I See People, They Look Like Trees Walking Around

I was 7 when I began my relationship with the vision-care community. I don’t remember my first optometrist, but my first pair of glasses were brown, cat-eye frames, likely one of two choices back then. Those spectacles kicked off the awkward years, to which a whole series of annual grade school pictures will attest. It has been a love/hate relationship with my vision and optometrists and corrective eyewear over nearly 50 years.
It is cliché, but when my newly bespectacled eyes exited the eye doctor’s office and saw trees and grass for the first time, the discovery of distinctive, individual leaves and blades was astounding. I loved seeing with that stunning clarity. It was almost enough to make up for irritating ear pieces, slippery nose pieces, and endless taunts of, “Four-eyes!”
As I reflect on my weak eyes, I am reminded of the healing of the blind man by Jesus. It is an interesting incident; it is only mentioned by Mark, and it is the only progressive healing in the gospels. I don’t know why Jesus does it like that – there are a number of theories regarding his method – but this transitional period resonates with me. The blind man says when asked about his new, improved sight, “I see people, they look like trees walking around.”
Without the miracle of eyewear, that would be my report.
Even with the miracle of eyewear, things can still get a little fuzzy. Recently I had a checkup at the eye doctor and told him I was having problems reading, and perhaps it was time for a new prescription. Instead, I received a surprising diagnosis: cataracts on the inside of my lenses smack dab on the focal point that were not detectable one year ago. I was despondent.
He seemed almost jovial. This can be a good thing. No offense, Janet, but those lenses of yours aren’t so great. Why would you want to hang on to them? You have never seen clearly with them. When they replace them? No more vision woes. The tiniest snip, suck out that cloudy misshapen lens and pop in a brand-new, tailor-made version. Piece of cake. Regular use of glasses may become a thing of your past.
That got me thinking. What about my spiritual vision? Is it a little fuzzy? Do I clearly see the people around me? Do I see all of the people around me? Or do I see some of the people walking around like trees?
Things have never been fuzzy for God. Again, and again we read stories depicting the clarity with which God sees each of us as individuals and recognizes our unique potential. After the Cinderella-esque parade of Jesse’s seven strapping sons before Samuel, the kid brother comes in smelling like sheep and is anointed King of Israel, prompting God’s admonition to Samuel, “The Lord does not look at the things people look at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but God looks at the heart.” There is Moses, a reluctant rescuer at best, commissioned as Israel’s great deliverer. Rahab, the harlot, harbors God’s helpers and lies about it, but joins the genealogy of Jesus. Gideon the wimp, called while cowering in fear, whining in the winepress, becomes Gideon the warrior.
Jesus continues the trend as he sees fishermen and zealots, tax collectors and lepers, women with water jugs and women with perfume jugs, women with accusers and women with uncomfortable health conditions. Beyond simply seeing, he is moved to action; compassion, inclusion, encouragement.
A new lens requires a new life.
My least favorite part of the eye exam is this: One? Or two? Better? Worse? As the doctor nonchalantly flips his magic lenses back and forth, I anxiously strain to discern. I was always afraid I would end up with fuzzy vision if I missed one step on this part of the test. But the doctor assured me it is actually a fine-tuning of the exam. The prescription is almost complete at this point. This is the final adjustment ensuring no people will be mistaken for trees.
Peter has a list of attributes that might work as our fine-tuning mechanism. He urges us to add this list to our life in increasing measure, to avoid being ineffective and unproductive in our knowledge of Jesus. Here is the list: faith, goodness, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, mutual affection and love. Without these, he tells us, we will be nearsighted and blind.
We can work through these steps one right after another and then back over them again, always looking for the right combination and asking ourselves, “Am I better? Am I closer to the vision of Jesus? Or are there still people out there I am just seeing as trees?”
This week, I recited with those around me the Litany of Penitence from the Book of Common Prayer, including these words, “We have not been true to the mind of Christ.”
Seeing with his eyes is a start.

A Few Things I’m Learning…

After being back in Abilene for the last 6 months and working with Connecting Caring Communities, here are a few things Jesus had been teaching me about moving into the neighborhood. First of all, I need to,

Be With, Eat With, Others. Jesus often got in trouble with the religious dudes [Pharisees, Sadducees, Sanhedrin] because of who he hung out with, ate with: sinners, tax collectors, whores, etc. He was not only a man for others; he was a man with others. He did not march in the street for the rights of lepers; he touched lepers, healed lepers. He did not just look out for the outcast; he was the outcast! As He says in Matthew 25, I was hungry, thirsty, a stranger, naked, sick, in prison. He was concerned because the people were, “harassed and helpless like sheep without a shepherd.” He moved into our world as John 1:14 says: “The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood.” Jesus was comfortable eating at the table with anyone. I need to invite others to the table as valued guests and neighbors.

Secondly, I must have,

Inclusive Compassion. As we work in the neighborhoods of Abilene, we are about inclusive compassion for all! We want everyone to come to the table and share a meal, share stories, share life. Throughout the Gospels we see Jesus moving toward those who seem most unlikely–the blind, the sick, the lepers, the demon-possessed, the folks who just make me uncomfortable! Why? The compassion of God does not have any “ifs” or “buts”–it is inclusive. It is a compassion that, to borrow the words of Father Greg Boyle, “Can stand in awe at what the poor have to carry rather than stand in judgment at how they carry it.” To have inclusive compassion we must embody author Wendell Berry’s injunction: “You have to be able to imagine lives that are not yours.” 

Inclusive compassion is possible when I choose to,

Love All. Jesus said that if you love those who love you, big whoop! Every run-of-the-mill sinner can handle that, but how are you doing with your enemies? How are you doing with those who are different from you in every imaginable way? How’s your love for ISIS, Republicans, Democrats, LBGTQs, Muslims, hoochies, holier-than-thous, refugees, hyper-sensitives, hyper-criticals, victims, victimizers, reds, browns, yellows, blacks, whites? Love God, love people–all of ’em!

At CCC we are trying to build real relationships with our neighbors so that our neighborhoods will be safer, more caring, and holistically healthy. We are actively seeking God’s kingdom as we pray for it to come and his will to be done here in Abilene as it is in heaven. We move into neighborhoods that are in need to be neighbors who are seeking to incarnate God’s love. It is living now by extending small acts of self-giving love in the course of our daily routines. And when we do this, God’s kingdom comes on earth as it is in heaven!


Out of Touch

Today was one of those days I’ve been feeling a little off. The relationship-building work of a community coordinator is largely (you’ll never see this coming) relational. Being a strong introvert, I like that the “people” aspect of this neighborhood work gets me up and moving, meeting people, remembering names, introducing neighbors to each other. Lately, however, there has been a lot more deskwork to do. Between flyers, fundraiser promotions, social media posts, and spreadsheets of housing data, my tasks have ended up being oriented toward more screens than people. Typically I love these types of tasks. I enjoy when I have a job that I can accomplish by sitting down to a computer, having something to show for before I stand up, and getting a break from the messiness of relationships.
But today I hit a breaking point of sorts. So many administrative tasks left me feeling–I’m wasn’t sure what it was exactly. Whatever it was, it bothered me so much, I decided to get out of the house for a bit and see what would happen.
I started off with a walk. Along the way to nowhere in particular, a passerby stopped me to ask to borrow my phone, and we set on the curb talking (and waiting for her ride) for about 30 minutes.
Still not quite out of my funk, I opted for a bike ride toward downtown. Maybe I’d take my book and read at the library for a change of scenery. Just around the corner from my proposed destination, I rode past City Light, the Community Ministry of First Baptist Church. It was just before lunch, and a line was already formed out front of folks waiting to eat and hang out. City Light is usually Janet’s hang out, so I called to see if she was there. She wasn’t, but she drove up before we even got off the phone. I followed her in and we checked the kitchen to make sure there were enough volunteers. It was a busy day, as it turned out, so we stayed to lend a hand. My job ended up being handing plastic sacks to other workers to fill with groceries for guests to take home.
By the time the last bag was filled with fresh produce and bread, I realized that the interactions had lifted my spirits. Aha! That’s what I had been feeling: out of touch. I got to talk with people I know; I got to meet several new faces. After a chat with Gayle, a hearty “How are doing, Brother Shaver?” from Mark, and a couple of wait-where-do-I-know-you-from glances from long-lost connections, I felt better. I felt grounded. It helped the flyers and spreadsheets to have meaning again. There’s not really even overlap between City Light regulars and neighbors I typically see at our neighborhood events. It’s just that I was welcomed in and greeted by women and men, many of whom I have very little in common with.
I can’t help but wonder how many of the hundred or so people in the building for lunch had come for the same reason: human connection.

Dreaming in the New Year

The new year has begun, and many of you bid adieu most emphatically to 2017. I don’t remember another year’s end where the conversations and social media postings of so many welcomed so eagerly the passing of a year – regardless of where one fell on the political spectrum. The year was plagued with even greater political polarity, and unity appears unattainable. More mass shootings — at a concert and a church, even — devastating floods, and ravaging wildfires crushed our spirits, despite the heralded heroes who emerged and were highlighted with the hope they could also save all of us from desperation.
This constant despair has led to exhaustion; our hope has fizzled and dreaming has eluded us.
The only glimmers of hope were hidden among your fierce farewells to 2017; merely an assumption that whatever is ahead couldn’t possibly be worse.
As 2018 opens, The Greatest Showman has hit the theaters – a musical biography of P.T. Barnum and his early exploits in the entertainment industry. The music was composed by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, celebrated composers of Oscar-winning La La Land. And my daughter has Greatest Showman fever – bad. The soundtrack is being blue-toothed into every nook and cranny of silence. Thankfully, I am also a fan.
P.T Barnum, the child, sings this refrain to his young love at the start of the film:
“Cause every night I lie in bed
The brightest colors fill my head
A million dreams are keeping me awake
I think of what the world could be
A vision of the one I see.
A million dreams is all it’s gonna take
A million dreams for the world we’re gonna make.”
Now I sing along and I am inspired. Yes, I am tired, too. But I want to hope and dream again about what the world could be. Would you join me in the refrain? Would you dream with me in 2018?

Reflections on an Ordinary Sunday

Thanksgiving break was essentially over, the last piece of pumpkin pie halved, Grandma properly hugged, and the drive back to regular life completed uneventfully — although somewhat brightened by the magic of Bluetooth and the Pentatonix, my first sounds of Christmas. Morning broke on Sunday with the usual pre-dawn stroll, and a hint of anticipation. I had been so consumed with schoolwork and my work, that I had lost track of dates and awoke thinking that Advent was upon us, one of my favorite seasons in the life of believers. I strolled happily into the outreach where I gather each Sunday for reminders and encouragement, then stopped short. What were these fall decorations doing dangling from the ceiling, and where were the tree and advent wreath?
Earlier in the year, I had brought a lesson about “ordinary time” in the church calendar – the times between Epiphany and Lent and then between Pentecost and Advent. It’s the bulk of the church’s life, and wonderful things can happen even in ordinary time. But today, I didn’t want to try to make something out of an ordinary Sunday. I wanted – no, I needed ¬– sparkle. But there was not even a glint of the glitter of Christmas. And then it hit me … Christmas Eve is on a Sunday, so Advent, which sometimes follows Thanksgiving, is not on its heels this year. I know Thanksgiving isn’t part of the church’s seasons, and has even faced criticism as a national holiday (and rightly so), but I like the natural, maybe even prescriptive, flow from thankful heart to anticipatory heart; one ready to ponder and await the arrival of the Christ child.
But this was an ordinary Sunday. No carols to be sung, no candle to be lit, no twinkling lights, not one bit of sparkle. And I was sulking in the newly revealed ordinariness of the morning.
The service began as usual – a morning’s welcome, an old hymn sung with various degrees of familiarity and gusto. Then, the next hymn began. Someone was singing with an unrivaled degree of gusto mixed with a much lesser degree of timing. “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound,” he belted out loudly, but haltingly, and a step or two behind the less jubilant crowd. I craned my stiff neck to identify the pseudo-soloist who was hijacking the song service. It was Sam.
Sam is a member of our community who has some challenges (like all of us!), except for these: a terrific sense of humor, a knack for kindness and a great big, grateful heart, which makes me rethink the use of “challenges.”
I willed the pianist and song leader to abandon their practiced pace and fall in step with the plodding voice of Sam, as tears welled up in my eyes. Miraculously, after a bit of a tune-style tug of war, we were singing as one, although Sam continued to outshine us all.
Making room in our midst for Sam’s voice, regardless of its timing, must precede any preparation for welcoming the Christ child among us.
Grace had fallen on me in an amazing way on the last of the ordinary Sundays. “I once was lost, but now I’m found; was blind, but now I see.”

ThanksChristmas 2017

ThanksChristmas 2017 was wondrous. It was fun to have our children, their spouses, and our first grandbaby in our home for a few days. It was a much-needed tonic that worked wonders. It was a cure-all for all that ails me. For the first time since our youngest daughter was married this past July, we were all together, staying in the same place. It was a week that will go down in history as one of my favorites so far, and I am so thankful! God has blessed our family as we’ve transitioned from the four of us—Mom, Dad, Daughter 1, Daughter 2—to the seven of us (so far!). And I learned that what is said about being a grandparent is true! To dote or not to dote, that is no longer a question.
One of the things that change is the fact that adding a couple of additional spouses means that the competition for time together is now more complicated. Our holiday schedule has become an “every other.” We have to become more creative as we celebrate the last two months of the year [during which the biggies fall: Thanksgiving and Christmas].
In a stroke of creative genius, we celebrated Christmas with our immediate family on Tuesday before Thanksgiving. And the star of the show was the grandbaby! He made a haul and was so cute! It made me think back to the days when our girls were young and got way too many gifts! We loved every excited squeal and laugh and ridiculous toy that would be played with for a few weeks until being replaced by the old faithful. [“Woody” worried for nothing!]
The older I get, the more I don’t wish for any present other than presence. This year both daughters were here! Both spouses were here—sons whom I love, with whom I am well pleased. A granddog! A GRANDSON! And the one who still amazes me with her love for our daughters, our sons-in-love, our grandson, and me. I am blessed.
However, I did receive gifts from my kids that were great! From the older—Courtney and Jason—I received a book and a game because they know I love to read and love to play. And the game could not have been more perfect: “Punderdome: A Card Game for Pun Lovers.” We played it for way too long Tuesday night and it was punomenal! A punderful time was had by all!
Our younger daughter and her husband—Carlee and Joshua—love to sing together. They met while performing in a musical. They make beautiful music together and that was their gift to us: a CD they recorded in their home studio. It is my new favorite CD! It is primarily worships songs, hymns, a Bob Marley jewel (Redemption Song), an early Jackson Browne song (Rock Me on the Water), and a song they surprised me with by Neil Young (When God Made Me) that I told ‘em they should listen to. They sing better than Neil and make his theological reflection come to life beautifully:

Was he thinkin’ about my country
Or the color of my skin
Was he thinkin’ ‘bout my religion
And the way I worshipped him?
Did he create just me in his image
Or every living thing?
When God made me, when God made me

Was he planning only for believers
Or for those who just had faith?
Did he envision all the wars
That were fought in his name?
Did he think there was only one way
To be close to him?
When God made me, when God made me

Did he give us the gift of love
To say who we could choose?
When God made me, when God made me

Did he give the give of voice
So some could silence me?
Did he give me the gift of vision
Not knowin’ what I might see?
Did he give me the gift of compassion
To help my fellow man?
When God made me, when God made me…

When God made me and you and you and you and—the list goes on and on and on—he made us all in His image and in love. And when he moved into our neighborhood through the incarnation of Jesus, he said: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’[a] This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” [Matthew 22:37-40]

No Need Among You 2017

October is always a busy month. My theory is that everyone gets settled into their schoolyear routines, but the holidays haven’t hit yet, so that’s when everyone and their dogs plan events. A similar thing happens in April, come to the think of it. Janet and I wrapped up the busy month of October with a visit to Houston. While many were in town for Harvey relief or to gear up for the World Series, we went for the No Need Among You conference put on by the Texas Christian Community Development Network.

The two-and-a-half-day conference featured a full line-up of solid keynote speakers and a wide range of workshops. Every year, the gathering attracts groups from across the state, from church food pantries to city-wide development nonprofits. Imagine a church building swarming with people–mostly those employed to “care” for others–all looking for and sharing best practices and philosophies of how to care better.

This was my third NNAY conference, and by now, I’m starting to notice some common refrains that I’d like to share.

  1. No one has this completely figured out.  There’s a reason that nearly 600 people come to these conferences for advice and encouragement every year: it’s hard. Walking alongside the poor, making their concerns our concerns–it’s all so contextual, so dependent on real people and messy relationships. Blanket answers just aren’t available. But there is value in the conversation and hearing what other folks are trying out.
  2. We have inherited some unhealthy practices. When it comes to charity work, a history of handouts has robbed a good deal of folks of their dignity. While relief work is vital in emergencies, neighbors deserve the dignity of being listened to and having chronic issues met with development, instead of relief. For more on this see Robert Lupton’s Toxic Charity.
  3. Relocation IS a best practice. Though only a fraction of NNAY attendees live in the areas they work, becoming a neighbor does help us form the kind of relationships that don’t depend on hierarchy or handouts. By being neighbors we can listen better and more easily see the good that happens unreported all around us.
    Speaking of Robert Lupton, he was one of the conference’s keynote speakers this year. He summed up his decision to relocate rather matter-of-factly: “I started working with troubled youth. It didn’t take long before I realized I couldn’t work effectively with youth without working with their families. So I went back to school to learn how to work with families. Then I realized I couldn’t work with families without addressing their environment. And obviously, the best way to work in the environment is to become part of the neighborhood.” For some comfort-shattering stories of Bob’s early years in inner-city Atlanta, pickup Theirs is the Kingdom.
  4. Justice matters. The final keynote speaker (and probably my favorite) at the conference was Michelle Warren. “Justice is not only about consequences,” Warren shared, “It is a pendulum that must also swing to opportunity.” The author of The Power of Proximity related how it wasn’t any left-leaning politics that led her to become a social justice advocate; it was her decision to “[roll] out of bed every morning trying to be a good neighbor that set off a whole chain of events” toward advocacy.
    The NNAY conferences I have attended in the past have featured workshops on setting up legal aid clinics, payday lending research, and racial injustice. These types of topics are not the center of the conversation. Loving our neighbors is the center of the conversation. But these topics come up because they affect our neighbors far more often than they should.

I am proud to be part of an organization that believes in living where we work. I enjoy the tough conversations about what ways we help and in what ways we might be hurting. I feel the pull toward justice as I roll out of bed and see what my neighbors see. In some ways, it is easy to get discouraged because there is so much work to be done and no one seems to know exactly how it should be done. However, at the very least, it is uplifting to remember that there are others across the state and the country who try to wield the power of helping in responsible ways. I believe there are those types of people across Abilene, too.

Here’s a free online synopsis of Toxic Charity.

Spot It!

A few years ago, I stumbled upon Spot It!, a party game distributed by Blue Orange in San Francisco and contained in a round metal can about the size of a donut. Inside are 55 round cards with eight symbols on each card. The game has more than 50 different symbols, but on each card only one of the eight symbols matches a single symbol on any other card. The object of the game is to spot the one matching symbol that is on both your card and the card in the middle before any of the other players call out their own matching pictures. It sounds so simple — and it is in theory — but it can be surprisingly challenging. At times the whole group has stared at those silly symbols for minutes, and would have sworn they had found the one card for which this game did not work, except for someone finally shouting, “It’s the clown!”
Spot It! can be played with as many as eight folks of varying ages and abilities with equitable results. It quickly became the favorite activity when I would visit my “little” who more often than not taught her mentor a thing or two about the game. It was also the mainstay at the start of our summer day-camps each afternoon when the scorching summer sun drove the happy campers inside to the happy air conditioning.
We recently had a neighborhood dinner at which we stuffed baked potatoes with chopped brisket and then stuffed our faces and settled in for the evening program. An assistant city manager gave us an overview of the scope of the city’s work and responsibilities in preparation for the next year’s worth of monthly dinners; a different city department will attend each one and talk more extensively about their duties. My co-worker blessed the barbecue and the beauty of this group — folks who came together with possibly no more in common than this place, our neighborhood we all care about.
It is true. When we come together on the second Monday of each month, we range in age from 8 months to 80 years, we are married, divorced, widowed and single, we have strong-legs and motorized wheelchairs, all shades of skin tones, diverse backgrounds and experiences, and no doubt varying opinions about the Dallas Cowboys and how the rest of the world should work.
Most in our country have forgotten how to get along with people who are different. We have sorted ourselves into homogenous groups politically and sociologically, even moving away from others to live in likeminded communities. Bill Bishop wrote about this phenomenon in his 2008 book, The Big Sort: Why the Clustering of Like-minded America is Tearing Us Apart.
It is indisputable that we are living in one of the most polarized times in our history. There is little or no reaching across the political aisle to problem-solve. We can hardly speak of the “other side” without vilifying its members. We only watch our side’s cable channel, read our side’s columns or blogs, and then unfriend anyone who disagrees with us, so we don’t have to consider their posts and associated comments.
Something about sitting around a table and sharing a meal with people is almost magical. At the very least, it binds us together. Differences fade away for a time as we all pause for this necessary refueling of our bodies. (As the lone vegan in the group, I am disruptive to this otherwise unifying, lip-smacking appreciation of Texas brisket, but the rest tolerate me all the same.) That is why our group eats together every month. It is a reminder that we at least have this one thing in common, and amidst the smacking we realize we are more alike than we are different, even if we can’t agree about the Cowboys.
Perhaps you have seen those real-life games of chess or checkers or even Harry Potter’s Quidditch. I am thinking that next month when we leave the table, we may play a real-life game of Spot It! looking closely at one another to find at least one thing that matches at every turn.
It sounds so simple, doesn’t it?

Here’s to Hope!

It’s been a rough week. It’s been yet another week when an inexplicably horrendous mass shooting has occurred. 59 dead human beings, each made in the image of God, shot in Las Vegas. And since June of last year—477 days—there have been 521 mass shootings in the U.S. Lord have mercy…

The guns used in Las Vegas were designed to kill people quickly and randomly. They are weapons designed for war. No matter what you think about war such guns are obscene. No one should be able to obtain such guns no matter how they do on the background checks. It’s been a rough week to remain hopeful.

But as a committed follower of Jesus, I remain hopeful. I remain steadfast in my commitment to following the one who said, “Blessed are the peacemakers” and “Love your enemies” and “Pray for your enemies.” It is in following Jesus that I have discovered that owning a gun is not healthy. I don’t trust me. I don’t trust my ability to love my enemies while armed.

But back to hope! Hope is not tied to life making sense. As a matter of fact, hope is best understood in view of a death that was based on love. Jesus loves us! It was his love for us that held him on the cross. Life in Christ is about, “faith, hope and love, but the greatest of these is love.” So in these rough weeks I hang on fiercely to my faith and hope because of love. Love always makes sense.

So this week, and every week, I’m planning to do what Michelle Warren suggests in her book, The Power of Proximity. She talks about a question that she has been asked more times than she can count: “How can you continue to work on things that may never change?” Here’s her answer, which is now my plan as we work to bring God’s kingdom to Abilene as it is in heaven: “I drink a big glass of hope every day when I get up. Some days the glass needed is bigger than others.”

Come by any time and let’s lift a glass of hope!

Guard Dignity. Save Pride.

One of my favorite church songs of late is Peter Scholtes’ They’ll Know We Are Christians. You’ve probably heard it. It has a sort of native-American-slash-nineteen-sixties-Jesus-music vibe. Its call for the church’s internal unity and external love gives me hope. It’s push for boiling down evangelism to confessing that God is here. Man, that’s good stuff. But that third verse…what’s that about “guarding dignity” and “saving pride”? Uh, I thought pride was a bad thing.

We’ll come back to that. For now, how about a story?

Many of CCC’s regularly scheduled events take place at the Friendship House on Orange Street. However, our neighborhood is blessed to have a handful of venues, each suited for different types of events. So a year or so ago, we purchased a trailer to help mobilize our efforts. We outfitted it with a locking toolbox to keep tie-downs and such onboard, and soon we were hauling tables and snow cone supplies and propane grills with ease.

We also became the go-to trailer folks. You know that phenomenon where one of your friends gets a pickup, and then all their friends are suddenly reminded of the stuff they need to borrow a pickup to haul…It was like that, but with a trailer. (After all, this is West Texas; doesn’t everyone already have a pickup???)

Last week, though, a well-intentioned neighbor & friend borrowed this trailer and apparently forgot to use the all-important tie-downs.  A bump was hit. A load shifted. And BAM! The toolbox was crushed like Darla’s can of Shasta. Darla crushing ShastaOkay, that’s an exaggeration, but it was crumpled to the point that the lid won’t close.

I wasn’t able to answer the phone when he called to confess, but his voicemail–despite a total lack of details–made his regret clear. “I, uh, I messed up pretty bad. Just–just call me back.” I was actually relieved to find out that the mishap only damaged the toolbox, rather than the tires or the frame. A trailer is still a trailer without a toolbox.

When I drove over to his place to see the damage for myself, he offered to take off the toolbox and have a friend of his work the dents out to make it usable again. He could even repaint it. Hmm, would that even be worth it?


Here’s what was going through my head [in a far less organized fashion]. Ok, I can choose to…

  1. Just say, “No, that’s ok. I can take care of it.” I’d feel better about this if I handle it. After all, if you want something done right… Let him off the hook. If I can’t fix it, I can replace it. Be INDEPENDENT.
  2. Just say, “No thanks, it’s not really a big deal.” I don’t want to have to keep up with the status of these repairs. That’s more headache than it’s worth. I’d rather just do without the toolbox. Besides, I wouldn’t want to strain the relationship over this. I know he’s short on cash; what will he have to pay his friend to fix this? Let him off the hook. Be a PEOPLE-PLEASER.
  3. Just say, “Ya, know what? That’d be great if you could get it fixed.” This was his mistake, and he wants to make it right. Why shouldn’t he? There’s no rush, no need to make sure it gets done a specific way. He feels bad about it, so let him make it right. Acknowledge that he has the skills & resources to make things right. Be DIGNIFYING.


“Ya, know what? That’d be great if you could get it fixed,” I said.

“Thank you,” he responded, though I didn’t understand why until he explained. “I know this isn’t just y’all’s trailer. You let other folks use it, too, so I feel like I let everybody down. A lot of people would’ve said, ‘Nah, don’t worry about it, it’s fine.’ But you’re letting me make it right. Thanks.”

I am not making this up. That was his response.

I chose the option that many would’ve balked at for being “uncharitable” or “unmerciful.” In other scenarios, it might not have been the right call. But this guy–especially because he is often short on cash–had grown tired of asking for charity and mercy. Instead, he asked me for a chance to be treated as equal, to be seen as responsible. He asked for dignity. This is the work we should be about.

[Verse 3:]
We will work with each other
We will work side by side
We will work with each other
We will work side by side
And we’ll guard each man’s dignity
And save each man’s pride

And they’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love
Yes, they’ll know we are Christians by our love

Related posts on dignity & mutually-enhancing relationships:

Give and Take
The Christmas Store
The 8 Elements of a Healthy Community, Part 1
Never Has a Jolly Rancher Meant So Much