Saturday, March 10, 2012

Saying Bad Words at Church....You Must Be Kidding?

We look at people’s appearance or demeanor, and immediately start forming conclusions. But don’t let a rough exterior fool you for a second. There could be a heart of gold lurking underneath that crusty surface. Refuse to evaluate a person’s character based on one experience with their behavior.  Nobody’s conduct is up to par every single day. You will end up making a judgment call about someone that you will live to regret when you reach hasty conclusions about the essence of a person.  I am reminded of that principle today as I think about a man named Don.

I thought Don was a pretty salty guy.  He was a career naval officer, but I did not meet him until long after his retirement.  Don was also the kind of guy that could repair or put together most anything.  Quite naturally we asked him to replace a ceiling fan in the church library, when the need arose.  He arrived promptly to get the task done just like always.  But this particular installation did not go as planned.

The church office suite happened to be unusually quiet the day of the infamous ceiling fan installation.  There were no visitors to the office and the phone was not ringing much.  As Don was attempting to position all of the pieces of the new fixture on the ceiling, something gave way. In a split second all of the parts came crashing down.  Church staff members first heard a loud crash followed immediately by an equally loud expletive %&#@!  Don said oh s_____! 

What can one do in such a circumstance?  It happened in the church!  Staffers did not know whether to rush to his rescue or to allow him some privacy in his obvious embarrassment. In the final analysis, Don was allowed to put the fan and his wounded pride back together in a state of relative privacy.

I don’t think anyone formed a final opinion on Don’s character based on one slip of the tongue.  We continued to ask him to fix fans and plumbing fixtures and a plethora of things around the church building.  Don continued to be his relatively salty self.  But perhaps my analysis of his disposition was totally wrong.  I later discovered that salty was the wrong term to use in describing our volunteer handyman named Don.

When my mother was diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer in 1991, I started making weekly trips to Lubbock from Wichita Falls to assist with her care.  About a month later I started making that same trek twice a week. It is 230 miles one way.  During that time period Don of all people started seeking me out on the Sundays that I could be present in church. He would quietly slip a $50.00 bill in my hand and tell me to buy gas for the trip to Lubbock with that money.  Don slipped those bills to me on a regular basis until my mother’s death.  And of course in 1991 $50.00 bought a couple of tanks of gas and a sandwich at the little store in Benjamin, Texas where I always stopped on the way.

Today I am thinking about my propensity to judge people based one thing they have said or done.  It is so unfair.  We assume someone is salty when the truth is they have a heart of gold.  We assume someone is stingy when the truth is that they have had a rough year financially.  The list is endless… When I am tempted to judge prematurely, I try to think of Don.  In fact, I am missing him today.

Don passed away about 15 years ago.  He was buried in his hometown in rural West Texas.  I am thankful to say that I was privileged to say a few words over his graveside on the afternoon he was buried.  I described a man that had a heart of gold.  And I must confess that I laughed to myself as I drove away from the cemetery thinking about the day of the infamous ceiling fan installation.  Saying bad words in the church building...you must be kidding?  No...I am really not. 

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