If you haven’t noticed, it’s been a year for rocks. I am thinking of new Pluto photos, Volcano Uku in the Lava song/animation, and the other thumbs-up movie Mr. Holmes. Rocks remind me of Lydia and Pauline, two quiet spinsters
from childhood, who lived unemployed with their families. Perhaps today we would label Lydia and Pauline as having “special needs.”
Lydia had a scarecrow face with pinched eyes, cropped brown hair and a set jaw and mouth. She often dressed in mid-calf, flowery skirts that looked like they came from a Goodwill Store. Sometimes she wore “pedal pushers,” displaying calves shaped like baseball bats. My Uncle Oscar, a school mate of Lydia’s, once asked her what she would like for Christmas. Without hesitation she replied, “a cameo.” Generous Uncle Oscar didn’t scrimp. He purchased the real deal at Johnson’s Jewelry. Aunt Emma said Lydia proudly–and often–wore her cameo to church.
Lydia’s white-haired friend Pauline lived many years with a sickly mother. Pauline, gaunt, tall and always wearing a long dress, liked to hold rocks and carry them around town. If those rocks wore Fitbits they would have broken walking records.
As a middle schooler I once was conscripted along with my church youth group to sing Christmas carols at the home of Pauline and her bedridden mother. The crumbling house smelled of liniment and cabbage. Pauline was holding a rock as
we sang “Silent Night.” In the bedroom was a dresser covered in rocks and its open drawer displayed them too. Rocks were tucked under the bed and along the sideboards. These were not unique specimens in my opinion–just brown and grey chunks. Obviously, Pauline disagreed. She had them sparkling clean and some were rubbed so much they were smooth and shiny.
Pauline and Lydia lived long lives and walked many miles together. Eventually, I believe they resided at the local nursing home. After Pauline died, I once saw a wandering, elderly Lydia carrying a rock. Could one think of a better friendship tribute to Pauline?
I admit to collecting a few rocks. There is the sand and rust-colored flat rock, taken from a North Carolina lake lot. It was there a dear friend told me of her and her husband’s vision to build a home that would be a lighthouse respite for others. It’s a reality now.
Then there is a plain grey stone with my daughter’s name written on it in child’s scrawl. Next to her name is a cross. I just can’t throw this rock away.
A small blue and white rock comes from a North Dakota meadow that I used to walk in. As I turn the stone over, I find it interesting that a rock formed in the depths of the earth mimics the colors of sky and clouds.
I also keep a simple grey rock with Revelation 2:17 and Isaiah 49:15-16 referenced on it. These verses hold promise and encouragement. Here they are quoted below. May their words encourage you, especially when you consider a special mountain or stone:
Isaiah 49:15-16–“Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you! See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands….”
Revelation 2:17–“He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who overcomes, I will give some of the hidden manna. I will also give this one a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to the one who receives it.”
She is often called Little Sweetie Pie. She loves knock-knock jokes:
“That sure was stinky.”
Following a joke like this, Little Sweetie Pie throws back her head and there is a cascade of laughter, followed by another knock, knock joke, and another, and another.
It isn’t unusual for a 5-year-old to behave like this, but there’s something extra clever and unique about Little Sweetie Pie’s humor.
“I know who I get my humor from,” she’ll wisely state.
“Oh, who is that, my Little Sweetie Pie?”
“Uncle Evan,” she affirms giggling.
What is unusual about this idea is that Little Sweetie Pie has only seen her second cousin, aka “Uncle Evan,” probably about four times in her life. He lives 700 miles away. But something fun and funny has resonated with her about him. Knowing them both, I have to concur that the sense of humor must come from the same gene pool.
Humor is a great gift. And how an adult impacts a child can be life changing, even if it comes in small bits of time or just one encounter.
When I grew up on a farm we had a farm hand named Fay, who lived with us through spring’s planting and fall’s harvest. He was my masculine Mary Poppins, blowing in when the snow melted and then, driving away one cold, autumn morning. He never said good-bye to me. This happened the first 12 years of my life. Fay was like a grandfather. I still remember sitting on his lap as we silently watched the rain drip down the living room window. He once caught me a giant moth that I kept in a mason jar. I often watched him shave at the sink in our garage, and sometimes, after he wiped away the shaving cream, he’d let me feel his smooth cheek. I still love him.
For Little Sweetie Pie, Uncle Evan is a caring adult, attentive to her when he sees her. The humor connection just makes the relationship a little more special.
Little Sweetie Pie is off to public kindergarten soon. I hope the powers that be don’t squelch her fresh perspective on life, which brings many smiles and merry laughter.
I also pray there will be good mentors for her and all the children in our culture who have such a difficult road to hoe in these troubled times. Children need wholesome adults, besides their parents, to be good examples of living life well. May each of us intentionally bring humor, kindness, and love to the children in our lives, whenever we can.
“There’s a Blog in My Eye” posts on Fridays. Sign up above (at left) to receive a weekly direct link in your email box. Thank you for reading.
CSB note: I am pleased to offer my friend Don Drobeck’s devotion on one of his many mission trips to help hurting people across our country. Don is a “retired” mechanic (but not really), who also happens to be a great writer. His wife, Genie, is a talented saxophone player, sports lover, and retired kindergarten teacher. Also, following Don’s piece you will find a Joplin update from New Creation Church Pastor Cliff Mansley, who graciously emailed me post-tornado pictures.
It was Sunday, May 22, 2011, and a thunderstorm approached Joplin, Missouri. Since the preceding weeks had seen a record number of severe storms, the local TV forecasters watched the storm’s radar image closely. Just as the towering cloud crossed the city limits, its radar picture morphed into the signature “J” shape, indicating tornado activity. Immediately, the emergency notification system was activated and as the warning sirens sounded, a tornado was already on the ground. Two unusual characteristics marked this twister. It was LARGE—almost a mile wide—with winds over two hundred miles per hour. And, it moved slowly. Most tornados move from 30 per hour miles up to highway speeds. This one was doing ten! That gave it plenty of time to rip hundred-year-old trees out of the ground, twisting them off at the stump; to suck every last drop of water from the municipal swimming pool; to roll cars and trucks into little metal balls; and to kill some 161 people, Also lost were 8000 houses, 550 businesses, 30 churches, 8 schools , 2 fire stations and a major regional hospital. It was our country’s worse tornado in 50 years.
When our team of eight volunteers arrived the night of the Fourth of July, it was five weeks after the fact. We were to stay at the New Creation Church. According to Pastor Cliff Mansley, the new congregation had placed itself in the poorest part of town so it might minister to the neighbors. Now, after the storm, opportunities to do just that were abundant.
Our team was herded to the basement where we saw an ocean of Red Cross cots. New Creation was housing the homeless, drifters, victims, and volunteers. The basement was cool, but windowless with no ventilation. The walls were stacked high with donated supplies. Two oscillating floor fans provided some air movement, and their droning masked the bodily sounds of sleeping volunteers (but not the smells)!
The next morning, New Creation staff informed us that they were providing meals and shelter, and that if we didn’t have a work assignment, we should go to Grace Baptist Church, which sits on the very edge of the destroyed area. The church’s then youth leader, Muchengetwa Bgoni or “Moochy” (originally from Zimbabwe) had a FEMA map of some 1800 destroyed and damaged buildings in the immediate area.
The people who had money or insurance had all the available contractors. Moochy, the believer in the power of prayer, had the biggest supporter of all!
Creating his own “situation” room, Moochy brought together volunteers, churches and even relief agencies. Then, after printing fliers, he sent parents and kids to make contact with victims, to find out what type of help they needed, or just to listen. Later, church members and volunteers fanned out to clear the streets. When I met Moochy in his “command bunker” he asked, “What can you do?”
I said with the swagger of an accomplished volunteer: “Clean up and tear down.”
He asked, “What are you prepared to do for the Lord?”
I should have answered that one a little more carefully. But I was riding high on my “extensive experience” as a result of many volunteer missions.
“Anything,” I replied.
Moochy pointed to a corner of his map and said, “I want your team to canvas this neighborhood. Find out what these people need–be it food and water, house repairs, clothing, counseling or just someone to pick up the trash. We have hundreds of volunteers coming. They will need direction.”
At that moment, I was sorry I had opened my mouth. Hey, I’m a “hit and run” missionary. You know, I come in; do a nice thing for someone, and return to my comfy home and someone else worries about those icky, long-term, seemingly insurmountable problems the victims are facing
Before I left Moochy’s office, he said, “We need some volunteers with heavy equipment to work with us, to clear lots for people without insurance.”
I said, “Okay.” But I was thinking, All the contractors are working for FEMA or insurance companies and are making good money, so good luck with that one.
But, I took my clipboard and started canvassing the first block of my assignment. I was standing in front of a roofless home when a car rolled up to me. On the door was the logo of the Caterpillar Equipment Company. A man jumped out and declared that he represented a nonprofit organization funded and equipped by the caterpillar company to help clean up disaster areas. Could I guide him to someone who could direct him to people who needed that sort of help?
“Yes, I can!” I replied. I’m sure my voice betrayed just a little disbelief. Immediately, I took his paperwork back to Moochy’s office. Under Moochy’s leadership, Caterpillar Equipment Company went to work for the uninsured, devastated homeowners of Joplin. Do we serve a great God or not?
As my team wandered the streets of our canvas area we discovered people apparently trying to live in damaged and unsafe houses. One home, now just a concrete slab, had flowers in front and a sign that read, “In memory of our children. Another roofless house said, “In memory of my husband, who is home with Jesus and Johnny Cash.” Still another, a front wall only, had a huge target painted on it which said, “Direct Hit. (But It Didn’t Get Me!)”
At the end of the street, the team reunited in front of a destroyed home. A young man sat on a heap of bricks, chipping away the mortar. We asked him what he was doing. He said the house was his mom’s, built by his dad with used bricks. He wanted to reuse the bricks, at least on the front of the home.
Suddenly, I heard someone on my team say, “We’ll help you clean these bricks.”
I couldn’t believe my ears. We’re not helping this guy chip mortar off antique bricks! I thought. We chipped bricks in the hot sun until suppertime—1100 of them. Then, with his permission, we formed a circle with this young man and prayed for him and his mother. I had been thinking what a waste of time that project was until I saw the tears in his eyes. Again, I remembered what we were there for.
Next, we worked at transforming a vacant storefront into a doctor’s office. Right from the start I was skeptical. Don’t doctors have their own capital? Don’t they carry insurance? Since this doctor lost his office in the hospital and his private practice building to the tornado, he couldn’t get a building crew anytime soon. And he was caring for the poor members of Grace Baptist—gratis. Good thing I didn’t say what I was thinking before learning the whole story. And that storefront was air-conditioned—man, that felt good!)
Beyond the emotion of seeing incredibly violent destruction, beyond the heartache of meeting the shell-shocked, new homeless, and beyond the excitement of seeing many people coming from coast to coast with every imaginable type of aid, what was most significant to me was the thrill of watching God make things come together for those who believe in Him. And it is not a question of “if” or “when” He’s going to show. He’s been there all along. He’s waiting on us, not vice-versa.
Because I have done short-term volunteer mission work for quite some time now, one would think I’d be a “perfect” volunteer. But characteristics like doubt and pride still interfere, and I still have this unrealistic expectation that God will provide just the type of need that I have the qualification to render help for (i.e., which will make me look good.)
The conversation might go like this: “Oh, thank you, Mr. Don, we couldn’t have done it without you!”
“Aw, I do this all the time. It was nothin’….”
Well, it is nothing if it is done to please the self or to be “seen by men” or even with the false perception that deeply painful acts appease a displeased deity. Instead, I need to learn from the Prophet Micah, a pretty obscure guy who took his message to the streets, compared to say a major prophet like Isaiah, who ministered to kings and priests.
Micah took all the complications out of serving God and others. In fact, in Micah 6:8 we read, “He has told you, oh man, what is good, and what does the Lord require of you? But to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God (NASB).”
I know Micah presented one of the finest definitions of simple faith. He also gave the perfect preamble for the volunteer:
Love kindness, Do justice, Walk humbly with God.
God isn’t looking for big external displays of works–just these three commands. In the military there is this silly saying, “My work is so secret, I don’t know what I am doing.” It reads differently for me now as a volunteer for what God wants me to do: My work is so sacred, I don’t know what I’m doing. Because if I knew what I might be accomplishing for the glory of God or the advancement of His kingdom, then I would take pride in it, and it would be chaff for the furnace.
Update below from Pastor Cliff Mansley:
“New Creation Church was planted eight years ago in the poorest neighborhood of Joplin. We grew to 150 people attending. The tornado wiped out everything just two blocks from us. We were the closest intact structure to ground zero. By God’s grace we housed approximately 10,000 volunteers and served more than 250,000 meals. So many things were accomplished here in a short period of time, but a year and a half after the tornado, when all was said and done, we were left without funding and just 30-40 members. Although we had over one hundred children three days a week in our after school programs and 300 in our recovery programs it appeared that we would have to close our doors.
When we asked the Lord what to do, His response was: “I gave you bunk rooms, shower rooms, and sheds full of tools….start Summer and Spring Break Service Camps.” We did that and now have hundreds of students each summer coming here to serve from around the nation. We continue to hold our after school ministries as well as our recovery ministries under the title of “THE JOPLIN PROMISE….” Thankfully, the JP has allowed our congregation to begin to grow again. We’re currently running about 100 on Sundays although we are always on our knees for God’s provision… average income in our neighborhood is about $11,500. Thanks for taking the time to listen.
Address: New Creation Church, 1831 S. Connor Ave, Joplin, MO 64804 (phone: 417-782-8200) firstname.lastname@example.org
For the Joplin Promise Website: www.thejoplinpromise.com