My first or second year at Grace, 2003-04, it was a cold, hard February, not unlike it is today, and I felt kinda done. Maybe that happens to you every now and again. I felt particularly incompetent, a little weak in the knees around what the future might hold, and a sense that maybe God had plans for ministry for Grace and for me for a couple of years to sorta settle some things and then I would be sent along and Grace would settle in with a nice young man who would take the church where it needed to go. That may seem a little unbelieveable to you, but sometimes our outsides don’t always show what are insides are going through… in some ways that’s a blessing, some ways not so much, perhaps.
Anyway, the time came that spring for what we now know as Grace Extravaganza, our live and silent auction for missions. I think at that time it was still called Mission Madness, maybe? It must have been in my first year, because I remember being intrigued as mountains of stuff began to come and volunteer teams began forming to put this event together. We were still a community in the midst of deep financial struggle, and I couldn’t quite imagine how putting together a dinner with some items to offer in a silent and live auction format would make much difference in what we could do for missions. But as the event grew closer, I began to feel an energy and a spirit in the halls, and then the rooms started to transform. It was before the expansion, so we didn’t have Grace Gathering or the classrooms at that end of the building to sorta center everything, so there was stuff all over this building, and people everywhere moving tables and chairs, renting credit card machines (I know, right?), getting cash boxes, and labeling items and figuring out which items would go where and what was live or silent or, as I learned, almost live. And the Celebration Center sanctuary? Every single chair had been moved, every aisle gone, every straight line of rows vanished – for a pastor with a bit of OCD tendency, that almost sent me over the edge. But then all the round tables were set up with all the table cloths covering them and massive amounts of people came in with every kind of decorative theme I could imagine and some I never would have. And there was laughing and oohing and aaaaahing and ocean themes and board game themes and movie themes and dress-up fancy stuff and hoe-down-friends-in-low-places themes and everything in between.
Then the night came and there were people everywhere and stuff in every room and appetizers and a main course buffet and youth running here and there between tables serving and tables FULL of desserts. Oh. My. Sweet. Glimpse. Of. Heaven. Okay, maybe that’s a bit dramatic – but the tables of homemade desserts were unbelievable. It makes my jaws hurt even now to think about the plethora of chocolate and caramel and peanut butter in pies and cakes and cookies and cheesecakes and of course the requisite fruity things to allow you to believe that somewhere in all of the stuff you’re having, you’re being a little bit healthy. I don’t think I’m easily overwhelmed, but I was overwhelmed. And then the Live Auction started. There were condos and fishing trips and steak dinners prepared at your home for people you wanted to invite and football tickets and basketball tickets and art pieces, and then… and then… a quilt. A “signature” quilt. Our quilting group created a quilt with blocks for signatures, and if you paid a dollar you could sign your and/or your family’s name. There were so many names of members of this church. My salary wasn’t a whole lot at that time – we couldn’t afford for it to be – but I wanted that quilt. I had decided that if I wasn’t going to be here more than a couple of years, I wanted to remember the names of members of this community and the quilt was the perfect thing.
So I was subtle, like I am most of the time. *snort* Yes, Nanette and subtle in the same sentence is a bit oxymoronic, one might say. And I started the bidding. Lots of folks wanted the quilt, as it turned out, and maybe I was caught up in the moment, but it went higher, and higher, and higher, ‘til there were only two of us bidding – Brian and Dian, you know who you are. I decided my max bid could only be one month’s salary. No Dad, that is NOT what you taught me in relation to financial responsibility, but I had a credit card and the church had rented those machines where you put the slip down that had two sheets and carbon in between and ran the presser-downer thing over the card and it made the impression of the card numbers on both sheets and then you signed and received the yellow one and the business kept the top white one and promised to shred the carbon with your number on it – ‘member that?!!? So it was all good. One month’s salary on a credit card that I could pay off over the course of a year or two… or maybe three. AND I WON! I FINALLY WON!
And it did not take quite one month’s salary, and even to this day, I have no regrets. Sorry, Financial Peace University program (btw, we will be offering these classes beginning in March) and I fully support your wisdom, and my Dad’s, but this time it was a God thing for me. And the quilt still hangs in my office right behind my desk chair. It’s the first thing I see when I walk in my office, and what anyone meeting with me likely sees as we sit at the table together to talk about God things and life things and joyful things and hard things and what it means for all those things that we are people of faith together.
It is a quilt and more than a quilt. It was about donating funds for missions and more than donating funds for missions. It was, for me, a commitment that no matter how long or short a period of time God had in mind for me to be at Grace, it was the people of this community that would take precedence over the financial challenges, the two-campus “how do we keep them both going” challenges, the staffing change challenges, and the “we don’t yet quite know each other enough to know whether this is going to work” challenges. My office has been painted, I’ve added bookcases and changed chairs and hung paintings from Liberia and every year in the summer cleaned up the clutter and actually let go of a few things (actually move things around more than let go), but the quilt never moves, never gets shifted from one wall to another, never gets taken down for a season to return a bit later. It is an investment that this church community, at a pretty hard time, made in an unknown not yet large church tested pastor and an investment a green, sorta naive, a bit uncertain on the inside pastor made in this church.
March 2nd marks my 15th Extravaganza Live and Silent Auction for missions with you. And you’re still amazing me. So much has changed and in some ways so much is the same. We still struggle together through some really difficult times, and we still accomplish mission both within and outside these walls that leaves me speechless at the magnitude, effectiveness, and lasting change for God’s sake that has and continues to happen here and beyond our borders because of your generosity, commitment, and spirit.
To be honest, I’ve never come close to spending one month’s salary on a single item like that again. It’s not particularly good financial stewardship to do so, so please don’t try this at home, but my heart kinda smiles a little bit remembering who was bidding against me (Brrrrrriiiiiian), how much money we raised back then and what we raise now that we probably could not even have imagined, and all the years of youth mission trips, Center of Grace gifts to folks in greatest need given, and continued treks to Tochimizolco for medical and dental mission that Extravaganza offers in seed money. The quilt reminds me of so many people and so many days of working and walking together and so much ministry this faith community does for which I am and will always be humbly grateful to be part!