A Different Kind of Post:
This week's post is different than my usual posts that share other families' stories and photo sessions. Why? I want to allow you to get to know me and I'm hoping that that gives me a chance to get to know you even more too - because I actually really care about you and love to connect!
This story is based on a challenge I received at my church about 9 years ago that I am finally able to complete. Read on to hear more!
Our church asked the question, "How can you use your talents to help God's work on earth?"
Parable of the Talents:
I attend a church in Hollidaysburg, PA. Its called Hicks United Methodist Church. I don't go there because I grew up there (I grew up Catholic.) or because my husband grew up there (He grew up not going to church anywhere but listening to lots of Bob Dylan.) but because I constantly feel challenged spiritually to grow there, feel like its a place of love and acceptance, and feel like I actually also get to challenge the church to grow. It is a church in the sense of the original church in many ways, including that concept - that we encourage each other on to become more like Jesus. I'm not saying that the church has everything right - it doesn't...but it has that really important growth and willingness to change in response to the truth of the gospel that a church just needs to be...well...a church.
About 9 years ago, the pastor read the scripture about the 3 servants with the master who went away and gave them money while he was gone. They were supposed to make the different amounts of money that the master entrusted to them grow according to their abilities. If you've never heard the story before, its Matthew 25:14-30. This story always used to bother me in Catholic church. The priests that I listened to preaching on the subject never seemed to make the connection that the money they had was called "talents" and that that word was the same as the concept of our own talents as the hobbies or activities at which we excel. Rich Morris, the pastor at Hicks, caught this and along with some folks in the church willing to make a commitment, created a really unique sermon and personal challenge to the people of the church.
That day, each person left church with $150 in his/her pocket. As we left, they handed out envelopes to each person with that cash inside. Each person was to take the money, use his/her talents, and figure out a way to grow that money for the larger church community. (I should note that our church gives outside of our walls constantly - providing coats and shoes to local elementary students, gloves and a summer ministry to great folks who live in a nearby housing community project, and a ministry called Hicks Helps where we help people who can't move around much with simple household improvements or seasonal tasks, along with many other ministries.) Individuals in the church donated this money for the special project and a few months after the money was handed out, people started to return what they had made in their talent investments. People could stand up and share their personal stories. One that I remember significantly was a woman named Jean who is a very talented quilter. She used the money to buy quilting supplies, made several quilts, sold them at an open house for a profit, and turned that profit around and gave it back to the church.
Rich Morris - pastor at Hicks UMC
Art Class Grand Plan:
I was immediately excited about this concept. With my art teaching background, I felt sure that I could run an art camp and even pool money with my husband so we would have $300 - plenty for a variety of art supplies. He was looking forward to planning it too - he had helped me with a camp in the past and was really good with that kind of thing. I even had an original theme, since it was coming from a church source, I would teach drawing skills, would teach children how to illustrate stories from the Bible, which could then be turned into an actual story book and even ordered and turned into additional profit. I placed an ad in the newspaper that cost about $60. That gave me $240 left for art supplies and I spent every cent. The supplies came. I would use the church classrooms for free for the class. Everything was set. I just needed students.
This is where the problem began. Remember Jean the quilter? She enrolled her granddaughter. Remember Rich, the pastor at Hicks? He enrolled his youngest son. And then no one else enrolled. I had to cancel the class. I felt like I had let down those two children. To make it more complicated, I was pregnant and planned the whole thing around my teaching schedule and the baby's due date because I knew I would be too busy to do it for awhile. I felt like the unfaithful servant, especially when you consider that I boxed up the art supplies and put them in my basement - the closest I could get to burying the talents in the ground while the master was away.
So, I had that baby in May of 2006. The supplies sat in the basement. Then I had another baby in 2013 and took a year off of work. I had been doing other work for the church then - coordinating a ministry with children who live in a housing project near our church. I also did a career switch that year from teaching to photography, which took lots of time studying, planning, and learning lessons from life. The supplies still sat in my basement. When I had re-organized the basement in 2015, I came across the supplies in surprise. I still felt like the unfaithful servant. I hadn't completed this beautiful challenge. It actually sort of haunted me. I had never visualized myself as the person in that particular role in the story. But it was me.
The art supplies that was in a box in my basement for 9 years!
This summer, a former co-worker from my old school said that her daughter, along with the sons and daughters of about 6 or 7 other families, had been having private lessons with an art teacher who had moved away. The moms had been trying to come up with lessons themselves to encourage the children, but they felt like they weren't able to give them meaningful art lessons and would I be interested in teaching?
The Parable of the Talents came back to me as I pondered what to do. My kids were starting to be involved in activities and my photo sessions were in the evenings during nice weather, the same time frame that the class might be. I had also been feeling quite down about my ability to organize events and people, as I felt that my work in coordinating that housing project ministry were failing when it came to getting adult volunteers. I hadn't taught in awhile as well and having been away from it, I wasn't sure it would come back so easily. But, I have found that sometimes, we just need to say, "Yes" to open doors because we just don't know where they might take us. So, I said, "Yes" and began to plan - and learn.
I had to do lots of number crunching to plan out the start up supply amount and weekly cost per student. I realized how many supplies and extra costs I had tied up in the whole affair as I calculated. I learned that if I wouldn't have had 20 students in the original class (which is quite a lot for a private art class), I wouldn't have made anything with all of the other costs involved in executing a class like that. Maybe the wait was what I needed - to grow and be able to plan something that could actually earn something meaningful, because my contributions certainly wouldn't have amounted to more than $100 if the class went perfectly. As it is now, I'm set to earn between 800-1000 not counting the original $300.
God has used this to heal me in some ways too - giving me a restoration of my soul when it comes to teaching after having left the classroom years ago. I realize that I enjoy teaching children who want to be there and who aren't threatening me or swearing at me like my public school teaching years. I still don't know where this path might lead - so I am staying on it - because I still believe that sometimes you just have to say, "Yes" before you know where that faithful yes might take you. I still think it was a bit of an unfaithful servant with the talent challenge, but I also see that God used the journey to bring about major change in my heart, and that the wait was worth it and I was able to be much more thorough with the wisdom I gained in those 9 years...and I am thankful.