Thinking Out Loud

January 21, 2019

Eyeing the Competition

While 99% of the people in Pastor Reynold’s congregation met with him at the church or in a coffee shop, Olivia was good friends with his wife which gave her somewhat unfettered access to the pastor at his home.

Dropping in one day while Mrs. Reynolds was out, they stood at the front door and talked for five minutes, and as usual, Olivia was going on and on about the latest podcast she’d heard from some U.S. preacher. “You should check him out sometime; it was absolutely awesome!”

It wasn’t just her; there were a bunch of twenty-somethings and thirty-somethings in the church who seemed to trade teaching links the way his generation traded baseball cards. It was as though everyone is looking for the next big thing.

Finally he decided to state the obvious, “So did you like my sermon this week?”

“It was okay.” She seemed to be reluctantly volunteering that assessment.

“Would it be better if I got some skinny jeans?” he asked her, but she just laughed.

So he tried it another way, “Would it be different if I had a podcast?”

“You do have a sermon podcast; the tech team posts your message every Monday.”

“Oh right…” at which point he had to admit to himself that he’d forgotten that; in fact, he’d never even been to the page where the sermons were posted.

Olivia got a text back from Mrs. Reynolds saying she wouldn’t be home for an hour, so Olivia texted back that they’d meet the next day instead.

Pastor Reynolds went back to his computer and tried to find an email he’d received several weeks ago from Jordan, Olivia’s husband. Jordan had recommended that the pastor watch and listen to a particular speaker but the email had sat ignored.

“Where did he say that guy was from?” the pastor asked himself. “Bismark? Boise? Bakersfield?” He found the email, clicked the link and started listening. He’d set the expectation bar quite low and wasn’t prepared for what he saw and heard.

After about four minutes, out loud to no one besides the cat, he said, “Oh my goodness… this ain’t the kind of preaching I was raised on.”

It was actually two hours before Mrs. Reynolds came home, and by then Pastor Reynolds had heard three sermons by three different next generation preachers, and had scrawled two pages of handwritten notes…


…Every healthy church has people of different ages who are being influenced by speakers and teachers online from their generation.  Someone who loves Charles Stanley is unlikely to develop an affection for John Mark Comer and vice versa. A fan of David Jeremiah is unlikely to convert to a steady diet of Judah Smith. A daily listener to Chuck Swindoll is unlikely to abandon him for Levi Lusko.

The point of today’s story however is that pastors would do well to invest some time listening to those teachers who are influencing the people in their congregation. People like Olivia can’t get to John Mark’s or Judah’s or Levi’s church. If they live more than an hour from a major city, they might not even be able to get to one like it. Pastor, they worship at your church and they’re part of your congregation.

But they have these other influences, just as certainly as the older people take in In Touch, Turning Point and Insight for Living. Furthermore, the older members of the church often listen to these radio and television preachers on a daily basis, whereas they only come to church once a week. Media preaching has a greater impact on many churchgoers than what takes place at weekend services.

Shouldn’t pastors take some time every once in awhile to check out what it is people are hearing? In the story, Pastor Reynolds announces to an empty house not that the message is ‘Heresy!’ but rather that the communication style is exceptionally different; greatly engaging. The pacing is different; there’s less shouting; the messages are longer but the times seems to fly by. He makes notes.

I think the practice of listening to the group of rising pastors and authors should be part of a pastor’s occasional routine. I know people in vocational ministry are busy and groan under the weight of all the books people in the church tell them they should read, and podcasts they should watch or listen to, but if someone in your congregation is overflowing with excitement about a spiritual influence in their lives, wouldn’t one would want to know what it is?


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December 18, 2018

Worship Monopoly: A Fable

I got to know Peter and his family about ten years ago. Honestly, there wasn’t anybody in Rickford County who didn’t know them. His family was gifted musically, and they spread that gift around four churches.

His wife Marta was the organist and music director of the SBC church in the next town. Peter himself played keyboards and led worship at the Assemblies of God church. Their son Justin played guitar and led worship with his wife at the Foursquare church in town, and their daughter was the pianist at the United Methodist church.

“We control the music in four churches;” Peter frequently told me; though I bristled at the use of the word control.

But control was exactly what Peter had in mind for his little dynasty. “I eventually want us to control the worship music selection in the entire region; in the entire Tri-State area.”

“That’s about 50 churches;” I reminded him.

But Peter was undeterred. He sent out emails to the other worship leaders telling them they could “buy their weekly song selection” from his informal organization.

For whatever reason, some took the offer. Whether these worship leaders and music directors were tired of choosing for themselves I do not know. Perhaps they felt Peter’s family offered a degree of expertise beyond their own.

He emailed 52 churches and 13 (one quarter) took the offer. Combined with the four churches already under their family umbrella, they were choosing congregational sung worship songs for 17 churches, a few of which they’d never even visited.

Word started spreading beyond the area and he started getting requests from churches in other states.

“This is really big;” he told me, “We found a need and we filled it.”

I had told Peter that popular worship leader Tim Lonchris was my wife’s second cousin, so when his tour came to our state, Peter asked if I could score us free admission. I did wonder why the guy who was raking in a small worship music stipend for nearly two dozen churches couldn’t afford concert tickets, but I decided to let it go.

In fact, I did better. I got us backstage passes and a chance to meet Tim before the concert.

I started to introduce Tim to Peter, but Peter barged ahead, “My name’s Peter and I control the worship music in 27 churches across the Tri-State area.”

Tim’s brow furrowed slightly. “What do you mean control?”

“We choose the songs for the churches so they don’t have to have to choose them themselves.”

He then thrust a business card into Tim’s hand and then he told Tim how much he enjoyed his music. Then we had to find out where we’d be seated backstage, so we left the dressing room, but as Peter left I circled back.

“Sorry about that;” I said, “Peter’s little operation is probably unique, I’d say.”

“Yes it is;” Tim replied, but then he handed the business card to his road manager adding, “Remind me to follow-up with this guy; we need to look into this.”

August 28, 2018

Things Left Better Un-Blogged

As soon as she left, Pastor Matt picked up the phone and called his wife.

“You won’t believe who I had in here just now;” he teased her.

“Who?” she said taking the bait.

“Helena Morjann; and you wouldn’t believe how woefully confused she is about the Bible. She said some things and it was all I could do not to split my sides laughing…” and then he proceeded to tell her one of those in complete detail.

When he was done she was laughing as well she said, “I hope your office door was closed all that time. She obviously isn’t getting much from your sermons;” and then adding, “All I can say is, you totally have to blog that.”

Thinking it over for a few seconds, he replied, “You know I could never do that.”

In the year that he was between churches, Matt did an intensive doctoral program, occasionally blogging on a site he had begun many years ago. When he took his current assignment, most of his blog readers were people from his DMin cohort, as well as several he had met doing his MDiv.

Arriving at the church, the leadership there wanted to post his bio on the church website and after composing a few short paragraphs, they had quickly asked, “Are you on Twitter or Facebook?” and “Do you have a blog?” and without thinking of the long-term consequences he had quickly provided the answers.

Looking back, he wishes he had simply created a new blog for the duration of that position; a decoy blog that would prevent them looking for the real one, and that would allow him more freedom to write about the wild and wacky things that take place in interactions with his new congregation.

The things Helena had said in his office that morning would have totally cracked them up.

I’m not a pastor.

I’m also blessed with a fairly wide readership; a collection of people on several continents, in several time zones, representing the broadest diversity of denominational backgrounds.

Because the blog is faith-focused — I’ve never over the years wandered down the road of sharing much of our personal lives or things the kids did that week — I will often use events and situations which take place locally and have impacted me as fuel for blog posts, especially if they impacted my wife and I directly.

But there are some people locally who read Thinking Out Loud, and because of that, like Pastor Matt, I need to be careful. Many of the items which have appeared with the “Short Stories” graphic (above) are based on things which I needed to partially disguise as are the items in “The Lost Voice Project” collection of stories (which I would have loved to have seen develop into a book).

Today is one of those days.

There’s a topic I’m dying to get into today, but it strikes too close to home for some of those local readers. I need to table it for a few months and then find a way to introduce it, perhaps using a fictional story, or waiting until something similar breaks onto the Christian news scene, and then use it as a springboard to express some thoughts.

As someone once said, “Hurtin’ feelings is dumb.” I don’t want to scratch wounds, especially at a time of vulnerability.

So as much as I hope you enjoyed today’s story about Pastor Matt, the real blog post for today will have to wait.

Maybe I should consider this the decoy blog and launch another one. I could call it, “Dumb things churches do.”

We’ll have to wait and see.

 

August 26, 2018

Face Pressed Against the Window

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:33 am

19 Years old and unable to present her parents with a suitable alternative, she’s joined them and her younger brothers for a 3-day rental of a log cabin at a winter resort.

The brothers were dominating one of the two large screens which were provided and her parents were watching a movie on the other when she told them she was “bored to tears” and would be out walking around the trails by the 40 or so other cabins. She dons winter boots, a ski jacket and hat. The wind is light, but the outside temperature seems significantly lower than the city they left. She’s glad she also grabbed a scarf.

Some of the cabins are dark — probably not rented this particular weekend — but others show evidence of occupancy. She thinks she hears the faint pulsing of music from one on the edge of the property and her feet follow the sound.

The cabin is well lit and someone has strung a battery operated set of flashing lights on the door framing a sign which reads, “Teens and Twenties Party Tonight – Everyone Welcome” and then, to make sure the type of party, in smaller print, “No Alcohol.”

She walks over to the door but hesitates to knock. Instead she moves to her left where there is a window consisting of two dozen smaller panes of glass. It has obviously snowed earlier in the day and there is a light coating that she needs to brush aside to press her face to one of the panes.

Inside are mostly people standing in small groups talking. She’s surprised that there are actually a number of people at the resort her age. The glasses in their hands are probably filled with what looks like apple cider from a large punch bowl with real cinnamon sticks floating on top. Someone has prepared trays of baked items which appear to be banana bread, strawberry tarts and shortbread cookies. It’s not Christmas but there are Christmas lights and Christmas garland strung around the room. Two guys seem to be in charge of a twin turntable and they’re playing real vinyl records. A group are sitting around a large playing a board game she’s seen before, though at a distance she’s not sure if it’s Ticket to Ride or Settlers of Catan. There’s a kitchen in the background and it looks like they’ve just taken something out of the oven and are closing in to savor the aroma.

She’s lost in peering into this world, and someone inside spots her face and walks over to the window and waves at her saying, “C’mon inside.”

But something — she doesn’t know what it is — holds her back and she simply stands there for what seems like forever observing the party from out in the cold…

This story is an extrapolation from another story that I read many years ago and has been reprinted on the several times in the early days of this blog. I was going to run that one this morning when I sensed something saying, tell the other version of the story, the one about the girl…

I’ve shared this version several times when I found myself working at a couple of Christian camps — in much warmer weather than the story describes — and we had, for various reasons people on staff who had not fully made a commitment to Christianity; or to put it another way, not crossed the line of faith.

I told them that they’re like the girl in the story, watching and observing the insiders as though their faces are pressed against the glass, but unwilling to come in and join the party. Instead, they stand observing Christian people, doing both Christian things and ordinary things but doing so with an assurance of post-resurrection eternal hope in Christ.

Like all analogies, it’s imperfect, but maybe you know someone or perhaps you’re one of them who is an outsider to Christianity. There are people on the other side waving you in; inviting you; perhaps imploring you, but something holds you back. Your face is pressed against the glass.

Please…come in. Join the party.

February 6, 2018

First Church of Apathy

Sunday morning began with my wife stirring rather early. She was on worship team and needed to be there, on the platform, ready to sing at 8:00 AM.

It was then my phone went off. I was being called in to check a relay station about 30 minutes from my house. They were getting a warning light, which was probably a faulty sensor. It was usually matter of verifying nothing more serious was happening, and then replacing the sensor module. But the rules stated I couldn’t do this alone, just in case. My partner would be Derek.

Derek was a fairly new Christian with whom I had numerous conversations on jobs, in the truck, and in the lunchroom. I texted him quickly and said there was a church almost next door to the relay station if he was interested, since I wouldn’t make it back on time for our own. He said he was open to the visit.

Rock Heights is a beautiful subdivision. The church has grown quickly and while I wouldn’t call it a megachuch, it’s certainly bigger than where our family attends.

Sure enough, it was a sensor module. We exchanged it, locked the gate and had 5 minutes to make it to the 10:00 AM service. We could see the church parking lot, which was rather small, from the ridge and it was already full, so the plan was to park in a strip mall next door which was mostly tenants who would be closed on Sunday. Other people from the church also parked there.

We arrived and ditched as much of our work clothes as possible, though I regretted not taking different shoes to replace the work boots. When we walked in, I was disappointed to see it was some type of children’s service, and they had roped off a large number of the center rows for the kids to sit. Everything else was full and people were walking in circles trying to figure out where to land. We found some extra chairs that had been set up in a corner, but one of them was really wobbly and they were quite uncomfortable, mostly because the floor sloped at that point and the chairs weren’t made for that.

So we made our way to the balcony. I’d never sat up there before, and you had to look twice to realize it was there, since it was somewhat off center to the main floor. Seating only about 125 people, it looked more like someone had cut a hole in the wall just in case they needed more capacity. It was about half full, which surprised me, given the crush of people downstairs. It had its own speakers, since a lot of sound would be blocked by the wall. Ambient sound from the main level was not to be expected.

And those speakers seemed not to be working. There were announcements, and then a woman did a solo number with piano accompaniment. Even the piano sound didn’t carry into this upper perch. Derek said he couldn’t hear anything. That was obvious. Other people up there started complaining to their seatmates and I’m sure the people on the lower level were aware that some commotion was taking place upstairs.

Nobody seemed to be in charge. I figured we were all visitors, but I’d been here a few times and knew where the audio room was; it was on this level. I would get this fixed faster than you could exchange a relay sensor. The door wasn’t locked and I walked in. Three people working hard. Sound inside was state of the art. One head turned so I quickly said, “We’re not getting any sound in the balcony.”

There was no response. The person simply pointed at some rack mounted sound equipment, and gestured toward one which had been labeled, ‘Not Working.’ Then he shrugged his shoulders and turned away. There was to be no discussion.

How could they not bother fixing it? They knew this would be a busy Sunday with lots of kids and the parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles of these same children, some of whom had been sitting the row in front of me.

I went back to the balcony, which was now filled because of the time it took people to find parking and realize there was no seating left. The murmur of complaint had turned to anger. Heck, if I could slip downstairs and place my cell phone next to a speaker, I could send the audio to Derek’s cell phone which had a great speaker. At least someone would hear. Couldn’t they have thought of something like that, or better?

But Derek wasn’t there. A woman turned to me and said, “Your friend wasn’t sure where you went, but he said he’d wait for you in the lobby.”

Another church. Another Sunday. Another overlooked detail. Probably none of the people in the sound room had ever been forced to sit in the balcony. They had no experience of it.

I brought Derek back to my place and we watched a televised service instead and had a good talk afterward. Morning redeemed. In spite of everything. But for me and up to 123 other people who were at Rock Heights Church that Sunday, it was a case of never again.


This object lesson should lead you to think of at least FOUR things this church could have done differently, and probably a few more as well. What comes to mind?

November 4, 2017

Inching Toward the Slippery Slope

Filed under: Christianity, family, marriage, prayer — Tags: — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:09 am

Just three short months before they asked him to consider being on the short list for appointment as a church deacon at the Baptist Church, Ray got into a habit of dropping into McGinn’s Wings on the way home from work. Although he had a more liberal attitude toward drinking than some in the church, it wasn’t about the alcohol. On about half of the days he went with a bottled grapefruit drink they served that was non alcoholic. It was more about having a buffer zone between work and home, though during the process his Sunday morning church attendance was starting to wane.

McGinn’s customers tended to walk around more than sit. There were some novelty pool tables, one sized extra long and the other extra square; not to mention some vintage pinball machines, foozball, and a prototype of a Wii-type game that never made it to market. There was also a red-haired woman who said her name was Blaine.

Short Stories“Isn’t that a man’s name?” Ray asked.

“I’m all girl;” she replied, “Want me to prove it?”

Ray made a fist with his left hand and aimed it toward her. “See that? That’s a wedding ring. Don’t forget that.”

And then, two days later they would repeat the same dialog, almost word-for-word.

Ray’s wife Kallie was aware of all this. What was obvious by the smell of his jacket when he came home after 30 minutes at McGinn’s — a mixture of the hot sauce served with the chicken wings and the smell of beer — was also confirmed by Ray. He made no attempt to hide what he called his “new hobby.”

“What happens,” asked Kallie, “If someone from North Hills Baptist sees you coming out of there?”

Ray didn’t care. The pastor arranged for a joint meeting of the current deacon’s board along with all six people on the short list for serving the following year. Only three of those would be chosen, but they got to see an actual functioning meeting which dealt with a couple of budget issues, a few room rental requests, and the issue of a member who had written a rather strange letter to the editor of the local newspaper which, while it was mostly political, had the potential to do some damage.

Ray enjoyed the meeting and even made what all considered some good suggestions during a time when the prospective members could make comments; but the next morning he called Pastor Clements to ask that his name be removed from the short list and curiously, the pastor didn’t ask for a reason.

Ray made some friends at McGinn’s. He helped one guy move on the condition that it not involve a piano, and another was a mechanic and did some electrical repairs to his passenger side car window for free. They told him that Blaine was harmless, she actually had a different birth name which she hated, and every few years she came up with a new identity that she field-tested on bar patrons. Still, her flirting messed with his head, and she wasn’t the only woman at the bar who enjoyed playing mind games.

But several months down the road, McGinn’s closed. They were facing three civil lawsuits, there was a threat of a sexual harassment charge by a former waitress, some health code issues, and the proprietor was dealing with charges of federal tax evasion; though it must be said that the last item — the tax dispute — got cleared up really quickly when the owner sold the property to a condo developer for what everyone felt was far above market value.

Ray spent a week visiting other bars in town, but found them “shallow” and decided to go back to driving straight home from work. At that point he also resumed a more regular pattern of church attendance.

Ray’s employer had a deal where if there were five Fridays in a month, they got the last one as a day off. So he was enjoying an extra hour’s sleep when Kallie informed him that she needed him to drive Claire Gibbons from her house to a florist shop to order the decorations for the women’s fall banquet.

“Why can’t you do it?” Ray asked.

“I’m on a writing deadline for one of the magazines.”

“The fashion one or the cooking one?”

“The parenting one. And I have some bad news, you have to take my car.”

“I can’t drive your car, my knees start killing me after two minutes in that thing. Did you tell Scott he could take the SUV?”

“No, you did.”

“Your car is too low.

Claire Gibbons was a weird blend of hipster and 1950s Baptist and you never knew which version of her you were getting at any given moment. Her contrasting themes ran through everything from her opinions on church matters to what she wore. Ray thought Kallie should be giving her some of the complimentary copies of the fashion magazine that were delivered each month, because her fashion style could best be described as contradictory.

The route to the florist shop from Claire’s house went by the former home of McGinn’s Wings. The windows were boarded up and there was a large ‘For Sale’ sign in the parking lot, even though the locals knew about the property selling to the condo company.

“Glad to see the end of that place;” Claire said.

Ray gulped. “How’s that?”

“Our Bible study group was praying that place would close.”

Ray took a slow, deep breath and asked, “Is that the group Kallie’s in?”

“No;” Claire offered, “She goes to Tuesday, I lead the one on Thursday.”

Ray kept his eyes on the road.

They were praying against the bar.

They were praying against the place where I was starting to spend more of my time.

A few minutes later the route took them by the home of a longtime member of North Hills Church.

“Look over there;” Claire said with much excitement, “Alan Richards got his car back.”

“I didn’t hear this story,” Ray responded, “What happened?”

“Alan got his license pulled when the eye doctor told him he couldn’t drive anymore until he got glasses, and the frames he wanted took six days to come in. In the meantime, his son borrowed the car and immediately heard and felt something not right. The mechanic found some kind of brake issue that could have been disastrous. I forget what they called it, something about –“

Ray had to slam on his own brakes when a dog ran out from nowhere, retrieved something from the road, and disappeared again.

Claire didn’t finish her sentence and Ray’s mind went back to Alan and his car.

His six day inconvenience prevented him from driving a broken car.

His inconvenience meant he was prevented from something worse.

Buds, Bulbs and Blooms, the florist shop was now in sight. Ray wasn’t sure where the women were getting the money to decorate the church multi-purpose room with expensive flowers, but the $28 they were charging the women for tickets offered a clue.

For her part, Claire noticed a silence had descended inside the car, and felt she should say something or do something, but she wasn’t sure what.

“Ray…” she began. But then she stopped unsure where she was going with this.

She started up again, “…We’ve been praying for you. Kallie told me about…” but then she suddenly seemed distracted as Ray pulled in the lot.

“Yeah;” Ray began, “I don’t know; I guess–“

Claire interrupted, “We’ve been praying since Kallie mentioned the thing about your knees. I really appreciate you doing this even though your son had your SUV. I don’t need a ride back, but you should park and walk around if they’re hurting.”

With that Claire hopped out and shut the car door.

They were praying for me.

They were praying for my healing.

Ray was deciding on where he could walk nearby while Claire paid for everything, and was just getting ready to shut off the engine when he noticed something.

His knees weren’t hurting at all.

April 10, 2015

Staring at the Screen

Filed under: writing — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:40 am

Albert remembers that afternoon in 1975 as if it were yesterday. He was 15.

It was July, hot and humid as you would expect. The sofa had been positioned to face the television set and he was jammed into it with his brother Barry, 13, sister Cathie, 10 and youngest brother Douglas, 8. They were all wearing shorts and tried not to let their legs touch because of the sweat the hot farmhouse was causing.

Short StoriesTheir father Ernie had resisted getting TV saying it was “the devil’s instrument;” and that “nothing good would come from having it;” but he couldn’t resist when a neighbor farmer offered him his old console set for $20 so he could make the move to one with better color.

The siblings spent their summers doing chores, but this day was so hot they had stripped down to shorts and t-shirts for lunch, and because the intensity of the noon-day sun, Ernie allowed them to take a rare full hour break, so they headed to the family room and settled in front of the television.

The set however, was not on.

After capitulating to pressure of the culture of the day, Ernie had second guessed himself after installing the set in its place. The set connected to the wall plug by way of a utility cord that was actually detachable — something they did back then — and he had yet to turn the set on for more than a few second to determine it had survived the move on the back of the pickup  and was capable of receiving a few off-air stations. Then he removed the cord and placed it somewhere out of sight.

So Albert and his brothers sat staring at the blank screen. Cathie found the TV listings in the Sunday paper that was still sitting by the fireplace, a routine placement for kindling for fires that weren’t needed in July. “Let’s see, it’s 12:30 PM on Friday, so what would we watch?” The kids talked about shows their friends often mentioned as the screen simply stared back silently, showing their reflection in the glass. They had television, so to speak, or at least they were making some progress.

Forty years later Albert remembered the absurdity of that summer lunch hour. A few days later his father caved in and the kids sat glued to it at every opportunity. It was harder for Ernie to get the kids to do their chores, but it also brought a wealth of information into their home which they had lacked for so many years.

Why remember this now?

The day came back to mind as Albert stared at the blank, blue screen on his computer, wondering who he should call to get it working again.

August 18, 2014

From the Diary of Isaac Wotts, Church Janitor

Filed under: charity, Church, writing — Tags: , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:47 am

Isaac writes:

One of the things I hate is when someone comes up to me on Sunday morning and says, “There’s something in the men’s room you need to see.” I try to dress up a little for Sunday, but there’s a great deal of wisdom in actually attending a different church than the one which employs you, especially if you’re the church custodian. (But if you’re the pastor; then it doesn’t work out too well.)

Short StoriesIn the handicapped stall, someone had carried in a chair from an adjacent Sunday school room, propped it up underneath the ventilation grate and then apparently knocked the grate down, bending it somewhat.

“Would you like to know what happened here?” I asked the man who had located me. He nodded so I continued. “This happens every two years. A bunch of middle school boys are in here and hear the sound of the toilet flushing in the adjacent women’s restroom. They realize the rooms are not totally soundproof and then they recognize the voices of middle school girls they know talking loudly. They are determined to either hear more or see more and so they climb up here only to discover the vents point away from the floor and the whole exercise is pointless.”

I thanked him for letting me know about the problem, and then, since the chair was already in place, I climbed up to see if the grate could be fitted back on and when I determined it wasn’t too badly bent, I opted to go get a soft mallet so I could deal with it right away. Just before I climbed down, I discovered firsthand how clear the sound is when you are close to the ventilation system…

“…I don’t know how she manages with all those children.”

“I know, and she wears that same blue and white outfit to church week after week after week. Like, doesn’t she have anything else in her closet.”

“Well at least when those brats are acting up they don’t have to put her number on the screen; the ushers can always find her in that same white shirt and blue vest thing…”

At that moment someone came into the restroom and I thought it better to climb down lest I be accused of the very thing the middle school boys were up to.

About three minutes later I was back standing on the chair, ready to hammer the grate in place, and just as I was about to strike the first blow I realized there were different people in the rest room next door…

“Hi, Wendy how is it going?”

“Well, my brother Tom is being released from the hospital on Thursday, so then he says he’s ready to take the kids back over the next month; so we’re going to very slowly work our way down from six kids to just my three.”

“It must cost you a fortune to feed them.”

“Yeah, and they’ve all grown over the summer and need back-to-school clothes, and the hand-me-down thing doesn’t work because of the girl/boy distribution. I’ve got $75 to spend on all six of them. And that leaves me with nothing. I’ve got three changes of clothes to wear to work, and I don’t know how many times I’ve worn this one to church.”

“Why don’t you come by the thrift shop?”

“Oh I practically live there, Olivia; but not the one you work at, we go uptown because there’s free parking.”

“No, I want you to come to mine, downtown. I’ll use my manager key in the cash register and authorize the cashier to give you 50% off everything; I’ll explain it in the log somehow. Come next week, and park in the Jefferson Street lot, and bring the parking receipt into the store and I’ll get it authorized.”

“That would be awesome. I’m not gonna turn you down. I really appreciate…”

…And then they must have walked out the door.

Church CustodianI banged the ventilation grate into place, picked up the chair and emerged from the men’s room, noticing the two Grade Seven boys on the opposite hallway looking at me and laughing. Suspicions confirmed.

Inside the maintenance room, I replaced the mallet, and then grabbed a roll of masking tape from a nearby shelf. I reached in my wallet and pullet out a gift card from Sears that I knew had about $48 left on it. Not much, but still…

I placed two strips of tape on the card, and on the first I wrote, “$48 — Treat yourself;” and on the second “Use this for YOU.”

Wendy was easy to spot. She was wearing the aforementioned blue and white thing. “This is for you;” I said, “From someone who wishes to remain anonymous.”

She read it and said, “Oh I’ll bet this from Olivia.”

“No, I said;” It’s not from Olivia; when were you talking to her?”

“In the women’s room this morning.”

“No, Wendy, this totally predates that.”

I walked away. It predated it by about three minutes to be sure; it was part of the earlier conversation I overheard, so it wasn’t a lie, right?

 

 

 

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