Every person has their own personality and idiosyncrasies. These generally are exposed in close quarters. Such was the case on a mission trip to Haiti several years ago.
Six people, initially, barely acquainted and from different backgrounds, were suddenly thrust into a week of close quarters for a week. It was a time of getting to know one another and learning to work with one another.
The youngest member of our team, Carolyn, was passionate about several things. In addition to having a passion to serve God, she was passionate about her Rubrik’s cube. I secretly wondered, “out of all the things that you would bring to Haiti you bring a Rubrik’s cube?” And then I found out why. She could complete the puzzle in about two-minutes! I was very impressed and, at each location, she demonstrated her amazing Rubik’s cube talent to the amazement of her audience.
She was also passionate about water. Wherever we went, she had a huge plastic drinking bottle. She was constantly drinking and filling it back up. She was equally passionate about trying to get me to follow her example. She constantly asked, “are you drinking enough water” or “I haven’t really seen you drink any water lately.” I was opposed to the idea. There aren’t that many porta-potties in Haiti. I prefer coffee anyway.
Finally, Carolyn was passionate about finding a piece of wood while in Haiti. But, not just any piece of wood. It had to be perfect. She told our team that when she traveled abroad, she liked to bring wood back to her grandfather because he crafted handmade pens. We were all intrigued and wanted to help out. At least if I was looking for wood, I wouldn’t have to drink water.
To say that Carolyn was adamant about finding the perfect piece of wood would be an understatement. She was continuously on the prowl, searching high and low, reminding us to be on the lookout as well. Finding the perfect piece of wood seemed to be in the forefront of her mind throughout the entire trip.
But what does the perfect piece of wood look like? As you would imagine, there were qualifications. She kept insisting that it had to be the right kind of wood. It also had to be a certain size, shape, and color. Finally, it needed to fit in her suitcase for the return trip. In short, it needed to be perfect.
We looked for this perfect piece of wood everywhere. We looked while we were on base, at our VBS destinations, and we even looked while climbing the mountain in Pignon. I’ll never forget coming down the mountain and trying to keep my footing, while one of our guides, a nine-year-old boy, dragged a large tree branch down the dangerously steep descent. I didn’t know how big Carolyn’s suitcase was, but I was pretty sure the six-foot branch wouldn’t fit.
Unfortunately, only Carolyn knew what the perfect piece of wood looked like. So, we would enthusiastically hold up a specimen and ask her, “How about this one?” Most of the time, we faced immediate rejection. Carolyn’s face would grimace, and upon a close examination she would respond kindly by saying, “It’s too soft” or “too hard” or “not the right kind” or “not the right color.” Scattered across the Haitian terrain are rejected remnants of less-than-perfect pieces of wood that didn’t make the cut (pun intended). If a woodchuck could chuck wood I don’t think his standards would have been that high.
To be honest, we didn’t really care about the wood. Instead, we cared about our friend, Carolyn. Our motivation for finding this “pearl of great price” or perhaps, “wood of great worth,” was out of our friendship and love for her.
In the end, Carolyn selected several pieces of wood. It was quite the scene at the airport as she strategically reorganized her suitcase to bring beauties back to the states. She did not want to lose them in customs or to have them damaged in any way. Like a tigress, she would protect her chosen ones. I just knew that she would be caught smuggling wood into the country and I would have to make that unfortunate call to her mom and dad. “Your daughter is a wood-napper.” Thankfully, she, and her wood, made it back safely to the United States. We came back with some great stories and memories of our wood-finding expedition.
Several months later, on a Sunday morning at church, without warning or fanfare, Carolyn walked up to me and extended her hand. She held a pen. At first, I thought maybe she found it and wanted me to locate its rightful owner.
“This is yours,” she said. Then, I realized, it was a pen that had been specially crafted by her grandfather out of the wood from Haiti! I was taken aback, somewhat speechless, and thrilled! All the memories of the trip immediately came flooding back into my mind and I recalled how we all had searched for the perfect piece of wood. And now, it was in my hand. Not only did I receive a pen, but the entire team did as well. Each pen was a unique gift, beautifully hand-crafted by her grandfather. Although each of the pens were the same shape and size, they were all individually beautiful with variations of color and the grain of the wood—just like she wanted. Like fingerprints, they were each unique. They were the perfect gift.
After getting over the initial shock of receiving such a thoughtful and wonderful gift, I later joked to one of the other Haiti mission members, “If I had known I was selecting a piece of wood for my own pen, I might have looked a little harder!” We laughed, but then, I began to think about a few spiritual applications.
First, Jesus, the Lord of heaven and earth, the maker and sustainer of all things, went to the cross to die for the sin of the world. He would die upon a cross made of wood. That means Jesus specifically and purposefully grew the tree that He would die upon. No doubt, the most-famous and most-instrumental tree in history. I don’t know if it was the perfect piece of wood, but I do know it held the perfect Savior.
Second, it reminded me of the concept of ROI (return on investment). Of course, I was only jesting that if I knew I was searching for wood to craft my own pen I would have looked a little harder. But in life, we sometimes forget that God’s desire is for us to invest our lives into the lives of others and to love our neighbor as ourselves. And in the end, we not only help them, but mysteriously, God turns it into a blessing for us.