A lesson in humility

During my last years as minister in a PA church, “Adelle” stopped by the church from time to time, looking for food, or for a ride to another part of the city. My congregation had supplied me with non perishable food, toiletry items, and in colder seasons, toques, socks, and mitts. Many interesting people, many important stories were offered to me because of that generous decision by the folks in the pews.
There was a time when Adelle hadn’t shown her face for a number of months, but suddenly, there she sat again, on the bench inside the front door. I remarked that she looked particularly healthy, with a clear complexion, clear eyes. She grinned, totally unselfconsciously, and informed me that she had been in jail.
Adelle was pleasant, engaging, had a sense of humour. I enjoyed my time of visiting and listening to her stories. They offered glimpses of a reality far removed from my own. To a very large extent, it was a reality that was imposed on her, not chosen. A sense of trust appeared in our conversation.
But, as the weeks passed, Adelle’s complexion and her body language reverted back to her former self. She was still polite and pleasant, but seemed more anxious to have her needs addressed so she could move on. There was again a wariness about her.
I recall a day when she appeared with her brother. They told me they were trying to come up with rent money, and had a plastic bag of articles to sell. And, oh yes, could I give them a ride? My schedule had time.
Before we climbed into the car, Adelle asked me if I wanted to buy a cell phone, and I told her that I already had one. After I dropped them off, I remembered her question again, and reached into my pocket to reassure myself.
It wasn’t there. I went through numerous pockets. When I was again at my office, the entry area of the church was scoured, then turned upside down. No phone. A friend came for a visit, but first he had to join in the search.
Someone suggested I check the pawn shops. All stores told me that they didn’t deal in phones. So I resignedly drove to a phone outlet and purchased a new device. Fortunately, my data was recapturable, so it was really not a huge deal.
But my mind kept needing to blame Adelle. I felt hurt, let down. I reasoned that her question about whether I wanted to buy a phone was geared toward determining whether I still had mine. If so, the one she had found was fair game. At that time, I had assumed that my phone was still safely in my possession.
I was ready the next time Adelle appeared at Grace Mennonite. After I had given her the food available that day, I reminded her of that phone incident, and asked her, flat out, “Did you take my phone?”
Her eyes opened wide, she looked into my face, and she said,” I would never do that to you. You’ve always helped me! I would never take anything from you!”
The look of hurt on her features suggested that the subject shouldn’t be broached again. But were her street smarts such that she could feign that look of woundedness? Was I being duped?
Our relationship continued as before. Every few weeks, Adelle dropped by for a quick request, a quick conversation. Sometimes she was alone, sometimes with a companion.
A month later, the old phone slid out from under my car seat.
When Adelle next stopped by, I told her that story, and asked for her forgiveness. She laughed as she reminded me that I had been told that she wouldn’t take anything from me. I sensed that Adelle held on to a little power that I could feel for a time in our relationship.
I need to feel Adelle’s power over me. I need to be humbled. There was too much imbalance tilted the other way. Thank you, Adelle, for offering a lesson of humility. God calls us from that direction.