Every once in a while we have these experiences where we know that the moment is surreal. Cataclysmic. It could be good, bad, or ugly, but we know that whatever happens in that moment, history (even in a small way), will change us. I love those moments. It’s something that makes us feel alive. Especially when there are times when more than anything, we just want to . . . feel.
Saturday, May 20 was a day like that for me and my 3 favorite girls. Before we unpack the moment, some history:
In 2004 we had applied for a large grant thru the Lilly Foundation. It is a pretty cool grant. Basically, the Lilly Foundation challenges Pastors with this question: “What makes your heart sing?” To put it simply, Lilly believes in local Pastors. So much so that they encourage Pastors to apply for grants. If the church and Pastor agree, write a grant, and it is approved, the Church receives $45,000.00. Up to $15000.00 can be used for the church; the rest goes to the Pastor for a time of renewal, which is typically 3 months. The grant writing process is pretty tough. OK, it is a pain. A ton of research. Countless calculations. Ten pages of narrative. Budgets. Consulting with professional grant writers. Legal paperwork. Deadlines. Rewrites. All for something that might happen – and it is usually pass/fail. You get it or you don’t. Many people who have applied for grants have told me it’s a ton of work. I now believe them. So, in late 2005 we began the process. Stephanie (the love of my life) and I spent hours in the whole process. We wrote a solid grant. Time with the family. A prayer trip to Colorado. Two weeks in London touring great cathedrals and seeing modern churches. Training at the Disney Institute and so on. After months of prep, we signed, copied, and mailed. And waited. And waited. I still remember the day, the moment. I got a call on my cell phone late one Friday afternoon. “Scot, this is Joann.” Joann is the world’s best receptionist. “There is an envelope here from the Lilly Foundation.” I was on my way to the church in a hurry. I collected the envelope and headed back to the house. I had promised Steph and the girls that I would not open it without them. So standing in my living room, in one of those historical moments, I opened the envelope. Whatever the results, I knew that somehow a small piece of our future and the history for our family would change. I pulled the letter from the envelope. To be honest, I don’t think I read much past the first sentence. “We regret to inform you blah, blah, blah . . . . .” ARGH!!!!! All that hard work, all the hours. Easy come, easy go. Except this wasn’t easy, it was HARD. Pretty disappointing to say the least. Sure, God is in control and it is really just a grant, nobody is dying. I knew all that, but just let me be bitter for awhile.
After I fumed for a couple of weeks, and put away my plans of soaping the windows of the Grant Approval Committee (I hereby deny all involvement), I called the Lilly Foundation. “Hi, this is Scot Longyear. You may not remember me because evidently I AM NOT GOOD ENOUGH FOR YOUR LITTLE GRANT. WHO DO YOU PEOPLE THINK YOU ARE?? I OUGHT TO COME DOWN THERE RIGHT NOW. YOU GONNA BE THERE ALL DAY? I MIGHT EVEN PACK A LUNCH ‘CAUSE I AM GONNA OPEN UP A CAN . . . .” Wait a second. No, that was another instance. Anyway, back to the story. So I ask them in a polite and professional manner, “Why were we passed over for the grant?” Their response: “Not enough time.” “Huh?” “Yes, we want to award grants that are for at least three months away from the church, you applied for two months.” “Oh.”
So a couple days later I talked with my boss, Dr Vince McFarland and share the news. I also told him I would not ask for three months off. That seemed a little out of place for me to do. He evidently thought it was fine. In a meeting with the elders, they agreed to three months off should the grant be awarded next time around.
So . . . on to 2005. Time to apply for the grant again. We took a deep breath and started the whole process again. I should inform you that my biggest pet peeve is doing things twice. Typing a whole e-mail and having it disappear makes me insane. This was no e-mail re-write. I am sure I was not so pleasant this time through the process. Anyhew, we wrote a totally different grant, went through all the research and everything AGAIN and submitted it in December of 2005. And waited. And waited.
May 2006. Lilly had stated that the grants would be announced by May 22. Two weeks before the 22nd, I was checking the mail at church every day. I usually don’t care about mail. During these two weeks, I would go get the big pile of mail from the giant black mailbox outside, go through every piece (we get tons of mail at church) and then go hand the pile to Danna (our cracker jack Office Manager). She would see my sad eyes and say “I’m sorry Scottie, maybe tomorrow.” I would call her on my day off. “Anything?” “No.” Sometimes she would call me. “Scot, this is Danna. It didn’t come today.” Argh . . . it’s too much to take (read overdramatically). Have you ever had time like that, where the days seem long because you are waiting on something that in a moment would change things? If it was another rejection, it would be another waste of time and frustration. If it was yes, it would change some things for us in huge ways. Steph and I would try not to get our hopes up but would still dream about what it would be like if the grant was awarded. Somewhere in that two week span she said “You know, If we won $3000.00 on the Price is Right (reminder: have your pet spayed or neutered), we would be going crazy.” Yep, and this is so much more than that. This would be like . . . winning the showcase showdown, guessing the price so close that you got all your opponents showcase, stole all the prizes from the other contestants, Bob slipped you a few grand, you got a kiss from all Barker’s Babes, AND your boss called and gave you three months off. Indeed.
So, all roads led up to Saturday, May 20. Steph had some work to do at church to prepare for the upcoming Sunday in Prime Time (our kids ministry). The whole clan headed to church in the afternoon. Mail comes around 2PM. Trust me, I knew that. Maybe today would be the day. We rolled up on the church campus and saw they were having a sanctioned go-cart race in the back of church. No problem, except that the campers, the race course, mechanics, and participants didn’t realize that they were all around the big black mailbox used by the USPS. How was the mail lady supposed to get to the box? What were these people thinking? Everyone laughing and racing and having a good time. WHAT ABOUT THE MAIL???? Sometimes people only think of themselves. My mind begins racing faster than the carts. Would she walk through the stuff to get to the mail box? I mean, they deliver in sleet and snow, but what about through professionally sanctioned go-cart races? Would she just keep the mail and deliver on Monday? I checked the box. Empty. She hadn’t been here. People watched the carts. I watched for the mail lady. Any sight of her little mail truck and I would run across the lawn. If she turned around I would chase her. If she didn’t stop I would call the postmaster General (note to self, get the general’s phone number). Time ticks on. No mail lady and no mail. 4:30 PM. Carts are packing up and the mailbox is lonely. I head inside. Steph and the girls are cutting paper in the office. I bring the report from the pits: No mail. Maybe Monday. I figure there may be a slight chance that someone grabbed the mail and threw it on Joann’s desk since it was Saturday, but surely someone would have called me. I wonder into Joann’s area and see a stack of mail. My eye immediately caught the envelope. Addressed to me. Return address: Lilly Foundation. I took it back to the area where the girls were. No one else was in the area besides us. As a matter of fact, I think we were the only ones in the entire building at that moment. “It is here.” The three of them froze. We were all thinking the same thing: the contents of this envelope would change things in small or big ways. Elation or disappointment. No middle ground. It was all or none. They all just looked at me.
I love these moments. I want to flirt with them, they make me feel alive. Good or bad, they make me . . . feel.
I found a sharp edge and opened the envelope cleanly. You don’t open envelopes like these with a finger and leave rough edges. Moments like these demand clean cuts.
To be honest, I don’t think I read much past the first sentence. “It is a pleasure to inform you that the Lilly Foundation has awarded a grant of $45,000 . . . .”
For more info on the Lilly grant and the renewal experience in 2007, click http://www.exchangemcc.org/sightsound.asp and find “Update on the Clergy Renewal Grant for an audio podcast of all the details.
[tags]Clergy Renewal Grant, Lilly Foundation, Sabbatical, Grant, moments, change[/tags]