer and hugs often feel like a life preserver of sorts that helps them tread the waters beneath them with more assurance that there is truly One who is able to command those waters…to rescue, if needed.
Such moments, my friends, are exactly why FBF patrols the waters that lie before us…
“The ships of Tarshish were carriers of your merchandise. You were filled and very glorious in the midst of the seas. Your oarsmen brought you into many waters, but the east wind broke you in the midst of the seas.” Ezekiel 27:25-26