Friday, August 29, 2008

How a parsonage teaches grace

When I was in seminary, I was blessed to have Roberta Bondi as my contextual education adviser my second year. She was fabulous and creative and had us read things like "The Great Divorce" and "The Gospel According to Biff".

One day during class she was talking about grace and shared a story of how she had been 8 1/2 months pregnant and was painting the house to prepare for the new baby. She had a grad student at the house helping her and she got up on a step ladder to paint the ceilings. Being so pregnant she shouldn't have been up there, but she refused to allow the grad student to help her. Years later, upon reflection, her advice was not follow her example and instead to "accept grace where grace is offered".

Since that time, I have taught that lesson to many folks. One man's lesson in grace came when we were in Mississippi doing Katrina Rebuild work, he told me "I just don't deserve all this" (he was a missioner and was speaking of the blessings) and I told him, "that's grace." Another lesson came for an expectant mother, bearing her 5th child while her husband was away with the Navy. When we talked about what she needed, it wasn't material things, it was help. I offered for the church to do a "service shower" where people would gift their service (cooking, cleaning, child care) instead of onesies or whatnot. She began to cry and said she couldn't. I shared Bondi's reflection: accept grace where grace is offered.

In my own life, however, I have been reluctant to accept grace, even when it is offered on a silver platter. I hate asking for help and generally only do in the most dire of circumstances, whether it's emotional or physical help, it's only when I'm on my last.

Well, that is until I moved into a parsonage. The first week I was here there was a constant stream of people here to help. Movers, cleaners, fix-er-upers, unpackers, tapers, painters, yard clean-er-upers. There were easily 15 church volunteers, plus my family, and a handful of friends. Not only did I have to ask for help, but I had to then tell/direct people what to do.

Since then there have been a number of additional things I've needed help with at the parsonage, from fixing the dishwasher, to fixing lights, to repairing sprinklers, to dog sitting, to help getting cleaned up and organized when I just couldn't do anymore. I've had friends, parishioners, and professionals all over because I needed help. Just for the record, I don't need help well. I hate needing help. Even more than that, I hate asking for help. Seriously. Not for others, I'm happy to recruit all the help in the world for the benefit of others, but not for myself.

As the trustees meet and cover church needs, I gave them a list of things still yet to be done at the parsonage. Not because I want to make demands upon them, but because they need to know what doesn't work and what needs to be repaired (and what needs to be exterminated).

Wednesday I talked with one of the trustees about some of the things to be done. He's pushed pretty hard to make sure the work gets taken care of. I keep telling him nothing is urgent and that I could live without most of it being done, but he wants to make sure it's covered pronto. As part of that, he came over within hours to replace an outside light that was broken, which incidentally still doesn't work because the electrical is bad out there, but that's for another day. And then another trustee was over during the day to fix my sprinker. I tried a number of times and between the roots and the trials of plumbing, and my busy schedule, it wasn't happening and I gave in and asked for help. He's been the one to do most of the repair work around the parsonage since I arrived and I hate having to make him interrupt his day and come over.

After he left, I started thinking that I simply wouldn't ask for more to be done. That I would just live with anything else. I know that's how things add up at a parsonage, how when a pastor leaves there's an exorbitant amount of work b/c it hasn't been done in years. I can see the forest for the trees in this case. But really, I don't like asking people to do things for me.

I know, practically, they are doing things for the church--it's the church's house and their role as a trustee or volunteer or whatever, but when you're the one living there it becomes your need...not the church's, and so, in turn, they are helping you.

And so, by my own stubborn nature, on many days, the only thing that reminds me of my own weaknesses and need for grace is this blessed piece of church property in which I live. It's a blessing really, I know it is. Despite my objections. I must accept grace when it is offered, and have a little courage from time to time to ask not only for what is "absolutely necessary" but what would be "nice" and "helpful" for my own personal needs.

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