Like when I'm breaking down my "office" every night so my family can eat at the kitchen table or hand-addressing the envelopes for our donation receipts. (Don't get me wrong: I love having to send out those receipts.) Or when I'm desperately bribing my son and his buddy with combo meals at Wendy's to help me move yet another apartment-load of stuff for yet another family in crisis instead of simply assigning the job to some interns. Being small time is hard on the ego.
But then there are those magical moments when being small time means you get to make up things as you go along.
A few months ago I found myself sitting in the sparsely furnished, HUD-subsidized apartment of a beloved neighborhood friend, trying to figure out how such a tough and strong-minded woman got into such dire straights. I won't trouble you with the details, but suffice to say that in her nearly 50 years she's seen more than her share of bad breaks and worse men.
She feels quite certain she's better off hungry and alone in this little place than cared for and abused in half a dozen others. Still, she knows she could do better.
On that day I visited her, our friend was wearily describing her latest attempt to land a minimum-wage job at a restaurant downtown, and I noticed a brochure lying on her coffee table, advertising one of those big rig truck driving schools.
"Where did you get that?" I asked casually, hoping she wasn't back to entertaining men.
"Oh that," she said, her voice brightening as a big smile crossed her face
I laughed at first, and she laughed, too, but before long we were deep in conversation about the hard life of a trucker, about her father forbidding her to pursue it after high school and about what kinds of resources it would take for her to pursue it now. She told me all about it, the way a lifelong sports fan tells you all about their team, but I didn't mind.
In this kind of ministry, genuine dreams are few and far between.
Over the next few days, I kept thinking about this woman and her dream of earning a secure living by driving a big rig all over the country. The more I thought about it, the more impossible it seemed.
She couldn't even pay her rent most months, let alone save $4,000 for driving school tuition. When she wasn't taking care of her grandson, she was out hustling food for herself. She didn't even have a driver's license, for crying out loud.
You know where I'm going with this, don't you? You know she's in trucking school right now, almost ready to test for her CDL, and you know who loaned her the money (or gave it, if it turns out she can't pass the test).
A ghetto grandmother with a GED and a sketchy past might not be a good enough risk for a legitimate ministry organization, and trucking school might be too expensive to build into an ongoing employment program. But none of that matters since we're just the small-time Walnut Hills Fellowship and our friend has been with us since the beginning and this feels like as good a time as any to take what any lifelong sports fan would recognize as a Hail Mary shot at giving a dear sister a much better life.
If you haven't yet stopped to calculate what the chances are of us actually getting paid back even if she gets the job, I think you might understand our little faith community. If what you're wondering about instead is how she felt about finally getting behind the wheel of an 18-wheeler ("Incredible!") or whether everyone else in our fellowship is excited about her opportunity ("Hey, did you hear Bobbie got three out of four on her straight line backing test?") or if we're all feeling the pressure as the test day draws closer (absolutely), well, maybe you should start thinking about moving to Walnut Hills yourself.
We don't have a real office yet. We're always having to move stuff. But we get to make things up as we go along and take chances on people nobody else would take chances on and hold our breath together.
And we get to do all that with the almost giddy confidence that all the love in the world is on our side.
BART CAMPOLO is a veteran urban minister and activist who speaks and writes about grace, faith, loving relationships and social justice. He leads the Walnut Hills Fellowship, a ministry in inner city Cincinnati. He's also founder of Mission Year, a Christian ministry that recruits committed young adults to live and work among the poor in inner-city neighborhoods across the country, and executive director of EAPE, which develops and supports innovative mission projects around the world.