Unexpected Graces

Donors give students a service trip to remember and gifts not ever anticipated

I came to Vegas with the desire to spend a few days with my feet planted firmly on the ground after two months spent on the top floor of a remarkably tall ivory tower. My academic work often feels isolated—quarantined—from the concerns of the ‘real world,’ and I was hoping this trip would be an opportunity to take a step back from that quarantined work and do something tangibly good with my life. On that front, I wasn’t disappointed—this trip presented me, presented all of us, with so many concrete ways of making the world a better place. Every person I got to talk to while working at the pantry, every client I walked through the Thanksgiving distribution line with—every interaction was an opportunity to give and receive the gift of love (in C.S. Lewis’ sense of caritas), a gift freely given and freely reciprocated. I was constantly reminded over our time at the Centre of one of my favourite passages from the gospels:

Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’ —Matthew 25:34-40

We lived that out! In everything we did, we lived that out! Isn’t that a wonderful thing to be able to say? I—we—lived out the Gospel through simple acts of simple kindness. And that was wonderful.

When I reflect back on the time we spent together, though, I’m also conscious of the grace that was the community we built together, amongst ourselves. I expected, in one way or another, that the trip would give me opportunities to serve the poor and marginalized—and so the grace of service, while a genuine and powerful grace, did not come as a surprise. But the grace of friendship, of community—that was a bit more of a surprise. I had not been expecting to laugh and smile as much as I laughed and smiled. I hadn’t anticipated the small joys that came with cooking and sharing meals with each other, or my philosophical conversations in the car with John, or the beauty of Marc’s whistling over the Hoover Dam… I was surprised by grace, surprised by those joys. Just as I was surprised by the joys of the community I entered into, however briefly, with the staff of the Centre. And I don’t think I’ll ever forget Isaiah.

So, God blessed me with so many graces on this trip. The graces of service were, in one form or another, expected—it is, after all, the reason I signed up to go to Vegas in the first place. But I didn’t anticipate the graces of friendship and community in the same way—and there is no greater joy than to be surprised by God’s gifts of grace, whenever and however they come into one’s life.

Thomas Slabon is a first-year Ph.D. student in the Philosophy Department at Stanford