“I was hungry and your gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in…” (Jesus, in Matthew 25:35)

My neighbor Bobbie and I drove to the west side of Chicago this morning to serve breakfast at the homeless shelter, as we do on the second Saturday of each month. We bring food, cook it, then serve it buffet style in the large common area of the shelter.

After cooking three dozen jumbo eggs with plenty of cheese mixed in, hash browns, bacon and countless bagels (which we toast by putting them facedown on the griddle) and serving them to about 20 women, I took a bagel (kindly donated by the Palatine Great American Bagel–thanks!) and sat and talked to one of the guests, who told me excitedly that she was on the list to get a CHA apartment within the next two weeks, and how God had just been blessing her over and over lately.

We had a lovely conversation and she asked me how long we’d been volunteering there. I told her about two years, and she asked, “Why do you do it? What’s in it for you?”

I pondered that one. I told her because the Bible says we should care for those in need, and that when we do, it’s as if we did it to him. “So for me, to be here serving breakfast, it’s worship,” I told her. She nodded knowingly.

We talked about the value of living simply, whether you are in a shelter, a CHA apartment, or a suburban tract house. She told me about losing her job and her apartment, and ending up on the street. She told me about how God had led her to Breakthrough, which runs this shelter.

I admitted that sometimes my neighbors are busy, and it’s hard to gather a group to go even one Saturday a month, and I wonder if it’s worth it. But then I’m there, and I’m always glad I came. Because I realize, for me, cooking breakfast for these women is a spiritual practice. It opens up space for God to make his presence felt in my heart. When I carry a plate to the table for a woman who walks slowly with a cane, I feel God smile. When I see the smiles or even the scowls of these women, I’m reminded that God is mindful of them and their plight.

It’s a small, simple act of compassion, to get up early one Saturday a month, to have a conversation with women I would not otherwise cross paths with, and be surprisingly blessed by that conversation. I feel so lucky I get to do this, that I get to experience God’s presence in this way.