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Friday, 31 August 2012

Just Enough

   The last week of August was the week I would go camping when I was growing up.  One incident that happened when I was about twelve years old is another testimony to God’s providence.

   It was a cool morning when we awoke at our campsite.  The dew twinkled on the short grass and the tall weeds.  It was the day to head home, and we had used up most of our food.  It was before the days of ATM’s, and Dad’s wallet was empty.  It was not a worry, though.  We had enough gas to make the 2-3 hour drive home.
   My parents took one last walk along the beach before packing up all of our gear.  Sticking out of a pile of sand, Mom spotted one half of a ten-dollar bill.  It was a little damp, so she was careful not to tear it.   
   We went on our way.  It was time for a bathroom break and lunch, so we stopped at a roadside picnic area near Blyth, Ontario.  We ate our leftover food and were ready to go. 
   “Oh, no,” said Dad, “Where are the keys?” 
   After discussing it, we realized the keys must have been locked in the trunk.  Since Mom didn’t have a driver’s license, she didn’t carry a second set.
   An older man in a car stopped to use the portable washroom, so Dad asked for a ride into town to get a tow truck.  About half an hour later, a man in a truck came with Dad in the passenger seat.  He knew just what to do.  He removed the back seat and pulled things out from the trunk until we heard the jingle of keys.
  “Thank you so much!” Dad said to the man.  “How much do I owe you?”
  “Ten dollars,” the man replied.
   Mom pulled out the bill she found at the beach, and we each went our separate ways.

Monday, 27 August 2012

The Compassion-Blame Continuum

   It’s a very old story; many say it is the oldest book in the Bible.  A man named Job experiences one catastrophe after another, and his three friends come to comfort him.  During the first seven days and seven nights, “they sat on the ground with him…No one said a word to him because they saw how great his suffering was” (Job 2:13).  This is compassion.  It is not always necessary to use words because presence speaks volumes.
   At the end of one week, the friends move into investigator mode and try to figure out who is to blame for all the losses Job has suffered.  Their compassion evaporates as they bombard him with speeches that presume there is a secret sin in Job’s life.
   We give Job’s friends a hard time, but isn’t it true that we often turn from comforter to investigator in minutes.  We find out an acquaintance has been in a car accident, and the next thing we want to know is if he or she was at fault.  A news report tells of a fatal lightning strike and before letting the pain of such an event touch us, we think someone should have followed safety rules during an electrical storm.
   Why is it so important to us as humans to lay blame?  I’ve been pondering this for more than a decade after one woman’s comments to me when one of my cousins tragically lost his life.  I think there are at least three reasons that we lean towards being amateur investigators of tragic events:
  • It protects us from the real pain of the situation by distracting us from the main issue.  Let’s face it: compassion is costly emotionally and relationally.
  • It can assure us that the same terrible thing could never happen to us.  It’s is a delusion, of course, because nobody is immune to tragedy in one form or other.
  • It gives us a way to vent anger.  When things are not “the way they’re supposed to be,” blaming someone (even the victim) can feel better than remaining silent.
   It is a big world out there with so much misery.  Our emotional resources are limited, but approaching human suffering with compassion is still the best option for those of us who are not paid to respond to emergencies.  When it comes to judging, we can leave that to the One who is all-knowing.

Monday, 20 August 2012

Found: Live Wire in the Wall

My family has been living in the same house for six years, almost to the day.  Since moving in we have found a few surprises, but by far the biggest and worst occurred on Friday night.

Since February we noticed a black spot on the laminate flooring against an outside wall of the house in one of the upstairs bedrooms.  Thinking it was mould, I wiped it clean but it reappeared.  Last week we were thinking about repainting this bedroom, so my husband decided to investigate the spot by removing the baseboard in this area.

He found a power wire (shown here), which was originally for an electric baseboard heater, with its end wrapped in now charred black electrical tape.  These wires, unknown to the previous owners and us, continued to be “live" at the end.  The black mark we kept seeing was the result of occasional arcing between the one live wire and the ground wire.  My husband took immediate steps to disable this hazard.

That night our family discussed how our God shielded us all these years, protecting us from a house fire that could easily have been ignited by a tissue or other flammable item carelessly left near this wire on the other side of the wall.  While nobody would want to find such a wire in the wall, we are grateful that this risk could be addressed before something terrible happened.

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Chasing After the Recycling Truck in the Rain

This post is more light-hearted than most.  I hope it makes you smile.

Yesterday was garbage and recycling day on my street.  I am grateful for curbside pick up because during my childhood people had to take things to the landfill site themselves.  I am a fanatic about minimizing the amount of the waste from my house goes to the landfill, and I hate seeing litter along paths and green spaces.
   Earlier this week I spent some time cleaning up some of cans, bottles and cups I found in my neighbourhood, so I ended up with more recyclable items than my blue box could hold.  After the recycling truck had collected on the opposite side of the street I conscripted one of those empty bins to put my extra bottles and cans into, with every intention of returning it to the owners before they would even notice it was missing.
   It took a while for the recycling truck to make its way back, and it started to rain harder.  Then a black pick up truck parked in front of the curb and apparently obscured my recycling bins from the view of the recycling truck driver.  In dismay, I saw the truck drive past, leaving not only my bins but also those of my next-door neighbour.  I ran outside and told the driver that he missed something and that I would bring them to him.  Four trips back and forth and a flattened hairdo were a small price to pay for the empty recycling bin that I promptly returned across the street.

Thursday, 9 August 2012

Minivan Not For Sale

Until about a year ago I was eager to get rid of what I called our “clunky van.”  I felt bad about driving something so big (having three more seats than passengers) and so costly on gasoline.  We have driven it almost 10 years, and it was already 5 years old when we purchased it.  The power windows no longer work, and the seat belt buckle is flopped down on the floor instead of at hip level. 
   Nothing about my 1997 GMC Safari has changed since then except its age, but now I am satisfied with it in a new way.  I started to see all the positives of our only vehicle and it came to be quite a list:
  • It is paid for
  • It has allowed us to offer rides to our children’s friends and be helpful when carpooling for church events
  • It has very little rust
  • It has less than 200,000 kilometres on it
  • It has adequate cargo space for camping (no trailer or roof carrier required)
  • It is reliable and has always passed emissions tests
  • Because of its age, it has reduced insurance costs
  • It took our family all the way to Alberta and back last summer with no break downs
   It’s amazing how attitude makes such a difference in how we view something!

Thursday, 2 August 2012

Tangles and Clutter

   In Jerry Spinelli’s novel for young people entitled Maniac Magee, the main character is able to undo the legendary Cobble’s Knot.  The size of a volleyball, it is as complicated as the brain of Einstein.  This knot symbolizes the problem of racism in the book.
   A couple of weekends ago, I was working away at a larger, more colourful knot of yarn my mother-in-law purchased at a yard sale for two dollars. (I did not finish!)  Patience and effort were needed to extract its usable components, which would eventually become knitted into toques. Every fall, dozens of care packages for men and women working on ships are assembled in my mother-in-law’s living room, and each of them contains a knitted hat. 
   I pondered that the knot of yarn is also a symbol of a cluttered life.  I have a counter that continually gathers “stuff,” and it takes patience and effort to reclaim the counter space for its intended use—food preparation.  The same thing can happen with garages, closets and junk drawers.  This is a good reminder for me to do a bit of decluttering every day instead of waiting until it grows as unmanageable as this tangle of yarn.