It’s odd what juts out from the past, in our minds, as we story and restory what we live through. Bits of narrative lift above the landscape, like mountains pushed up by continental drift, and we grab on to these, to make some sense of the past.

The parking lot lights weren’t working, but we were —  seventy to eighty people swarming the buildings,  fixing, cleaning, painting, planting. We were renewing our church. Then suddenly in the outer hall there was a guy in front of me saying, “I’m an electrician. What would you like done?”

“Really?” I said, “That’s perfect! I’ve got something for you.”

I didn’t know his name, and I wasn’t sure how he knew about what we were doing, but there he was, offering free labor, and I knew what to do with that.

“The parking lights don’t work,” I said, and as I opened a closet door on a couple of old, rusted, steel boxes mounted on the wall, I added,  “We think it’s these timers.”

That was enough. He went to his truck, came back, and he was on it. In short order — problem solved.  He replaced the old boxes with new — clean, bright, functional —  perfect mechanisms that light up the church, on command.

I drove home coasting! Happy! Thankful! Surprised.

That day, that fix, that surprise stands out for me because it’s part of a pattern.

It rained. We found a roof leak in one of the church buildings. It was serious — $5,000 worth of serious. There was no offer of free labor. Right around that time, I can’t remember the exact chronology,  a woman came to me after church one day and said that in her retirement settlement she had received some money, and she wanted to give some to the church. It was a check, for $5,000.

It was odd, in a way I like — the numbers were the same.

There’s more.

As part of our site remodel, we ripped into the old nursery, the  old carpet,  the broken furniture, the chipped walls, the horrific curtains. About that time an older couple began to attend the church. One day, after church, he came to me and said, “You mentioned needing a couch. What about this one?” and he showed me a picture torn from an ad.

“Great,” I said.

“What day would you like it delivered?” He asked.

I remember a couple of us ripping off the protective plastic and cardboard that covered the new couch when it was delivered. Then we just gasped and hooted. It was gorgeous, the perfect shades of brown and dark brown to match our newly painted nursery. The babies and their moms would now repose, in style! Then he bought two more new couches. It was like Christmas, a furniture Christmas.

There were also the cabinets, in the upstairs kitchen. They were a piece of work, right out of the seventies, pine, burnt with a blow torch, and then coated with thick shiny layers of polyurethane. They looked like what they were — remanents of a fire!

What to do?

I went down to Dixieline,  the home repair store just down the street from the church, and asked if there were any cabinets that had been brought back from a job, something that hadn’t worked out, and were being sold for less than they were worth. There were some, but I was told I would need to talk to the manager.

So I made an appointment. I went up to his office, upstairs, nice, impressive. We talked. I’ll always remember his question to me. It took me back. I wasn’t sure how to respond. The cabinets were gorgeous, a whole bank of them, and drawers and doors beyond what I had expected.

He looked across his big desk at me in his big office and asked, “What do you want to pay for them?”

My mind raced. If I said too much I would miss the chance for a deal. If I said to little it would be insulting. They were worth between $1,500 and $2,000, by my best guess.

I said, “We can give you $200.”

“Good,” he enthused. “I’ll have them delivered for you next week.”

The other day I was in the upstairs kitchen. The cabinets are in, installed free by a local cabinet-maker who not only donated the labor, but also gave us the counter tops for them.

I could get used to this. I have.

A donated landscape design by a local landscape architect, a restoration consultation by a woman specializing in historic building remodels, the no-cost installation of huge, new sanctuary windows by a man who had formerly worked for a glass company — all this and more has landed our our doorstep. Surprise!

At every turn we have been given — gifts.

When we decided to install new lighting in the worship center we were looking at an $8,000 project, at least $16,000 if we paid for labor. We didn’t. All the lights were purchased at cost through a friend who works for a lighting company. All the labor, hours and hours, plus the use of a lift were donated by an amazingly generous electrician and a few of his friends. All the labor, days of it, free.

The lights in — beautiful, functional, lovely, perfect for the building.

A patio garden — the dirt, irrigation, labor — free!

A hardwood floor sanded and refinished, free except materials.

The painting of the interior of our worship center — free, even those difficult upper levels, brushed in by a local professional painter, done safely, nicely, a gift, more than we could have asked for

There is more, but the more that really sticks out to me is what has been added to us that is human, not mineral or material.

A renewed site, a growing congregation — we needed staff to care for them.

We went to our local seminary and asked for an intern.

In asking, we were taking a risk. We weren’t controlling who we would get, we didn’t know the outcome, we didn’t even know if we could afford it, we just knew we needed help. We were a continent, of people, drifting.

That was two years ago.

The result of that inquiry is now on paid staff, well-funded for this next year, uniquely suited to our needs, trusted by our people — she is perfect for us! I almost don’t feel surprised anymore.

Things stand out, in the past, bits of narrative rise up, pieces of our continuing story. Our past has a pattern in it. The pattern is good. One could almost draw certain conclusions — that  it was orchestrated.

We have.

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