It all started out so well. I still don’t know how I mustered the courage to raise my hand, and the outcome has made me think twice about volunteering for anything else….. ever.
It was fourth grade. Mrs. Foley decided it would be fun to appoint a committee to create a decorative box to hold the Valentines we were expected to bring to our fellow classmates. Ah, yes. It was that special time of year that afforded the rare opportunity to let our true feelings be known, and although words of love from the beak of Daffy Duck don’t sound all that romantic to me now, to a ten year old it was awesome.
Finally, I could tell him how I felt. His name was Jerry. He had light brown hair and a sprinkling of freckles across his nose. He was funny, yet a bit shy; but the thing that most caught my attention was his eyes….one was brown and the other was green. I had never seen that before, and I’ve never seen it since.
Where was I? Oh, yes. I volunteered for the committee to create a magnificent Valentine box to hold all our love notes and well wishes. This was my chance to impress Jerry, not only with a “romantic” card, but with my
creative ability. My imagination had already gone skipping merrily off like Ralphie in “A Christmas Story”, when I heard my name. “Okay, Janice, Betsy and Paulette will be our decorating committee.” Suddenly, a wave of panic washed over me. “Wait! I can’t do this!”, I thought; but it was too late for Mrs. Foley was not the type to renegotiate.
We met at Betsy’s house. We had only two evenings to create something beautiful. We were so sure it would be a snap that we didn’t even bother to get started for the first hour or so. We compared Barbie dolls, tried on clothes, and Paulette and I took turns poking our head out Betsy’s bedroom door to catch a glimpse of Freddie, her handsome older brother. There were distractions galore, but eventually it was time to settle down and make some decisions. That’s when the mood changed.
We talked about the size of the box. Should it be a shoe box? No, too small. How about bread box size? Lid? No lid? We decided on bread box size with a lid. Should the lid lift off or just make a slit? Should it be covered with tissue paper or crepe paper? Construction paper? How about the funny paper? Red? White? Pink? A combination? How about lacy paper doilies? What about gluing Valentines on the box?
Our opinions were three worlds apart. Suddenly, we couldn’t agree on anything. Paulette got uncharacteristically vocal and shouted that all my ideas were stupid and that they really didn’t need three people to work on one box anyway!! I was stunned. Betsy’s face flushed with embarrassment at our “friend’s” outburst and tried to smooth it over, which made Paulette all the more angry. Finally, I had had enough committee work and I walked home with a lump in my throat….because fourth graders don’t cry.
Enter Darlene, my older sister. Upon hearing my tale of woe, she did what she
always did (and still does)….she tried to fix it. She set about to help me make my own box – white tissue, red crepe paper, with hearts and cupid cut-outs glued to the top. It was beautiful and I proudly carried it to school Valentine’s Day morning.
Mrs. Foley poked at the salt and pepper bun at the back of her head and fingered the chain on her glasses. She was obviously puzzled, but said nothing. She placed the two very different boxes on a table in the center of the room. Then began the politicking. Paulette wrote notes and initiated a whisper campaign to convince everyone to put their Valentines in her box, not mine. I, on the other hand, sat like a bump on a log…. too timid to speak up and angry with myself for being that way.
I held my breath as Jerry, my beloved, got up and walked across the floor and I watched in horror as he dropped his Valentines in Paulette’s container. I felt the back of my neck grow hot and at that moment I would have been happy had the floor opened up and swallowed me. This is not what I signed on for. I was hurt, Betsy was torn, and Paulette was gloating victoriously.
Dennis, an Alfalfa look-alike with a charming chipped front tooth played the peacemaker by dropping half his cards in my box and half in Paulette and Betsy’s. (Why wasn’t he on the committee?)
By then I’m sure Mrs. Foley knew that she had three little girls who had clearly missed the point of the entire exercise. It was really not about a box for Valentines. She could have made one herself. It was about working together to accomplish something. It was about listening to each other, respecting each other and working through differences of opinion to find a solution. We had set to work on the notion of love (Valentine’s Day), but failed to see that what transpired between us was anything but that.
It’s a picture of what can happen in the church, really. One person thinks the new pews should be padded. Another thinks folding chairs are expense enough. One thinks kids should be swept away to Children’s Church. Another thinks they should remain in the sanctuary with their parents. Some feel the pastor needs a raise, while others want to pay him the same sad wage he’s been paid for years. Should we build a new church? No, too expensive. This isn’t how grandpa did it.
Grey carpet or green? Pass the plate or offering march? Choir practice on Wednesday night or Saturday morning? Hymn books or choruses on the wall? Contemporary or traditional? My head spins just thinking of it.
It’s easy to walk in love at the potluck, but the business meeting is where the mettle of many Christians is tested. We come from different backgrounds. We have varying opinions. I couldn’t care less about what color you paint the sanctuary, but I have strong opinions about the music. The person sitting next to me may be appalled at the sleepy taupe paint on the walls, but love the new praise and worship format. I’m not a “volunteerer”, but my friend may run you over to be first in line at the sign-up booth. What’s important to me may leave you yawning and vice versa, but we need to make sure we are doing what we’re supposed to…..working together in love to build the Lord’s church. Anything less is unacceptable.
Wishing you a “lovely” and peaceful Valentine’s Day!