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09/06/2012 @ 9:45am

It was 3:00 a.m. and I was in the middle of Lake Michigan.  I’d just driven 500 miles, I was about to try to get two hours sleep on a plastic mattress before driving another 500, my finger really hurt, and all of it was the fault of a guy in South Dakota who signs his emails, “Blessings!”

Okay, maybe the finger wasn’t his fault – that was probably the inevitable result of trying to chop onions with my eyes closed – but everything else can be laid at his doorstep.

So, here’s the story.  The men’s group in our church makes desks – wooden ones like old time country school desks, with tops of plywood and legs of ash lumber that’s donated by one of the guys in the group.  When they’re disassembled, they collapse into a package about six inches thick and are sent to places such as Haiti and Sierra Leone, where there are a lot of kids who need schools and not much money to build them.  We’ve been doing this project for years and the fact that we never really knew where they went was no big problem.  But then I met a woman who helps run a school in Haiti, one that really needed desks, and we just happened to have a pretty good inventory built up.  Shipping might be an issue, but I knew of a church organization about an hour’s drive away that sent containers full of supplies to Haiti on a regular basis.  I didn’t think it would be a problem to rent a little space, so I agreed to talk to our church about furnishing the school.

Everything went like a charm until I made contact with the guy in charge of the shipping containers. I asked him if we could rent some space in the next container headed south and he said, “No.”

I was a little surprised.  He said he had a plan he liked for loading the containers and taking any of our stuff would upset that plan.  He said a few other things that led me to believe that as far as he was concerned, there was no room at the inn.  Then he signed it, “Blessings.”

That’s the part that got me.  When you have a chance to actually give someone a hand, at no real cost to yourself, and you choose not to, that’s your business, but don’t pretend to care.

There’s a lot of that going around these days.  I understand selfishness, but I’m getting tired of hypocrisy.  It’s a big problem if you spend much time hanging around the fringe of the religion biz.  And it’s a shame because it makes people tired and cynical and we already have plenty of that.  

If the guy had said, “I don’t know you, and whatever you’re doing with those desks just doesn’t matter as much as what I’m doing, so don’t be bothering me any more,” it would have been considerably more honest.  Perhaps if he’d stated his opinions and attitudes starkly and accurately, he might have been embarrassed enough to do… something.  Cloaking his indifference in a breezy “Blessings!” let him get away with his illusions about himself intact.

I made a lot more phone calls, getting advice and suggestions from almost everyone and finally that chain of good-hearted folks led me to a group in Grand Rapids, Michigan who were just what I needed.  Of course, it wasn’t a 70-mile drive to deliver the desks - more like 700, including that ferry ride across Lake Michigan in the middle of the night.  It was a goofy thing to do on my part – if nothing else it was poor stewardship to spend that much time and money fulfilling my obligation, but I was a little panicky at the thought of a bunch of kids wanting to go to a school I’d said I’d help furnish.  With a few months lead time I’ll find a far more efficient way to get the next batch of desks on their way.  On the plus side I did see some people and places I’d never seen before and that’s always good.

In all honesty, I probably shouldn’t be so hard on the “Blessings!” guy.  He just hit me the wrong way on the wrong day, and caught a chunk of a load of indignation earned by other people.  But until I calm down, if our paths should cross and you should happen to part ways by offering me your blessing, you shouldn’t say it unless you mean it.

Copyright 2011 Brent Olson

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