A year into my job as secretary of Stewardship and Mission Advancement, I have experienced my own personal stewardship conversion. Like many, I once thought that stewardship meant blindly giving away a portion of my income to the church. In my heart, I felt stewardship was much more than that, but until I became involved in my duties at the diocese, I did not understand how true that was.
Stewardship has become, for me, the guiding principles in which I try to live my life, much more than the Ten Commandments. I know that I would never have developed this value without having met Barbara Vaudreuil.
Barbara was the Stewardship Committee leader at Our Lady of Lourdes Parish. She held workshops for parishioners of Our Lady of Lourdes and other parishes educating people on the core values of Christian stewardship. Barbara went so far as to incorporate Stephen Covey’s “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” and make them applicable to stewardship.
When I met her, I remember thinking to myself that I hit the jackpot. One of my priorities, in this job, was to meet with people who have been working with stewardship in their parishes. I knew that I needed to find out from others what stewardship was all about.
Barbara was one of those people; she amazed me with her enthusiasm for her faith. When I met her last year at the diocesan stewardship day, she gave me a plethora of materials she put together for Our Lady of Lourdes. We discussed collaborating our efforts in the near future. She had just recovered from a case of bronchitis and was coming to Charleston in early November. At that time, we agreed to meet at my office to begin putting some solid plans together. I explained that I was intrigued by her “stewardship of time” workshops and expressed my interest in expanding her concepts on the important relationship between stewardship and time throughout the diocese.
After that second meeting we were both feeling charged up and ready to make some progress. We agreed that we would touch base after the Thanksgiving holiday. In December, I sent Barbara an e-mail to follow-up. The next day I received her reply. She stated that her life had suddenly been turned upside down. After our meeting in November, she went to the doctor to re-evaluate her bronchitis. She found out she was in the fourth stage of lung cancer. This is what she wrote to me:
“The survival statistics on lung cancer are pretty dismal, but I feel blessed to be so well cared for and supported by the prayers and offers of help of so many friends. Life has been on hold for the past two months, but I hope that after the holidays I will feel strong enough to resume some activities as my treatment schedule permits. This puts a whole new perspective on what I used to teach in the ‘Gift of Time’ workshop.”
I was distraught. I felt as if someone just came up to me and kicked me in the stomach. What followed was a long series of e-mail messages back and forth. In the meantime, Jim Myers, diocesan director of Stewardship, and I were just planning our second “Conversations in Stewardship” video. The thought occurred to me that Barbara would be a wonderful feature for a video. I sent her a message asking if she would be interested in doing such a thing and she replied:
“When I was talking to Father (Rick) Harris last week, I told him that I felt a compelling need to witness to God’s goodness in the midst of my problems. I was wondering what the vehicle might be. I didn’t expect an answer so soon.”
Once again, we were both enthusiastic and confident we were on to something that might have a lasting impact on our stewardship education efforts. Over the course of the next few months, Barbara began her chemotherapy treatments. We would exchange e-mails frequently, discussing ideas for the video and happenings at the diocese. After a couple of attempts at trying to schedule filming around her chemotherapy, Barbara informed me she was going to Texas to witness the birth of her grandson. Both Father Harris and I were in awe of Barbara’s fortitude and strength traveling under the circumstances.
It was late March when I next heard from her. Barbara sent me a message about her other passion gardening.
“Spring has arrived in all its glory. The Bradford pear trees have finished blooming, but the cherry trees are glorious as are the daffodils, hyacinths, and forsythia. Bill (Vaudreuil) and I spent several hours each of the past two afternoons working in the gardens, both at home and at the farm. He did the heavy work while I sat on my little rolling garden cart and pruned, pulled weeds and planted seeds. Yesterday we planted Vidalia onions, broccoli and cabbage plants, and seeded snow peas, radishes and beets. Asparagus tips are beginning to poke through the ground and the strawberries, lettuce, and spinach he transplanted a month ago are thriving. April and May promise bounteous harvests.”
I found myself captivated and amazed at her enthusiasm and energy. Barbara and I continued planning our video and discussed filming on a couple of dates in May. I soon found out that we had scheduled time that was not ours.
On May 9, 2001, Barbara Vaudreuil passed away. Father Harris called me with the news of her death, but what dominated our conversation was Barbara’s enthusiasm and thirst for life. She knew firsthand the importance of using all of God’s gifts to their fullest, but didn’t fully understand what that meant until her illness.
Barbara may not be in the video I show throughout the diocese to educate people on how important our stewardship of time is. She will, however, have a lasting contribution to the stewardship efforts of the Diocese of Charleston. My association with Barbara over the last six months has forever made an impression on my heart that no workshop or video ever could.
It is and will be my honor to share Barbara’s work with you now and into the future. I now ask myself, if today was my last, would I have spent it the same way? If I am truly a disciple of Christ, what did I do today to build up the Lord’s Kingdom?
We own watches as if it is our own time that we are keeping. Yet we are all on the Lord’s time and must use it to its fullest potential each and every moment. That is the meaning of stewardship. Beyond any notion of giving blindly or financial circumstance, stewardship is more than a commitment card or ministry fair. It is acknowledging our responsibility to build up the Lord’s kingdom today and every day.
Written by Michael Gocsik, secretary of Stewardship and Mission Advancement for the Diocese of Charleston.