The Tall House

The Tall House

Dear readers,

Some pastors bring me great joy. Erik Gernand is one of them.

He may be the smartest man I know (because he married my daughter), but he is also my pastor.

Today’s guest blog post is longer than usual but well worth the read. It is a parable.

Enjoy.


A few Sundays ago, I shared a parable with our church as the message. To begin, I explained that I had been thinking a lot lately about culture, community, and the state of the church in America, which had led me to a particular passage of Scripture.

“After I read the Scripture, I’d like to share a parable with you,” I said. “Then, we’ll receive communion.

I read Galatians 6:1-5,9-10 aloud from The Message:

Live creatively, friends. If someone falls into sin, forgivingly restore him, saving your critical comments for yourself. You might be needing forgiveness before the day’s out. Stoop down and reach out to those who are oppressed. Share their burdens, and so complete Christ’s law. If you think you are too good for that, you are badly deceived.

Make a careful exploration of who you are and the work you have been given, and then sink yourself into that. Don’t be impressed with yourself. Don’t compare yourself with others. Each of you must take responsibility for doing the creative best you can with your own life.

So let’s not allow ourselves to get fatigued doing good. At the right time we will harvest a good crop if we don’t give up, or quit. Right now, therefore, every time we get the chance, let us work for the benefit of all, starting with the people closest to us in the community of faith.

Then, I began the parable.

There was a woman named Nell who lived in a flood plain in southern Louisiana, right in the heart of hurricane country. Her life was deeply rooted in the land, the community, and the rhythms, challenges, joys and pains of life. She had always enjoyed vibrant conversations with her neighbors around the breakfast table at the diner on the square. Nell had raised her family in this neighborhood and loved her neighbors.

Then, a hurricane hit.

The community had weathered hurricanes before, helping each other sandbag doorways and shutter windows, even sharing hotel rooms in nearby cities. When the storms were over, they’d carpool back home, dry out their belongings, put away the sandbags, and go on with life.

But this storm was different. It filled Nell’s house with 9 feet of water. Everything was ruined.

Soon after, she learned about a grant that would allow her to rebuild her home 18-feet off the ground to protect her from the storms that often wrecked her community.

The grant was available to her neighbors, too, but for one reason or another, they all turned it down and decided to stay put.

“It’s too much work,” Nell’s next-door neighbor said.

“I’ve lived this way my whole life,” a friend remarked during a Saturday breakfast at the diner.

Others speculated that there wouldn’t be any more storms like the last one. Even Nell’s own daughter said she was happy with the way things were. But Nell decided to take the funds and elevate her house anyway, even if she was the only one.

When the next hurricane season came around, Nell helped her neighbors sandbag, shutter, and carpool like always. She did the same the season after that. And the one after that.

All the while, Nell tried to convince her neighbors to build their houses up like she had. Eventually, Nell began to realize that these hurricane problems weren’t her problems anymore. They were their problems.

That hurricane season, Nell climbed the flights of stairs to her flood-proofed home and watched from her balcony while her neighbors sandbagged their houses, shuttered their windows, loaded their cars and drove to hotels.

The rains came down, and the floods came up. And Nell slept like a baby, knowing she didn’t have to worry about any of it.

After the storms, Nell’s neighbors came back to their soggy homes and wept together as they loaded their damaged photo albums, clothes and mattresses into the dumpsters by the side of the road. Nell watched it all from her balcony and was sad for them, but she also thought about how her neighbors had missed their chance. If they’d made better decisions, they wouldn’t be going through all this, she thought. I’m so glad I built my house on stilts 18-feet above the ground, she mused.

At that moment, one of Nell’s neighbors was walking to the trash with a waterlogged pile of her children’s school paintings. She noticed Nell, leaning over her balcony and shaking her head ever so slightly.

Something changed between them in that moment. Soon, more neighbors began to notice Nell watching from her balcony as they cleaned up. Quickly and quietly, Nell’s relationship with her neighbors began to sour.

The problem wasn’t that Nell had taken steps to insulate herself from the storms. The problem was that she’d stopped living life on the same level as everyone else. She’d stopped sandbagging homes, shuttering windows, and grieving losses. She’d stopped being vulnerable with others as they suffered.

Nell had replaced compassion and vulnerability with looking down from her balcony and shaking her head.

People started resenting Nell, her home, and, most of all, her looks of hateful disapproval—even though Nell didn’t hate her neighbors. She was just sad they hadn’t learned that building up would be better.

Fueled by anger, the neighborhood began working together to bring Nell down from her house. The city council started working on proposals to change the building codes to keep houses like hers from being built. Whenever Nell walked into the diner—where she used to have a reserved seat and a respected voice—everyone stood up and walked out.

And every once in a while, someone would get an ax and start swinging at the wooden posts that held up her home.

This was hard for Nell. She loved these people. She didn’t wish them any harm; in fact, she hoped for their good. She felt misunderstood, hurt and ostracized. Every time a city council proposal was on the table, neighbors left her alone at the diner, or someone took an ax to her foundation, her knee-jerk reaction was to defend her position.

Nell argued passionately at city council meetings—with charts, graphs and statistics—about why building up was the best choice and how dangerous it was to live at ground level. She reinforced her damaged pillars and told her neighbors they were hurting her feelings. From her balcony, she explained that they were only hurting themselves by staying on the ground. But every knee-jerk reaction only served to make the situation worse.

Year after year, the hostility grew. Nell lamented that she couldn’t reach her neighbors with the truth, while her neighbors lamented that she hadn’t moved from her elevated house.

Then, the hurricane of all hurricanes started brewing in the gulf. It grew so quickly that there was hardly time to sandbag or shutter anything. Families scrambled to load their cars and leave, even though the highways out of town were clogged with traffic.

As Nell watched her desperate neighbors from her balcony, something began to change in her heart. She saw the chaos. She watched struggling moms and dads loading their terrified babies into cars, all while wondering if they’d really make it out of town in time. She glimpsed her own daughter and grandchildren struggling to their car in the torrential downpour and high winds.

In that moment, Nell’s heart began to soften. Here are my neighbors. My own family. My people, she thought.

Nell had changed some of their diapers and gone to many of their school plays. She’d enjoyed annual shrimp boils in their backyards. She’d eaten and talked with them every Saturday at the diner. Nell began to realize that she had grown tired, lonely and sick at heart from being cooped up in her safe house 18-feet in the air for all these years.

In a moment of grace that came from somewhere outside of herself, Nell swallowed her pride, walked down the stairs and crossed the street. Despite questioning looks and derisive comments, Nell took her place in the sandbag line. She shuttered a few windows and helped load a few cars. When the storms had passed and her neighbors came home, they found Nell waiting for them with the dumpsters, ready to help clean up.

The leader of the city council couldn’t take it any longer.

“Nell, what are you doing down here?” she asked. “Your house got through the storm just fine. Wouldn’t you rather survey the damage from your balcony?”

Nell’s response was heartfelt and honest.

“As I was sandbagging, shuttering, and carrying things to cars, I began to realize how much I missed touching your hands as we passed sandbags to each other, feeling my feet on the earth with yours, standing in the rain with umbrellas over the children as they loaded the vans.” She said. “But most of all, I missed seeing your faces and being able to look into your eyes. As safe as my home is, I remembered that my life belongs with you—if you’ll have me.”

The city council leader wasn’t sure what to do with that. There were a lot of hard feelings, but there was also a lot of work to be done, and they needed all the help they could get. So, she simply told Nell to grab a shovel.

Nell moved into the flood zone with her daughter for a bit. Day in and day out, she worked together with her neighbors. As they worked together for the good of one another, Nell’s neighbors began to realize how much they’d missed Nell’s hands and feet, her voice and smile, and her face and her eyes.

Things continued like this for years: Nell helping her neighbors and her neighbors working alongside her. Until one year when Nell’s legs grew too tired to walk up the steps to her home. So, she accepted her daughter’s long-standing invitation to move in with her full-time.

Finally, Nell drew up the courage to head over to the diner for breakfast one Saturday morning. She’d stopped going years ago. When she walked in the door, the bell rang, and Nell braced herself for what would come next. But one by one, each of her friends at her old table greeted her, offered her a seat and invited her back into the conversation she’d missed so much.

Nell was glad to accept the invitation. She and her neighbors sat and talked about life and love, storms and sunshine, grace and forgiveness for hours that day.

A few years later, Nell offered to donate her old house to the neighborhood, and the city council voted to accept it. They turned it into the village hall—a gathering place for wedding banquets, shrimp boils, family gatherings, and a community storm shelter for when the hurricanes came.

And they all lived together ever after.

– Erik Gernand

Comments

  1. Craig Keen says:

    This is really nice, Erik! Well done!

  2. Steve Merki says:

    Great story! It helped me see the Galatians passage more clearly. Thanks for sharing it!

  3. I think this story is misguided. If people cannot afford to move or to build then, of course, be there for them. If able, invest for them so they can improve their situation. But it is unhealthy and unhelpful to continue to rescue and enable those who need to break free of destructive patterns. The prodigal came to himself in the pig pen and went home.

  4. Pastor Erik Gernand is also may pastor. He is articulate, intelligent, and compassionate, but what I love most about him is the way he challenges me to be vulnerable and involved with people who are at much different places in life than I am! Thank God for young pastors who are more passionate about leading people to Christ than they are about building their own resume.

  5. Me ha encantado vuestro post y me ha sabido a poco pero ya sabeis lo que dice el dicho “si lo bueno es breve es dos veces bueno”. Me gustara volver a leeros de nuevo.
    Saludos

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