Sunday, April 01, 2007


I’ve been in the desert, thus this coercive gig with the poor for over four years now. Only recently have I had a new perspective on things in the financial realm. Or perhaps, middle class versus poverty culture and their way of doing things.

On the pruning boy gig a few weeks ago, we started the day with a familiar scene: we entered the customer’s property, surveyed the upcoming work, serviced the equipment needed, etc.

Then the customer herself comes outside. It was a typical customer for Son & Dad Tree Service Inc: wealthy, elderly, widow lady with a lot of money and a son somewhere who calls in service work for his mother’s house.

My boss The Son turned on his good ole boy charm while kissing up to the customer as expected. But this woman had a subtle edge to her.

She acted like nothing was ever right. Complaints about previous service people working at her house and complaints about this or that, all which seemed trivial from my standpoint, are what spewed from her pores.

Meanwhile, here I was (two weeks ago) wondering how my own mortgage would be paid and having nothing concrete in my future to feed my family. And I’m thinking, “woman, what the hell are you whining about? You have a killer house, a nice car, and what not. And you’re sitting here bitching about dumb stuff.”

Then as the CEO would have it, I was reminded of how that was me merely four years ago. I remember it being easy to complain about trivial things the more comfortable I was.

I remember the Happy Days Community Church paying me (and wife) a salary of $300 a month and grew to $1450 a month for being their benevolent directors. And I remember complaining how we were so low on the totem pole of the church pay scale and how I wish we could have received more, etc.

Right now I’d be kissing someone for that kind of monthly income. $1450 a month is actually a stellar salary considering my missionary heroes Mother Teresa and Uncle George Muller made zero.

Guess it’s good to have some reality slapped into me once in a while. It can hurt, but in a good way.


Anonymous said...

Great lesson in perspective. Thanks for sharing it.

Your story reminds me of a friendly neighborhood yard maintenance gig I had while at ACU with my neighborlady. Back then I lived next to an elderly lady who had spent her life on the mission field for Jesus in remote lands. She was everbit a lady of dignity etc, though not of any GREAT means. At least not by comparison with your story.

The old missionary was long dead. The woman worshipped with one of the most fundamentalist CoC's in town, and often tried to talk me into leaving AMC to join the true church etc. I chaffed with that crap, but I loved her anyway... best I could.

She began using me to cut the grass and a few other odd jobs from time to time. As a student, I needed money, but I offered the service without charge. She insisted on paying me, which I caved to because I thought I needed it and I just don't like to argue with taking money.

Most of the time I regreted that decision. If I had worked for free, I would not have endured her criticism of my work. Actually, she did not voice that criticism with me hardly ever. But she never seemed overly satisfied either, and I always felt an air of suspicion from her.

Over the years there, I got into prison ministry. I took an unpaid internship where the chaplain tried to talk Highland CoC into paying for it, but they refused. I was the only ministry student I knew of who both went to prison and worked my internship unpaid. I supported myself with a night job, odd jobs etc. The chaplain found me work and even went to work with me. I really appreciated his efforts...

In the meantime, I cut the neighborlady's grass... And one day, after doing her lawn for over 2 years, a son from Dallas appears from her house. I had never met him before. But he apparently did not like my looks. I had a looooong pony tail and holes in my jeans as a mowed his precious mama's grass. He approached me, and I cut off the mower so he could talk (mistake...)

He was not hateful, but his tact drifted into butinsky foolishness all the same. Big time.

I really had no great investment in the job I was doing for his mama. He really insulted me with his suspicion. And but for the surprise of meeting him for the first time that way, and for having felt the same air of suspicion coming from the old lady for a couple of years, I did not react ugly to him. The exchange was brief and basically he just sited how that Mama is getting old and service people all over town take advantage of her etc... he would not want to find me doing that to her... And then he left.

I remember thinking, "What an F-ing jerk! I have been diligently working for this lady for 2 years, even asked her NOT to pay me initially, and her $20 a week was a bargain on the open market, it also afforded her the option of criticizing my work etc etc, and where the Hell has your "concerned" ass been for all that time? What kind of son leaves his mother to the wolves until it is convenient for him to check up on her? Did not sound so genuine to me...

I responded with a polite "yes sir" and he went away. And I never saw him again... until the year I was finishing my internship in the prison.

One day the chap said, "we got a guy in last night who graduated from ... University (a brotherhood school!). Let's go meet him and see what his story is.

I had cut my hair for prison ministry by that time and so my appearance had changed drastically. He did not recognize me on our first visit, but it was the neighborlady's son! He was locked up for molesting kids. Go figure. He denied it, of course (and I am not saying he was guilty, but just that now HE was LOOKING like a criminal instead of ME. A reversal of fortunes.

I actually felt bad for the guy. I had definately chaffed under his criticism the first time we met, and I had really hated his attitude, but I had never wished this on him. We made friends, sort of. He certainly clung to my friendship anyway. And in a couple of weeks he figured out who I was. Upon our next meeting he apologized for the exchange out on the lawn that day years earlier. (And his apology was halfassed at that!)

And here is a bit of perspective I got from that...

When offended like I had been, becareful what you wish for. Damning others in the wake of your offense might just come true, and when it does it will make you shutter too. The man had definitely been an unexcusable jerk to me. This is one of the few stories in my life where the evil was ALL his and NOT mine even a little bit. And yet the ironic twist at the end of that movie left my guts carved out too. I wanted grace for him too. His crime against me did not warrent that punishment (though he may have actually been guilty of crimes warranting it with others), but the poetic justice of then bumping in to me in those circumstances troubled me rather than giving me a puffed up sense of self-righteousness. It actually hurt.

Agent X

Jenelle said...

Thank you for this fire-hose of perspective wash. Lord bless you with hyper rocket CEO spirit joy.