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.
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.