Eleven Days of Inconvenience

The first green shoots were pushing through their earthly barriers by the end of February. I haven’t ventured to the garden lately but from the kitchen window I can see the chickens scratching up the dirt, doing the preliminary work of spring for me. We have months before planting if we want to be careful of those late spring frosts, but the flowers are the first ones up from winter sleep and I always watch for their signals.

The snow came down hard a few Sundays ago. We saw large flakes dropping during church and went home to fill the bathtubs, run the dishwasher, and do some laundry, anticipating that the power might go out for awhile. Where we live, the trees are sponges to soak up the Oregon rain; when it snows, sometimes the limbs grow too heavy to hold, and dropped branches often knock out power for half a day until the crews can get out to clear the lines. Filling the tubs and running the appliances is just insurance for the possibility of being out of electricity and water for a short time. We might also round up flashlights and candles when a storm is coming, but the darkness is not as inconvenient as the lack of running water.

We are set-up for these random power outages and we get by okay. It’s an excuse to be slow about things, to shirk a few responsibilities and live primitively and privately for awhile. All gathered in one room, we absorb the same heat our ancestors lived by: fire: burning bushes and blazing mountains and a refining furnace. 

When the snow kept coming down after church and into the evening that Sunday, we filled jugs and contemplated canceling our homeschool class in town the following day. We got a little excited and lit some candles. At 8:44 p.m. we lost power, and our next day’s plans were made for us. My in-laws came on Monday to share the convenience of our generator and we continued to be a little excited throughout the morning as the snow piled up, covering every green shoot and obliterating all signs of spring’s coming. 8 inches. 10 inches. 12 inches by the end of the day. By Tuesday we were over the excitement. 20 inches had accumulated and life was beginning to be very inconvenient. This is going to last awhile

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I really hesitate to complain about eleven days with no power or running water because, trust me, I know how very blessed we are. I’ve been in villages where all the water is hauled and heated with sweat equity and fire, where the daily hike to the rice paddy and back is not optional, not recreational, but necessary for living. Our life is framed around convenience and when everything works as it should, we are happy enough. But I know people whose lives are framed around inconvenience, and they are happy, too. 

All my routines and intentions fell victim to inconvenience those eleven days. It wasn’t convenient to get up early and have a quiet time—it was stinking cold and the bed was warm. It wasn’t convenient to stick with my goal of writing 30 minutes a day for 30 days—the only places of solitude in the house were stinking cold, and dark. It wasn’t convenient to exercise—because it was cold, and there's no shower. It wasn’t even a convenient break from normal work—when you homeschool and are part of a group which meets weekly and keeps a schedule, you still do school during a snow storm. 

And it was cold.

I do complain, and even if it’s mostly in my head, it shows in my face and my attitude and treatment of others. It took eleven days of stress and inconvenience to crack through some hard spots in my heart, to turn my attention back to Jesus, to prayer, to the kingdom here in us. It took all those days, but I hope it only took eleven days, to remind me that my calling is to serve others; to remember that I am served well by others and my needs are met. It only took eleven days to remember why I love where I live, why my neighbors are truly neighbors, my friends truly friends, my family truly family. That’s all worth eleven days of inconvenience. 

 

I take steps toward convenience because I like efficiency, but I question this now. Everything is convenient these days, but not everything is profitable. My Bible app popped up a message yesterday to tell me that if I had an Alexa or Google device, I could simply say Hey Alexa, read the verse of the day to me. Hey Google, read Matthew 11. They’re playing to my tendency to live as though efficiency lines up next to cleanliness, both in line for godliness.

It’s not true.

The “suffering” we endured for eleven days was mostly about losing our creature comforts, but others suffered real hardships during the storm. There are trees on houses and barns, whole homes cracked in half, and businesses with big losses to make up. I only came up against the borders of my own strength—my own ability to cope, to be patient, to serve, to think, even—and found I am far too dependent on efficiency and order and easy things. As Christie Purifoy says in her new book, Placemaker, “When we pray for guidance, perhaps God’s answer is every way he hems us in, like a river.” What I needed from those eleven days was to be hemmed in to a tighter place, to be closed up so I could see my own selfishness and fragility . When I lost my ability to be efficient and productive, I really did draw closer to God.

 

The snow is slowly melting, piled in heaps in shady spots while the sun greens the unburied grass. The garden is still partially snowed-in but I see a few blueberry plants cresting the surface, and I think spring will arrive in its time—tomorrow, actually. I just checked the calendar and tomorrow is the first day of spring and I feel “behind” on life, still hemmed in by various inconveniences and surprised that the world went on without our involvement those eleven days. Inconveniences are doing the preliminary work of breaking up the hard spots in me, though. There are green shoots that promise change, the daffodils dot yellow bursts of sun, and beauty I didn’t work for is showing itself as God’s handiwork, not mine.

Welcome, spring.

Slowly into the dirt

You see things in the country you’d never see in a stiff city neighborhood. Beyond the broken vehicles and houses on last-legs, the eyesores that community covenants and HOAs don’t allow, you can see the world as it really is—tending toward disorder, prone to chaos. It’s a reminder to intervene and tend the garden, take dominion, rule thoughtfully—because houses and yards and vehicles and pets and whole families fall right down like the fragile things they are if we just leave them alone. We need to help things live and thrive as long as we can; then we need to help them out of this world graciously, gracefully. 

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There is a cow by the side of the rural highway that died, presumably of natural causes, over a month ago. It just fell over right by the fence, laying down to this world next to passing cars and trucks and school buses. The owners, rather than getting their tractor and hauling it out of sight, rather than digging a grave, chose to leave it where it lay.*

I first noticed it on my drive to town early one morning because it looked as though snow had covered it, and there was no snow anywhere else. Cows and horses look so awkward in a horizontal orientation, legs sticking straight out, and I always wonder if they are sleeping or actually dead. But I’ve never noticed an animal powdered in this way, like snow on the peaks. We’ve decided the powder must be lime to help with the smell and keep the buzzards away. We’re not true ranchers so what do we know? But we are watching it, noting its progress into the soil, its still white-powdered-hide shrinking over jutting bones like a dust sheet covering the furniture in a forgotten room. At some point I imagine it will be just bones and the owners will haul them away, the show will be over, and the next powdered-cow I see will not be this novelty next to the highway. I’m not sure if this is the most gracious way to help a carcass out of this world, but it must be more convenient. It’s certainly a slow process.

These kinds of things are topics of conversation for us.  Did you see the dead cow? I’m watching it diminish on my weekly treks for groceries and the six thousand basketball games we attend, our normal January life passing normal December death each time—death and life passing by, one always waiting for the other. It’s normal because things are daily dying and there’s nothing new about that. But it’s not normal because we tend to hide away the death-part of life, and seeing that carcass slowly melting into the landscape every time I drive to town is like an uncovering…the way of all things is just slowly into dirt. We don’t talk about the dead cow daily, but you can bet that when the bones and hide are finally removed someone will mention it again. We’ll notice its absence.

The busy world doesn’t care about a dead cow next to a rural highway, slowly processing itself into dirt. Truthfully, I don’t actually care about it either, but it’s temporarily interesting and a good metaphor for what we do with nature and natural things. We can over-tend or under-tend; reveal too much or cover too much. And when we make mistakes, which are a natural part of being human, there’s a certain way to handle them, to cover without letting grace be an excuse; to reveal without letting justice be a weapon. I suppose it’s all a balance and I’m never doing it perfectly, but I am embarrassed for our mistakes. 

In the end, I think the owners of the cow made the right decision. 


*There are no dead cows in this picture. You’re welcome.

Make Up Your Mind: A newsletter for those who want to read, think, and listen better

On our last visit with my grandpa, we sat in the living room of his well-kept, single-wide trailer, and listened to his stories. This was not the same house I used to visit as a child, with its collection of trophies from his car racing days, and the cupboard with poker chips and playing cards next to the dining room table. But it was the same hulk of a man, shrunken slightly in body but still large in spirit. My grandpa was a logger, a log truck driver, a mechanic by necessity, and always ironically gentle for his large size. The only injury I ever sustained in his presence was whisker burn. 

He talked to us about his car, the cancer, and the likelihood that he would come up short of his 100 year goal. And then he recited poetry. It was a painting on his wall that spurred his memory of The Village Blacksmith, by Longfellow. I don’t know if he’d been assigned this poem eighty years ago as a little school boy, ragged and tall among a dozen siblings, or if he’d heard a rendition of it in a song some years later. But at ninety-one years old, it was still with him. 

I’d never heard grandpa say anything in rhyme, or talk about books or art or learning. He was a salt of the earth, blue-collar guy, who’d made a life the honest way and probably learned what he needed as he went along. At eighty he was still driving log truck. At ninety, we caught him up on a ladder trying to show my husband a spot on the roof that might be leaking. And anytime anyone in the family got a new car, he would light up like a kid at Christmas to talk about what was under the hood. All the things he’d ever done or learned or been interested in or concerned about were still with him, layered in his years like strata, telling a story.

I want to live life like a student, learning what I need as I go and being surprised at ninety by the beauty of a poem—or at least, the beauty of a memory that can hold so tight. If I can make it to ninety, what will still be layered in me? What will be worth reciting?

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“If I were asked what education should give, I would say it should offer breadth of view, ease of understanding, tolerance for others, and a background from which the mind can explore in any direction.” ~ Louis L’Amour, Education of a Wandering Man

I am still pursuing my education. If it were only information we needed to live life like a student, there would be no excuse for not having this breadth of view L’Amour is talking about, like a wide-angle lens on the world. The problem is rarely ever not enough information, though. It’s sorting that information into what I might need, could find useful, may be interested in, or should let go.

Sorting information is all of our jobs, everyday. Deciding what is important is part of exercising discernment, and “people without discernment are doomed,” according to Hosea 4:14. As student and Information Sorter I need the discernment of a Christ-centered mind, one trained in focus and observation. I need words to correspond to thoughts and thoughts to correspond to truth. And I need to see the beauty in the bombardment of information, because the world is full of beautiful things missed by busy people.

Being a lifelong learner is not about being busy, adding one more thing to my list. It’s maybe the opposite of that, because learning requires me to stop what I’m doing doing doing and observe. Be still. Listen to the stories. It’s a slow process, one without end but not without goals.

I am sending out a newsletter this Saturday with two goals: accountability and encouragement. I need the accountability of announcing this project and sending this monthly newsletter, as I seek to make up my mind with things that point me to Christ and a stewardship of the resources He’s given me.  If I make it to ninety, I want to have something of worth to surprise my grandkids with.

The second goal is to provide encouragement for you as you sort information and make up your mind with the true, the good, and the beautiful.  The newsletter will be full of links to resources; my thoughts on current reading, listening, and watching; and a look at my specific plans as I track my learning each month. In turn, I will be encouraged by your participation and suggestions.

Words are important, and the focus of my learning is on using words better—in thinking, reading, writing, and speaking. If you’ve read my other posts about what I call my "Homeschool MFA" program, this newsletter is inline with that. It’s just my way of organizing myself as a student of life, and has nothing to do with homeschooling, itself, except that homeschooling has kept me in the game as far as learning goes. It wasn’t until I started teaching my own kids that I really caught hold of the benefits of lifelong learning—pursuing knowledge, wisdom, and understanding, even after my formal schooling was finished. That’s my Homeschool MFA.

This newsletter is for anyone who is still curious about life and the language we use to live it. Nothing is wasted when we live life like a student, with all our experiences and memories layered in us for all our years. Come learn with me!