"Dad, you remember that money you gave me in the airport back home?" I told her that I did. Before she got on a plane in the Quad Cities for Atlanta, I had given her a $20 bill for emergencies. "Well, I sort of don't have it any more." Hmmmm. Sort of don't have it any more? What could that mean? "I spent it." Understand, we clergy are by no means overpaid (well, that's not entirely true as I know some clergy who are paid too much for what they do, but many of us are way underpaid). And when one has six kids and lives on a clergy salary, one tends to press upon one's kids the importance of good stewardship with regard to finances. What did she buy? I expected her to have bought food or a Webkinz or a gift for one of her siblings. Her answer was enough to make a father's heart burst with pride . . .
"You see, dad, there was this boy named David at the school in Dar es Salaam. David's mom had died a few years ago. I don't know why, but his dad had run off and left David and his brother all alone. David and his brother had to go live with their uncle. Anyway, David has been going to the school that we were working on. His uncle does not have much money because he has to raise his kids plus David and his brother. You know, that is a lot of work and takes a lot of money. Anyway, the people here were sad because David was going to have to drop out of the school. He is really good, maybe their best student, but his uncle cannot afford to pay for him to continue going to school. I gave the head person the $20 bill you gave me to help pay for him to keep going to school. I figured I was travelling with Grammie and PopPop, and they would pay for anything I really needed. And besides, they have their credit cards and debit cards with them. I know people help pay for us to go to Rivermont (the old Episcopal Day school here in Bettendorf), and I just thought I could help David out. He's really nice, and he was a really big help to us. And besides, the whole group pulled out money before we left, and we gave the school enough money for David to go to school this year. I hope you're not mad at me. I spent all my other money for presents, so I really can't pay you back right now. But he needed the help.
I suppose I was mad. I was furious that I was in southern Indiana and she was in South Carolina. I could not take her in my arms and hug her for the way she had made me feel. Sometimes, it is hard being a parent. Karen and I sometimes joke that we ought to just tape ourselves saying "no" on some feedback loop, because that is the word we use the most and we could save some breath. And so often, the kids seem to let our advice go in one ear and out the other. Yet here she was. Sarah had paid attention to some of life's lessons and some of God's Gospel lessons. Sarah recognized a need in another. She could not fathom a father abandoning a son, let alone two. She could not imagine someone wanting to go to school and not being afforded the chance to go. She even recognized that the faithful giving of Episcopalians and others over the years has made it possible for her and her siblings to attend an excellent school. And so she reached out with what was in her purse. A $20 bill seems so inadequate these days. It might get us a 1/4 tank of gas. It might pay for a couple weeks of internet access. It certainly will not pay for two months of World of Warcraft. And like the faithful widow who gave out of her need, Sarah willingly gave her dad's $20 bill to the school for David, fearful that her dad might be angry at her for misspending it.
When we clergy get ordained, the bishop celebrant always asks us, "Will you do your best to pattern your life and that of your family in accordance with the teachings of Christ, so that you may be a wholesome example to your people." Naturally, we always say that we will; yet each of us understands the fishbowl in which we and our families live. And those who have been to seminary have heard the horror stories of how the behavior of kids torpedoed more than one ministry when altar rails were treated as balance beams, kids got busted for drugs, or rectories were treated with contempt. Most of us know we teach our kids right, but we also know we cannot control how they behave.
And then it hit me. That understanding sounds familiar. Somebody teaches me right and lets me choose how I will behave. And when I mess up, he has already walked before me paying the cost of the clean up. God is good.
One other note before this braggart moves on to other important events in parish life: infant baptism. My wife and I argued passionately over whether Sarah should be baptized as an infant. i was a champion of believer's baptism. I remember Fr. Mark finally telling me, "Just do it for your wife." It was not until Jerry Smith made me read Bishop Buchanan's work on infant baptism that I had a theological justification for what my wife wanted to do. And here was God, more than a dozen years later, still instructing me on that question. Bishop B compared infant baptism to circumcision. The goal of both practices, he argued, was to fully immerse the infant in the family of God. Infant baptism specifically was the grafting of the child into the vine of Christ at such a young age that he or she would never know a day in his or her life when he or she was not absolutely certain that he or she was loved by our Father in heaven. I may just be a proud papa, and Karen and I have many teenage years ahead of us, but I think Sarah has taken root. Thanks be to God!