A friend of mine messaged me the other day that I should “write a blog entry on what it’s like to mix paint for Jesus.”
Now wouldn’t that raise some eyebrows at my work.
[Work?! Yes, a job! Something I did not have when last I posted here. I’m The Paint Guy at our local hardware store, which also includes straightening shelves, putting in orders, answering the phone, answering customer questions, running the charge desk, processing credits, lifting dirt/mulch/rocks into vehicles, and trying to remember innumerable codes for the products we carry. I also get reprimanded or shamed or exposed for my pure, plain ignorance about those products at a pretty regular clip.]
Now, it’s not that Jesus’ name is unknown where I work—it is a town with twenty churches, and a quarter of them large Catholic ones. In fact, I hear his name (some with “Christ” added) called out a number of times every day, usually with a “!” following it. But mixing paint with Jesus would definitely not fall under expected or normal usage. I might draw less eyebrows by positing I were Sun Tzu reincarnated (my China connection and all) than I would by claiming to be in the back paint room doing that.
But that is largely what I do. I need him constantly there. It’s not always jolly and fun being the new ignorant guy while doing a job not too many levels above my first job ever. The difference is I’m not fourteen now, and all life’s experience between then and now means I get new ideas all the time on how I would improve the running of the place. But those things aren’t what I was hired for. “Serve the customers—you’ll learn as you go!”
It’s a good thing that in my very first week Jesus gave me another phrase which I still wake up with and walk into work with each morning: “Serve your co-workers.” It’s helped me be able to overlook much of what comes my way, forgive the rest, and move on. Keep serving. (Interestingly, I’ve also seen ways I struggled to overlook offense with co-workers and bosses in my past.)
I clock in. I clock out. I work. I sit [oh, if only! I actually never sit, but live for lunch and the morning break when I can rest my poor feet—never have had good feet] and watch a world of broken people go by. As a broken person myself, especially coming off the 2016 we had, I know this job is right where Jesus would have me right now. My “good brokenness” standing in contrast to “bad brokenness” around me. (This phrasing is straight out of Ann Voskamp’s The Broken Way, which I’ve just recently picked up, even though Ann put it in my hands last October. I have to admit I’ve done a lot more imagining about whether or not she’s read the book I put into hers.)
Not that I always feel great about the whole situation, don’t get me wrong.
I’ve still had times of questioning anguish.
Why even have us come home from China and leave all that was familiar to us all?
It’s like we’ve lost everything, and for what?
Umm…the Kingdom? The pearl of great price? The field with the treasure? Himself.
OK. Worth it.
How long, then, Lord? How long will our family be unsure of staying here or moving again? How long will I work here? How long can we last?
According to upstate New York’s The United Way ALICE Study of Financial Hardship Fall 2016, we’re already an anomaly:
The average annual Household Survival Budget for a four-person family living in upstate New York is $X [same amount as our salary/benefits during our China life]—more than double the U.S. poverty level for the same size family.
We could easily make a life for ourselves on that amount, even here, and even though we’re double that number of people. But there’s an additional oops: My salary is but half that amount. And half of that goes just for health insurance.* (That will stop once my employer health plan kicks in). In other words, we don’t even speak about making ends meet—we can hardly get them to wave at one another—as the math is so far from sustainable it’s laughable.
Or is it?
We’re eating. God provides. I worked Memorial Day because I was given the choice to and it meant a little extra. Yet the same amount I earned in six time-and-a-half hours, God slipped to me in nary six seconds with a cash gift pressed into my hand. If not via such special people continuing to surprise us with special gifts, he’s also providing for us, really, because for years we had the privilege and the ability to build savings and retirement accounts and make investments (some of which went up and not down). Could I conceivably claim these financial assets as “rights?” God may not touch them? I must have bigger barns and a stockpile to live on when I am old? Even though my culture would say “Absolutely,” and my own Christian culture often acts like that’s true, of course not.
They might be blessings (I say might be), but they are not rights.
Of course, our kids say we’re “poor” because we never go out to eat except Little Caesar’s on a Friday or the occasional bag of twenty-five McDonald’s hamburgers if we happen to be out on the road together. Nor is there entertainment money—we’ve gone to one movie in our one year back and to other places of fun only if others have kindly paid. Even their sports participation has been on the coattails of scholarship generosity. I know what my kids mean, however, and don’t totally disagree with them, and yet—unless I had none of those previously listed assets, I don’t really know anything about truly being poor. Relatively speaking to lots of people around us? OK, sure. But can I say poverty? All I’ve really got so far is a rare opportunity for someone of my background and socioeconomic status to be in a situation where I’m forced to trust God for daily bread and a privilege to be intellectually and emotionally wrestling with these kinds of questions on a more-than-theoretical level.
Now, before you laud me: I seldom feel the love for such “opportunity” and “privilege,” and I long for breakthrough and pray for greater provision all the time. But I’m not demanding them. They are not pre-requisites (though internally I deeply debated this) to confidence that He’s caring for me. The struggle does get emotional at times, as any of you who’ve faced financial difficulty, even of a lesser degree, know. But, glory to God, our trust is growing. A year ago, if I could have seen this future, I’d have panicked and had no other word for these straits than “dire.” Yet we’re trusting with a daily, gritty steadfastness I would not have then predicted, either.
I’ve decided: I’m not going to shortchange the process I’m in. I don’t know all that he is up to. I can’t see around the next bend. I do know I have to clock in tomorrow morning, and I know that each co-worker was created by the same Creator who made me. And they will clock in tomorrow, too, and bring along with them their own worlds of problems and burdens and miseries.
And I think I have been put there to be ready. Ready to give an answer for hope that may be found.
Far be it from me to cry out for deliverance from a place like that.
And so, until he says otherwise—and though I may look toward “otherwise’s” arrival—you’ll find Jesus and me in the back mixing paint.
*Yes, we know about cost-sharing plans. They don’t help with adopted kids’ pre-existing conditions.