• Rev. Joel L. Tolbert

I Had a Plan

I had a plan. On Friday, I would move into the fully furnished but abandoned home. From Saturday to Tuesday, I would have charities and organizations come by to take away all the used furniture and clothing. Monday, a dumpster would be delivered, and I would fill it all week with stuff not worthy of being donated. Tuesday, a Pest company would come to clean up, clear out, and treat for critters and crawlies, and a roofing company would come to patch and repair leaks. Wednesday, a cleaning company would come and clean the house top to bottom, especially the kitchen and baths. Thursday, the moving truck would arrive and place every piece of furniture and box in the right room. Friday, I would begin arranging furniture and unpacking the essentials. Saturday, I would get some of the kitchen in place, and Jill would arrive Saturday night to our new house... not done, but ready enough to almost feel like home, to welcome her.


That is not what happened.


Friday, I did move into the fully furnished, stuff-in-every-closet, shed-full-to-the-roof house. After that, the plan went haywire. The moving company told us, "Sorry, we have to unload yall first. The rest of the load is going to Wisconsin. We will be there Saturday at 4pm." How do you get rid of a house full of stuff in less than 24 hours? The charities do not have trucks of crews able to do that, especially in COVID times. How do you clean a house already full of someone else's stuff as well as all your stuff in boxes everywhere?


I am not naturally a roll-with-it guy. To roll with it takes a few hundred deep breaths and tons of internal energy from me. My natural inclination is to design a plan together and work a plan together. I like to think things through with others, look at options and permutations, get lots of folks to contribute ideas and possibilities, and together design a best-case scenario. That team-crafted plan becomes our common goal.


Once I have that team-crafted plan, I have lots of energy and I try very hard to honor it. I trust (and expect) others around me to do the same. Sure, there will be surprises, accidents, mistakes, and unavoidables. In those moments, we will show each other grace. The plan remains a symbol of our combined hopes and dreams, important to us all. I love seeing the whole crew equally committed to making it happen, and serving alongside each other in the midst of that common effort.


When the movers threw that hard curve, it felt like a real gut punch. I was angry. I was desperate to save the plan. When I couldn't, I felt broken. Friday night, I sluffed around that house and thought, "No way. This will never work." I felt defeated and for a moment wondered, "What have I done?" There were tears.


Yes, I know its just stuff. Yeah, I've heard before things will work out. There are twenty other cliche bits of wisdom that can equally apply here. As a pastor, let me suggest, please don't say those short-cut wisdoms to me (or anyone for that matter) when I'm sad, mad, tired, and frustrated from life's curve-balls. Just show up, sit with me, listen, wait, and help me find a new plan.


Saturday, with just a few hours until the moving truck arrived, I tapped a few of the folks in this new congregation (presbyterianchestertown.org) who had already been asking how to help. I raised the surrender flag. "If anyone with a truck and an hour can help, please, come!" Between 10am and 2pm, about eight or ten households from this church showed up and emptied the house of all the old furnishings. It was all delivered to Women in Need, just a few blocks away. The moving van arrived at 330pm. Then, a meal showed up at 600pm for me and the movers.


The last few days have not, repeat NOT, gone to plan, dang it. The pest team came but will have to come back IN A MONTH to finish their work. The roofers came but aren't sure how to solve the problems. The cleaners came (another beautiful gift from some of you in the church) but those ladies cleaned kitchen and baths only, since all the floors were stacked with boxes everywhere. The first dumpster is already full and halued away. The second has arrived, but the closets and sheds are not empty. This week did not, repeat NOT, go to plan.


But when I collapsed in surrender and prayer, the church showed up for me. It wasn't their plan to spend their Saturday that way. But they did. The church gave me hope going forward that no matter how haywire all plans might go, the church, this church, is meant to be a people who will show up, listen, wait, and help design and accomplish a new plan.


May church here and everywhere be a place and people that show up, sit, listen, wait, and help design and accomplish a new plan when life's curve-balls come our way in the years ahead.


Blessing, Laughter, and Loving be yours,

Rev. Joel L. Tolbert

About Me
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In 2002, I left my corporate career, and went to seminary. Since 2005, I've been serving churches, and trying to follow Jesus, and lead others in doing the same...

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