We see him drive up with a carload of clothes and then watch as he opens his trunk to reveal even more. He has braved the freezing rain and below freezing temperatures. We have never met him before but in the next two hours, he will trust us with part of his story, explain the circumstances surrounding the 16 loads he has carried in, and touch our hearts.
They walk in not knowing anything about Laundry Love. They had come to the laundromat the Thursday before this Saturday and found it closed. Oh, yes, it was Thanksgiving. When they returned on Saturday they were delighted to have the help paying for their laundry. She asked if she could hug us, explained that sometimes things just get hard, and expressed her appreciation for helping them during this hard time.
Their family is a regular. His wife has been very sick for two months now. He comes to Laundry Love, calls her hospital room in Wichita and hands me the phone. I talk to her, tell her how much we have missed her, that we are praying for her, encourage her and hand the phone back to him.
She doesn’t have a car or a job but she does have two little ones. She puts them in a grocery cart, along with their laundry, and walks to the laundromat for Laundry Love. Her daughter loves Sofia the Great. Her son loves Thomas the Train. The children lay on the folding table and she rubs their backs while the laundry whirls around them. Our little offering of 5 loads of clean laundry quite honestly seems like nothing amidst the mountain of need she is living in.
A young man walks in timidly to ask about Laundry Love. He speaks so softly I can hardly hear him. He asks me how this thing works. I explain briefly, assure him he’s in the right place and welcome him in. He goes back out to the car and returns with his girlfriend and their laundry. Later he asks me if by any chance I have a trash bag or two that they could put their clean laundry in. It “just so happens” someone had just given me two brand new mesh laundry bags and a laundry basket just 2 days before. I offer him all three and he is clearly blown away. He looks at me like I’ve just handed him a hundred dollars. His eyes well up with tears and he thanks me.
Another unsuspecting couple walks in to do their laundry. We offer to pay for it. They are happily surprised and very grateful. Between the washing and the drying she walks over to me and hands me two coupons for a free dessert at a local restaurant. A friend had given them to her but it’s the only way she has to repay us, she tells us. I assure her there’s no need to repay us but she insists we take them.
My friend hurt her hand at work. They told her to leave early and get it checked out. On her way, she drives past the laundromat we’re in and decides to stop and say hi. She has a huge heart for our community and is part of our Tuesday night team for Speedy Wash. I’m surprised to see her but happy to have her there. Less than 10 minutes later, two young men walk in. I approach them to tell them that we’re there for Laundry Love and he tells me in Spanish that he does not speak English. I call my friend with the hurt hand over. She speaks fluent Spanish. She explains everything to them and we pay for their laundry. She returns to talk to them a bit more, noticing that they are not dressed for the day’s weather. As it turns out, they don’t have coats, hats or gloves. One of them walks to work at 11:00 p.m. and walks home at 7:00 a.m. That morning he would have walked home in ice and freezing rain. He does not have proper shoes. We are beside ourselves. While she goes to get her hand checked out, I go to the Salina Shares building to see if we have their sizes of shoes and coats. While I am there I also pull hats, gloves and scarves. We deliver to their home that evening and the only coat I had, that I thought may work for him, fits perfectly. He hugged me to thank me.
The owner of the laundromat texts me to see how things are going. I’m guessing he’s thinking we’re really slow because of the weather, but his laundromat was hopping! Every dryer was full. A couple minutes later he texts me, saying he and his wife are interested in adopting a family for Christmas. I am amazed at this circle of giving that we are a part of.
A man walks in who I recognize from last month’s Laundry Love. Last month when I offered to pay for his laundry, he explained to me that his sister had just died two days before and that he was needing clean clothes for her funeral. He needed to talk and all of us took turns listening. Saturday, after getting his washers going, I asked him how he was doing, how the funeral was, how their Thanksgiving was without her. He couldn’t believe I remembered. He must have thanked me 5 times in the course of our conversation for remembering and asking.
This is just one day of Laundry Love. Some of these scenarios leave me nearly breathless as I see God revealing himself in slow, simple, random-seeming circumstances. They are just little glimpses here and there of his hand in our lives, but they are extremely powerful. For whatever reason when we’re at Laundry Love we pause, we look, and we notice. It is not unusual for people to get teary-eyed when we offer to pay for their laundry. It is also not unusual for us as volunteers to get teary-eyed when we see these divine appointments and “coincidences.”
As we walk through this Christmas season, I am mindful that nobody ever expected a King to come as an infant in a manger. Who would expect such love, such power and such hope to come in a form like that?
When we started Laundry Love, we expected to pay for people’s laundry. We wanted to help meet the needs in our community. We could not have anticipated what has happened in our own hearts and lives, as well as in the lives of those we have met along the way. Who would expect such love and hope to come through the doors with a bottle of detergent and a roll of quarters?
Personally, I love the opportunities that our time at Laundry Love affords us and the little bursts of delight it offers to all of us. As we take the time to visit together, laugh and cry together, we get to know each other. It has been an awesome way to build community, and this is just the beginning!
Whatever circumstances you find yourself in this holiday season, I encourage you to pause and take note of those little bursts of delight. I assure you, if you look, you can even find it in the midst of mountains of dirty laundry!
Abundance is… finding hope in unlikely places.