ABOUT FAITH: Lessons in a Cross

The Covington News - - Religion - Brian Dale Colum­nist The Rev. Brian Dale is the pas­tor of Allen Me­mo­rial Methodist Church in Ox­ford.

While on a mis­sion trip to Hon­duras, I vis­ited a gift shop that fea­tured hand­made items from the lo­cal com­mu­nity. I wanted to sup­port the econ­omy of that vil­lage, still strug­gling to pull it­self out of the mire left be­hind by Hur­ri­cane Mitch. Some rus­tic earth­en­ware might be a nice ad­di­tion to my ce­ramic col­lec­tion, I thought. But there among the pots was an or­nate wooden cross, ob­vi­ously hand­made out of na­tive wood and in­tri­cately carved with a cop­ing saw. “How much is this cross?” I asked the clerk. Her an­swer told me more about how much the cross was worth than about how much it would cost me.

“That cross was made by a man I know,” she said. “He lost the use of his legs many years ago, and took to beg­ging in the streets. I told him he shouldn’t do such things; he was still a strong and healthy man, even with­out his legs. He should go to work and earn his liv­ing. I told him he could live in my house only un­til he fin­ished build­ing a house of his own.”

I stud­ied the woman in­tently, not sure I un­der­stood her cor­rectly. Her com­mand of the English lan­guage was good, and I could not dis­miss as mis­com­mu­ni­ca­tion the words that I was hear­ing. She seemed com­pas­sion­ate to let him live un­der her roof, but cruel to de­mand he build his own house. But in her bear­ing I could find no cru­elty and only a lit­tle com­pas­sion. What I saw was the quiet con­fi­dence and sel­f­re­liance of her proud cul­ture.

“Is he still liv­ing with you?” I asked. “No, I kicked him out the day he hung the front door on his home. It was not a door with hinges, but a heavy can­vas sheet.” The look on my face must have told her I wanted to know how this could be pos­si­ble.

“I gave him a dig­ging trowel, some scraps of wood, and a few nails. He used the wood to make brick molds. Then ev­ery day he would make bricks from the heavy clay in our hill­sides. For months, he col­lected bricks and left them dry­ing in the sun.”

“Even­tu­ally, he had enough bricks to build his house. Some mis­sion­ar­ies gave him ce­ment they had left over from a build­ing project, which he used for mor­tar. He would scoot along the ground, lay­ing bricks and mor­tar, go­ing up as high as he could reach. Then he worked from his wheel­chair, and went as high as he could go.”

“When the walls were as high as he could make them, I gave him a cop­ing saw. He started mak­ing these crosses out of wood he found lay­ing around, and sell­ing them in my shop. He used the money to pay oth­ers to help him fin­ish the walls and roof. He lives by him­self now, and still makes these crosses to sup­port him­self.”

I bought the cross, and would have counted it a bar­gain at twice the price.

Whether this story is true or just a leg­end, I do not know. But it is the story I at­tach to the wooden cross hang­ing on my wall. Its maker found in­ner strength where his legs had failed him, and grace in what may have seemed like heart­less­ness.

Like the orig­i­nal cross, its value is not in­trin­sic in the wood, nor in the work­man­ship, but in the sac­ri­fice that it rep­re­sents. While at times we may cry out for mercy and re­lief, God’s words for Paul (2 Corinthians 12:9) ap­ply to us as well: “My grace is suf­fi­cient for you, for power is made per­fect in weak­ness.”

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