STORIES from C.O.O.L. Day 2017 - Tallmadge, OH

Introduction: 

This year’s C.O.O.L. t-shirts displayed Matthew 6:10: “Thy Kingdom Come; Thy Will be Done,” and the story of the day was just that—the story of how the kingdom of God came to Stadium Drive through His people to accomplish His will. 

As in every circumstance when heaven meets earth through the work of God’s people, the day was marked by little glimpses of the beauty of the King and His Kingdom. Walking up and down Stadium Drive, the careful observer could see the King’s love, joy, hope, kindness, gentleness, goodness, faithfulness, diligence, and humility, and the Kingdom’s unity, organization, devotion, perseverance, and contagious enthusiasm. Many of these qualities were demonstrated in the ways volunteers interacted with one another and in the ways they served the residents.

In ways that I’m confident only God could design, His kingdom most certainly showed up on Stadium Drive. It invaded with shovels and rakes and Bobcats, in an army of blue t-shirts—in a way that most people wouldn’t expect the Kingdom to arrive—but there it was, accomplishing the will of the Father. In compassion, creativity, and hard work, Jesus was lifted high for all of Tallmadge to see.

As I started to pray and consider how to tell the stories of the day, I was struck by how many of the moments that stick out in my mind are characterized by one of these Kingdom virtues. While some of the snapshots from the day that I’m about to share will fall outside of this framework, it’s beautiful to see how many volunteers embodied this fulfillment of the image of Christ’s kingdom here on earth through their words and actions on C.O.O.L. Day 2017.

C.O.O.L. Day Snapshots:

1. Rose (relative of a resident): Joy

Rose was a homeowner’s niece, and she was helping the crew and her uncle, Dave, on the projects at his house. She talked with us as she worked and buzzed around her uncle, teasing him about the way he had dangerously attempted to clean his own gutters (Uncle Dave is in his 90’s and blind) and reminiscing about the many times her uncle had shown up to help her in her youth. I could have spent the whole day with her, laughing at her interactions with her uncle, taking in her enthusiasm, and watching the utter joy on her face as she watched her uncle receive a blessing that she knew would have taken her family months to accomplish.

2. Dave (resident): Humility

Dave was introduced to me by his niece as Uncle Dave, and that’s exactly the way he came across, as a kindly uncle. In his younger years, Dave worked in construction and was a crane operator and an all-around handyman. He was the one who family members called when the car wouldn’t start or something was broken, and he was quite capable of taking care of his own property well. When, in his later years, Dave lost his vision, he became unable to do many of the things that he could and would have easily done in his youth.

So C.O.O.L. Day was a particular blessing for Dave. The crew worked to level the ground on his property and clean up some of the landscaping so that he could better navigate his yard and have a bit more independence of movement. They cleaned out his gutters and installed gutter guards so that Dave wouldn’t attempt to clean out his gutters on his own…again. And they painted his house—a very nice shade of pink, we teased Dave, who good-naturedly laughed and said he hoped it was the gray that they’d told him it would be.

What struck me about Dave and his story was the unspoken humility that he displayed. This exceedingly capable man, known for being the one who helped, was humbly and gratefully accepting the help of a group of people he hadn’t previously known.

3. Diane (resident): Faithfulness

The past few years had been particularly difficult for Diane, who had lost both her mother and grandmother in a short period of time, had nearly lost her home in a refinancing scam, and had suffered with serious illness. All of the heartache and difficulty had discouraged Diane and brought her to her knees. And she prayed in desperation one night that God would show Himself and His love for her. The very next day, Diane heard about C.O.O.L.

On C.O.O.L. Day, we stood and talked to Diane for quite some time, watching as a crew of blue-shirted volunteers cleaned up several trees that had been removed from her back yard. She spoke of how God had seen her tears, and of how He had shown Himself to be her Healer—both physically as she recovered from her illness and emotionally and spiritually in His answer to her prayer. All that she’d been through, she told us was, “God’s story,” and as I think about the ways her story exemplifies the faithfulness of our King, I couldn’t agree more.

4. Terry (resident): Diligence

I didn’t talk to Terry long. I couldn’t. She was way too busy to stop and chat with a volunteer about her story. But I got a chance to watch her at work, and it was a sight to behold.

Terry, the volunteers told me, was a renter in the house, but you wouldn’t know it by the way she worked so diligently and tirelessly, rarely taking a break. As the day progressed, I watched her haul and dump gravel from one part of her driveway to another, rake the gravel smooth, and then proceed to dig in to her flower beds, weeding and transplanting and planting. I don’t think she stood still for the entire time the workers were at her house, and I was impressed by the amount of effort she consistently exerted.

5. Les (resident): Hospitality

It was Les who hospitably allowed the C.O.O.L. home base to pitch its tents in his front yard, and the quality of hospitality characterized his behavior throughout the day.

My first glimpse at Les’s hospitality—at his willingness to welcome others in and love on them—was when he introduced us to his neighbor, Kathy. Kathy was a quieter neighbor, but Les didn’t let that stop him from reaching out. While her back deck was obscured from the view of his back yard, he’d listen for her, and when he heard her, he’d yell over his greetings. From the way Kathy smiled when he explained this to us, I got the impression that he’d made his point. She was accepted and loved—even if she wasn't seen.

My second glimpse of Les’s hospitality came with an extensive tour of his back yard. He guided me past various plants, asking me if I recognized them, and explaining what he did to make sure they flourished in his garden. He brought us into his potting shed, where the plant education continued along with his efforts to get to know me a bit better. When I readily admitted to a black thumb, he gave me a small succulent plant and told me how to care for it, reassuring me that I’d have better luck this time. (For the record, the plant is still alive on my window sill.)

While we only briefly spoke of the day’s events, I left Les’s house knowing that the C.O.O.L. spirit, or more precisely, the Holy Spirit, was going to continue His presence on Stadium Drive long after the volunteers packed up their tools and left. In Les’s hospitality and obvious love and care for his neighbors, the Spirit will continue to move.

6. Kathy (resident)

At the beginning of the day, Kathy’s back deck was completely hidden behind wildly overgrown shrubs and various other plants. From the vantage point of her neighbor’s back yard, it was impossible to tell that there was a deck at all. As I stood there watching, the volunteers started the herculean task of taking the giant bushes down. Little by little, the deck began to show itself, and in less time than I thought possible, all of the overgrowth was removed, and it was completely visible. The transformation was remarkable.

More remarkable yet was the transformation we began to see in Kathy. When we first spoke with her, she exhibited a quiet and hesitant posture as she watched the C.O.O.L. team hard at work on her behalf.  Ironically, as the bushes came down, we also got to know Kathy a little bit more too. She began to open up, telling a bit of her story and conversing with the volunteers as they discussed the details of the projects going on at her house. By the end of the day, the smiles and interactions at Kathy’s house were contagious!                                         

Just as it was amazing to find that spacious deck behind those overgrown bushes, even more so, we enjoyed building a new bridge to Kathy, our new friend on Stadium Dr.  A situation that felt very private from the start gave way to beauty and new possibilities. It wouldn’t surprise me a bit if this weren’t the first step in a new journey in Kathy’s life orchestrated by God Himself - all because a kind woman let a bunch of generous strangers serve her on C.O.O.L. Day 2017. 

7. Prayer Team

For weeks before C.O.O.L. swings its first hammer or picks up a paint brush, a team of faithful prayer warriors walks the neighborhood, praying for the project and praying with any of the residents who ask. These wonderful women play an important role in the work God does on C.O.O.L. Day as they invite God to do His will in the community and intercede for the needs that they see as they walk.

When I got the chance to ask the prayer team about their experience this year, I was met with immediate enthusiasm as they exclaimed, “Every prayer was answered! Every prayer!” I couldn’t resist asking them for their favorite story of answered prayer, and this is what they told me:

For weeks, they walked around the neighborhood praying for the project, stopping each time at the fence surrounding the stadium, at the end of the road. They placed their hands on that fence and prayed that God would bring a portion the fence down so that the project could have access to and utilize the area around the stadium. They prayed very specifically that this would be at no cost to C.O.O.L., and they never told anyone from the C.O.O.L. administration what they’d asked for. Not long before C.O.O.L. Day, they were amazed to see that God had very clearly answered their prayer. A section of the fence was down, allowing free passage to the stadium restrooms and to a pavilion area for the volunteers, and this was done at no cost to the project.

With huge smiles on their faces, they praised God for His answer to their prayer, saying, “We’re amazed and know God can do everything He wants to do. We’re just His tools.”

8. Jerry (volunteer)

When we walked up to 139 Stadium Drive to speak to the crew at work there, we were greeted by Jerry. Jerry couldn’t have been much more than 13 years old, and he was more than happy to show us around the work site. He told us about the ways he’d contributed to the work done at the house. He was all business, sticking to the details of the project itself until we asked him how he’d seen God at work throughout the day. A big smile lit his face as he told us that his Pastor had told him a story about the prayer walkers and the fence…

The story wasn’t his, but it was the first thing he thought of when he considered what God had done. As believers, the stories we share of God’s faithfulness, of His work in our lives, can become the method God uses to teach others as well. Sometimes, God speaks loudest to us in the stories of those around us.

9. Walt (resident)

We met Walt just as the day was starting to slow down. The crew at work at his house was finishing their work, and Walt had witnessed nearly a full day of the C.O.O.L. Project at work around him. In light of all he’d witnessed, Walt was confident and matter of fact when he told us that the “whole thing” had been a work of God, from start to finish.

He wasn’t flowery in his speech, and he didn’t waste time on too many details, but Walt plainly told us he was pleased with the work that had been done at his home. He explained that he and his wife had needed to do a few projects around their house, but they’d wondered how it would get done. And he didn’t hesitate to give God the credit for sending C.O.O.L. to accomplish these tasks. He explained that this was what God’s work looked like: people pulling together to do great things. And he was right.

10. Cliff (police officer): Hope

Cliff was the police officer stationed at the end of Stadium Drive, blocking the road from public entry. He sat outside of the action, watching all of it happen in the distance. His perspective of the day was unique—he hadn’t really gotten to interact with any of the volunteers or residents; he’d only been able to watch the day from afar—but his insight on what was happening was profound.

He told us that, as a police officer, he most frequently encountered people who were causing trouble, explaining that it was easy for him to become discouraged with the state of society. “There’s some much that’s gone wrong in the world,” he said. And then he added, motioning toward the workers in the distance, “And then you see this, and there’s a little bit of hope.”

11. Christie and Stephanie (volunteers)

Christie and Stephanie stood and talked with us as their crew put the finishing touches on their project. They explained all of the things that had been accomplished at their work site, and the conversation made its way to talking about the crew that worked with them that day. With a proud smile, Stephanie pointed out that some of the youngest volunteers had worked diligently throughout the day, specifically mentioning Christie’s 8 year old son and 7 year old daughter. Their team was truly a family at work, with each participant—no matter how small—doing their part get the job done.

12. The Ladies at 90 Stadium Drive

Several times throughout the day, I had to stand back to admire the joy, the persistence, and the brute strength of the women at work at 90 Stadium Drive. They pulled out an established shrub by the root, laughing and declaring the extracted root as their “eight pointer.” They dug in with their shovels and rearranged the landscape. They rolled a large bush from where it had taken over the corner of the lot, uprooting it and moving it to the edge of the road to be hauled away, heaving and hoeing and straining and laughing. And when they were complimented for their hard work, they smiled and deflected the praise, crediting the team for its effort.

These women weren’t likely the most skilled workers at their site, and the work they were doing wasn’t flashy or glamorous, but they sparkled with the beauty of Jesus. They exemplified the kingdom’s unity. They glorified God with their laughter and their humility. They were absolutely beautiful.

 

Credits:     

Interviews and Journalism by:

Sarah Senften

Ivy Sterling