cracker jacks. that's what she called us. when i asked her what a cracker jack was, she told me it means someone special. still not sure if special was good or bad, i looked it up, and the mirriam-webster dictionary says it is "a person or thing of marked excellence." special, indeed.
"you're all my cracker jacks," Rita said, talking to our whole group from her chair, like a queen offering a royal blessing. then, one by one, we approached her, knelt down toward her, and shared a special hug, as the tears streamed down.
it's always this way. you plan a mission trip. you gather support. you get people to commit. you wonder how your tiny little skill set, which involves barely knowing the difference between a hammer and a wrench, will possibly be able to help someone who lives a 10-hour drive away from you. but you hope that somehow, someway, you'll be a blessing. by the end of the trip, it finally sinks in, if it hasn't already, that you've been blessed in far greater measure than hammers and wrenches could ever construct.
and so she blessed us, her cracker jacks. she embraced each one. our tears mingled. our very different paths about to separate after this brief intersection of two polar opposite worlds. we, from our susquehanna valley; her, from her appalachian mountaintop. i write these words now, from my air conditioned office, thinking of Rita in her unfinished home, with her children and grandchildren and anyone else who needs a place to stay. for those few days in which we used hammers and saws to try and put up some decent siding on her home, we lived a wonderful truth. while we cut and painted and measured and remeasured and sprayed bees nests, we weren't just working; we were learning that truth.
"those who cling to their lives will lose them," Jesus said, then adding "but those who give them away will truly live." our week in kentucky was an exercise in relearning this crazy truth. we could have clung to our vacation time, to our week at the beach. we could have said it was too far, that we don't want to put the miles on our vehicle, that we don't have the money to spend a week doing such a thing. even once we were there, we could have clung to our presuppositions and our own prejudiced view of the world. but we didn't cling. for those few short days, we exercised the ability to open up our white-knuckled hands and give our lives away, in sweat, in elbow grease, in (a little) blood, and yes, in tears. but from my comfortable chair this morning, it occurs to me that what we gave was only a tiny fraction of what we received: a week of really living deeply, of loving freely, of laughing joyfully.
Rita may have gained some tyvek and some sheets of t1-11, but we gained so much more. so who is the real cracker jack?