November 15, 2013
My house is a disaster. Complete and utter. And there is no escaping it. The mess is upstairs and down, inside and out. Courtesy of a perfect storm of cold weather, a Saturday afternoon, and four children who think they’re adults.
Two kids can clutter a house on their own. No assistance is required. But when those two kids are joined by two more kids, this is the result. Toys strewn across floors and furniture. Hand and even foot prints on the walls and doors. Not to mention spilled drinks, dropped food, and a mammoth pile of dirty dishes.
This is why I frown upon play dates. They have a tendency to turn my home into Lord of the Flies.
And now, with my wife gone to take my children’s friends back to where they belong, this mess is all mine.
Where to start is always the toughest question to answer when faced with this sort of situation. Everything seems so overwhelming. How am I supposed to prioritize what needs to be done first and what can wait? Am I supposed to begin with the small or the large? Should I start upstairs and work my way down, or downstairs and work my way up?
I don’t know. It all too confusing. And in my confusion I find myself asking one more question:
What can one person do to fix all of this?
“Nothing,” I mutter, trudging into the kitchen for a cup of coffee. And since I’m there, I figure I might as well start with the dishes. So I fill up the dishwasher then transfer what’s left to the sink, where I begin the process of wash/rinse/dry.
Meanwhile, the television in the living room is broadcasting the day’s news. Bailouts and unemployment. Taxes. Inflation, deflation, and stagflation. War. Even a reference to Revelation.
Such is life in this modern age. Struggling not to overcome, but to simply keep up. Trying to hang on to job and family. Trying to still believe in this world, that we can fix things and make a difference.
I hate the news.
Not because it’s so bad or usually slanted one way or the other. No, I hate the news because it never stops. There’s always something new to worry about and something more that needs fixing.
Not unlike my house, I suppose.
Both have been made a mess by children who thought they were adults, and both need a good straightening up and cleaning.
I know this. And I know that as God has seen fit to put me here, now, then He must expect me to do some of that straightening and cleaning. But again come those questions. Where do I start? Big? Small? What should I do now and what should I wait to do later?
I don’t know. It all seems so overwhelming, this mess. It’s not just the news stories of people losing their jobs and homes. It’s the feelings those stories breed. It’s the sense of despair and resignation that so many seem to be feeling now. If we are to pull ourselves out of this, we need more than governments and stimulus packages. We need hope. Hope that not only can things get better, we are the ones to make it that way.
It’s easy sometimes to think we’re powerless to alter the course of things. Easy to think we’re too small and too puny to make things better. But I don’t think we’re so powerless.
I can’t clean my whole house, but I can wash the dishes. I can’t go everywhere and do everything, but I can take care of what’s in front of me and do what I can.
The great secret? If we all do our part, however small it may be, we will find in the end that just because things are tough now doesn’t mean they have to stay that way. And just because we can’t clean up the whole mess doesn’t mean we can’t clean up a little of it.
November 11, 2013
As I write this, there is a dog next to me. She (it is a “she”—my son checked the first time we visited her at the SPCA) is curled up in a tight black ball. Her eyes are closed but her ears are perked; she snores and wakes herself up. As I wrote that last sentence, she pushed her wet nose against my forearm and then settled back into position. There is a slimy spot on my forearm now. I don’t mind.
We call her Daisy. Part labrador and part everything else. A mutt, in other words. Seven months old—still a pup. Had we not claimed her, I expect she would’ve been put down by now. But we had to, you see. Claim her, I mean. One look at her trembling body in that pen, the way she kept her tail tucked between her hind legs and her ears flat against her head. How she wouldn’t even come to me the first time I visited her and then crawled to me the second time. I had to bring her home. Just had to.
The kids wanted a dog. They’re at That Age now. I’m not sure what That Age means, only that it’s what everyone said—my parents, my wife’s, everyone at work: “You really should get your kids a dog, they’re at That Age.”
She isn’t the brightest dog in the world. She spent about five minutes the other night chewing on her own leg, trying to figure out what it was. A little bit ago, she got up to scratch or belly and slid right off the couch. She looked at me as she tumbled—ears perked, tail wagging, her eyes wide as though wondering what in the world had happened. When she landed on the carpet, she rolled once and climbed back up. That’s Daisy.
It’s been interesting, watching how a dog can change things. On the floor below me are two socks, three tennis balls, and a rawhide bone. They’re Daisy’s toys. I figure she’s gotten more toys in the past week than I’ve gotten in the past year. And yet no one seems to mind how she leaves these things scattered everywhere or that she sheds or that after she drinks from her bowl she leaves a trail of water stretching from the kitchen to the living room. The kids seem to have the worst part of the deal. They’re outside now with the shovel, scooping up dog poop. It’s funny, seeing the grimace on their faces. I tell them it hasn’t been so long that I was scooping up their poop, too.
I could go on. I could talk about how to have a dog is to have the best companion in the world, how they’ll love you no matter what and always make your day brighter. I won’t, though. If you have a dog, you’ll agree. If you don’t, you probably won’t understand.
But I will say this: Daisy woke up this morning wagging her tail. We took a walk this morning in the crisp November air and met deer and birds. She’s discovered a love of fetching the tennis balls my son hits with his baseball bat. She’s gaining weight. She doesn’t lay her ears back anymore.
I won’t say Daisy has changed since that first day I saw her through the bars of her cage. I’ll say instead that she’s herself now—her best self.
And honestly? I don’t give any of that to the fact that she gets exercise and eats well and has toys. I think it’s love, pure and simple. I think Daisy’s better now because she knows she’s loved.
You hear about that all the time, how love can make people better, how it can give them hope and purpose. For the last two weeks, I’ve seen that for myself. It’s true, every word.
November 5, 2013
An important part of my nighttime routine is making a final pass through the house. I make sure the doors are locked and the outside light is on. Make sure the morning coffee is ready—it’s the smell of coffee and not the sound of the alarm that gets me out of bed—and the lights above the sink are shining—just in case someone wakes in the middle of the night thirsty. I’ll check to make sure my son is adequately covered and hasn’t flopped and flipped his blankets off. My final stop is to check my daughter’s sugar, because she may sleep and we all may sleep, but diabetes never does.
I always pray over my children then. Every night, without fail. They don’t know this; I’ve never told them. I suppose doing so is as much for my benefit as theirs. I have an uneasy relationship with the night. It’s the time of day when I often get most of my work done, and yet I spend much of that time peering into the shadows for what isn’t there.
My prayers are the usual ones—help us to sleep well, bless our family, let Your angels stand guard. And keep us safe, always that. Always a lot of that.
I heard a preacher the other day talk about praying for safety. He said Christians shouldn’t place so much of a premium on that, that this is pretty much one of the safest countries in the world and so we’re pretty much wasting our words, that we should instead pray for boldness because that’s what we need more. He said we’re often content to remain where we are because that’s where everything is safe and familiar, when God wants us to go forth and conquer new lands within and without.
I’ll admit he stepped on my toes a little with that. It’s probably true that I need more boldness than safety, just as true about those new lands. And I’ll say that fear plays an important part in my life and maybe too much, what with all those shadows and whatnot.
So maybe instead of praying that God will keep us safe, I should pray that He will keep us on our toes. And rather than asking that His angels stand guard over us, I should pray that they will charge ahead of us into new places and new ways of seeing things. Maybe I’ve been tricked into thinking that my life is better thought of as something to be endured rather than made better, as if my purpose in being here is to comfort myself before I comfort others.
But maybe praying for safety is important, too. It reminds me that despite what everyone in my family may believe, I’m small. Just a tiny speck in a big world, one that oftentimes is much more scary than it is beautiful. And one who often needs a great deal of help.
Perhaps if I had the faith of the preacher I heard the other day, I wouldn’t need to ask for so much safety. Perhaps if I had his view of the world, I would see no reason to fear anything. I would see the battle as already won and the last sentence already written, one with an exclamation point rather than a period.
I hope to have that sort of faith one day. For now, I don’t. For now, I look at this world and see more shadows than light and more of what could go wrong than what has already gone right.
October 31, 2013
A family down the road loves Halloween almost as much as I do. Mother, father, and son—Mikey is his name. Mikey’s seven.
Mikey already has his costume picked out—it’s Jack Sparrow this year—and already has his pumpkin carved. All that’s left are the decorations. Mikey’s folks get a kick out of decorating for Halloween.
But as with most things in life, all this excitement and elation is sprinkled with dread. Decorating for Halloween, you see, means having to get the decorations out. Not a problem usually, but in Mikey’s case it’s a big one. Because all the decorations are in his basement.
All of that old and mostly forgotten stuff down there gives Mikey the willies. It’s scary down there, he’s told me. Dark and stinky, too. It’s where the spiders and mice and ghosts live. Also the furnace, which he believes may well be the gateway to hell. When you’re a kid, nothing is scarier than the furnace.
At night before bed, Mikey doesn’t worry about the front or back doors being locked, he worries about the basement door. He’s seen the movies (though he won’t fess up to me which movies he’s talking about) and knows what can happen. He’s not afraid of someone coming in, he’s afraid of something coming up. But there’s a problem. The lock is on the inside of the door, not the outside. The builder’s mistake, on that his father never gotten around to fixing. Which means the spiders and mice and ghosts can keep everything in, but Mikey can’t keep them out.
So when the first week of October rolls around, he’s both elated and scared to death. His father expects Mikey to go down there with him. He has to help unpack it all, too. And lay it all out right there on the basement floor. “You never know what’s going to be in there,” he told me. “Spiders love to crawl in those boxes. Zombies, too. I seen em.”
This fear, this dread, is Mikey’s alone. He hasn’t told his parents about the basement, and how he worries about the lock on the basement door before he goes to bed, and how he prays that eventually his dad will change the lock around to the other side so he could get in but they couldn’t get out. It’d make him seem like a kid. And when you’re a kid, the last thing you want is to act like one.
Me, I understand all of this. The kid part, but especially the basement stuff. I might not have a basement in my house, but I do have one inside of me. Deep down, seldom seen. It’s the place where all the junk is kept, the fears and worries and failures. The sins I’ve committed and the regrets I have.
It’s a mess, my basement. Junky and moldy and dark. I suspect things crawl around down there, too. And there are ghosts. Plenty of ghosts.
I’m not alone here. Flip through your Bible and you’ll find plenty of people with junky basements. Moses had one, what with that murder charge and all. David too, with the whole Bathsheba in the bathtub incident. Peter when he denied Christ after saying he never would. And let’s not forget Paul, who had the blood of hundreds and maybe thousands of Christians on his hands. They found out, like we do, that living with junk in the basement is tough and scary.
They also found out that God can clean those basements up. He can get rid of the junk, scrub everything down, and chase away all the nasties. Problem is, He won’t do it alone. We have to open the door to let Him in. Because like the Mikey’s house down the road, there are locks on our basement doors, and they all lock from the inside.
October 29, 2013
Having the evening breeze blow over you and make ripples in your glass of tea is a pretty nice way to end your day, which is why I love my porch. It’s a good vantage point to my own little slice of world, one that unfolds before me in the sort of high-definition that far eclipses my television.
My porch serves as a good object lesson, too. It’s proof that if you hold still and listen long enough, something pretty insightful will happen.
That didn’t seem to be the case last night. I was holding still well enough. That wasn’t the problem. And the problem really wasn’t the listening, either. I was doing that, too.
The problem was what I was hearing.
The dog was a mutt. Half beagle, half Australian shepherd, with maybe a little bit of border collie thrown in. Having all that muddled DNA inside you would surely cause more than a little confusion. Trust me when I say that dog was more than a little confused.
So was its owner, who at the moment seemed a little perplexed as to if he was walking the dog or the dog was walking him. He tripped and pulled and pushed. The dog ran and stopped and tangled the leash around its owner’s legs. It was a sight.
And over and over between the barks came pleas of despair and sorrow:
“Willsey, stop!” “Willsey, come!” “Willsey, hold still!” “Dang it, Willsey!”
It took a full five minutes for the two of them to get from the corner of my block to the front of my house. And even though I was enjoying the cool of the evening, the man was sweating as much as a boxer after a ten round fight.
Willsey stopped and sniffed at our mailbox post. Just before he was ready to do his business, I let out a small cough. The owner looked at me on the porch and gave the dog a quick jerk. He’d have to hold it for the next post down the road.
We smiled at each other and said hello.
“Wouldn’t want a dog, would you?” he asked me.
“Sorry,” I said. “Looks like he’d be a full time job.”
“Buddy,” he said, “you don’t know the half of it.”
I nodded toward the mutt hanging from the end of the leash. “Kind of a strange name for a dog. Willsey?”
He laughed and said, “Yeah well, happened by accident.”
He bent down, rubbed the dog on its head, and was rewarded by a face full of slobber. He snorted, the dog snorted, and I snorted.
“My little girl brought him home,” he said. “Just had to have a dog, and she worried me to death. You think this dog’s ugly now? You should have seem him when he was a pup. Looked like Satan himself had coughed him up. And she says, ‘Daddy, can we keep him?’”
“And what’d you say?” I asked.
“I said, ‘Well, we’ll see.”
“Which I’m guessing became Willsey.”
“Yep,” he said. “Seven years ago. Hated him at first. Still kinda do. But you know what? He’s growin’ on me.”
He patted the dog again and got another face full of slobber.
“I like it,” I told him. “The name and the story.”
The man laughed and then proceeded to drag/push/pull Willsey on down the road.
“Neighbor’s got a fresh coat of paint on the mailbox post,” I shouted to him.
“Oh, Willsey’s gonna love that,” I heard.
I smiled to myself and resumed my rocking. I didn’t know who to feel sorry for the most, the man who was stuck with the dog or the dog who was stuck with the man. Maybe both should have been pitied in equal measure. Then again, maybe they both deserved each other.
But I wondered about all those things I’d said “We’ll see” to in my life, all those things I thought would happen or wouldn’t and then didn’t or did. And then I wondered about all the other people who used that phrase every day. We never know what’s coming in this life. We can seldom see what challenges or blessings wait just around the next corner.
And we can seldom see the blessings in our challenges, too.