Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Apology Not Accepted

An elderly woman walked up to me after the service. “Here,” she took my hand and pressed it, leaving a folded green slip behind, like a last leaf before winter. “I’m sorry,” she shook her curls softly, “I’m sorry that’s all I can give.”



I shifted at my desk, and gave in to my curiosity. Yes, Inbox (1). Clicking on the email, I realize that God had just called another partner into Bible translation. But then, the third paragraph down: “I’m sorry that I can’t give more at this time…”


I’m sorry. An apology is perhaps the most common accompaniment I receive with a financial gift, and yet, my heart aches every time I read it. Although it is often written as an expression of support for Bible translation, and I value greatly the heart behind it, it misses the point.

I remember standing in our farm kitchen, flour on my face and hair pulled into a stubborn ponytail, mixing up chocolate chip cookies with all the youthful seriousness of first independence. But measuring cups are different sizes, and when my hand trembled under the weight of a mounded half-cup, I re-checked the recipe. It only called for ½ teaspoon of salt.

Size and value are not cousins, and the Rose Window of Notre Dame is not made from one large sheet of colored glass. When giving is brought before the Lord in a dialogue, then the amount is perfect and precise. Just as puzzle pieces fit together or my computer whirrs in minute efficiency, there is no hierarchy of value. Obedience is not added by a cashier.

Left: American penny. Right: Roman "widow's mite"
A card comes in the mail. I slit the envelope: $10 stretches from the folds. The message curves gently, “it’s all I can give… I’m sorry,” and I can see the widow writing by the window of her apartment, or is she slipping into the temple, placing two copper coins where others have put their treasure?

Too small?

So is the period.


“Catherine.” I glanced up from my packing, a tool belt in one hand and a white board in the other—props from the evening’s presentation. I could see the youth leader coming towards me, skirting chairs and carpetball, her hands cupped. “The youth would like to give you their offering." She glanced down at the one-dollar bills and quarters, dimes and nickels. “It’s not much…”

I quickly reached forward, grasping her hand. How could I make her understand?

Thank you. Thank you.

Two pennies fell from my hand onto the table. Do you see that? Jesus had asked his disciples.

No apology this time.