At the moment, our house doesn’t have a working bathtub.
Kid you not. Our landlord got back to Stockton a few days ago from what has become his semi-permanent home in western Colorado, with a plan to rip out our old tub/shower and everything around it. It’s needed killin’ since before we moved in over six years ago, but recently the rot, mildew and general decrepitude had risen past the point where it could be ignored. So today, he came in with his wife and another guy and started hacking away. As of tonight, the tub is here but not hooked up, the panels to go around it aren’t in place, there’s a pile of debris in our back yard (they had to not only remove the old tub and panels, but also the floor underneath!) – and they still have to take out the floor under the toilet, which is in equally bad shape.
This has caused about the level of disruption you’d expect. My wife and daughter aren’t able to shower tonight. I couldn’t give Sean his bath this morning. There’s plaster dust and bits of sheetrock scattered from here to breakfast. The level of noise in the house and basement today was far above normal. And this is all without them having to turn the water off – yet (that’ll happen tomorrow) – or all the other things that still must be accomplished. It’ll be another day, maybe two, before our lavatory is fully functional.
So how do I feel in the midst of all this chaos? Eh, fine. No worries.
Had this happened a year ago, though … totally different answer.
See, I’ve always been the easily-unnerved sort. I really work best in a stable, organized environment where everything is in its place and everyone’s roles and responsibilities are clearly defined. Maybe it’s a touch of Asperger’s syndrome; maybe it’s control freak tendencies, maybe it’s just how I’m wired or how I was raised, I dunno. But I don’t do chaos well. I get distracted too easily. I tend to become irritated when having to shift gears. I improvise about as well as Sarah Palin at a press conference. It’s just not my ideal.
So I was surprised by myself today, as l’affaire salle de bain unfolded and I just rode it out with a shrug. I chipped in when they needed help lifting something or sweeping up. I moved objects out of the way. I let Sean watch Sesame Street during his normal Monday bath time. I waited until they left for lunch before using the W.C. When my landlord asked if he and his partner could bring the new sheetrock in through the front door (while we were sitting down to dinner in the living room, forsooth), I just said “sure.” Heck, I wouldn’t want to try maneuvering anything large around the hairpin turn that’s our back entrance either.
Looking back, I was scratching my head, wondering how I learned to be so cool about an annoying interruption like this.
And then I remembered: I learned how the same way I learn most things, the same way most people learn things. The hard way.
Makes sense when you think about it. When your little boy almost dies (and faces a long road to possible-maybe recovery), when your mom DOES die, when your bank allows some anonymous jerkwad in Southern California to steal hundreds of bucks out of your account at a clip without showing ID, when you have to register two cars and sell one of them, when you can’t take a job even if you found one, when your spouse has a job but her employer is shorting her paychecks, when you have to familiarize yourself with more governmental health forms and bureaucracies than you ever knew existed … and when you deal with all that in one seven-month period, well, you either go completely bat-guano crazy, or you learn to roll with the punches.
And without realizing I’d done it, I guess I’d learned to roll with it. At least some of the time.
Perspective is a weird thing when it comes to crises, or for that matter, inconveniences. Frederick Buechner, in his wonderful memoir of his early years The Sacred Journey (remember how yesterday I told you to read God’s Smuggler? Put this one on your list too — ahead of that one), talks about his feelings after his father committed suicide. Buechner was just ten at the time, ill-equipped as any preadolescent would be to deal with, not just a parent’s death, but a willing and willful abandonment of him by that parent. His mother then uprooted him and his brother and moved them to Bermuda for a while to get away from it all – another disruption on top of the other.
But in talking about that stage of his life, Buechner quotes Act III of Shakespeare’s *The Tempest (whose locale, Prospero’s magical island, is thought by some to have been inspired by Bermuda):
Be not afeard; the isle is full of noises,
Sounds and sweet airs, that give delight and hurt not.
Sometimes a thousand twangling instruments
Will hum about mine ears, and sometime voices
That, if I then had waked after long sleep,
Will make me sleep again: and then, in dreaming,
The clouds methought would open and show riches
Ready to drop upon me that, when I waked,
I cried to dream again.
Then Buechner adds, “Be not afeard – maybe that was at the heart of it for me. With the worst having happened, there was no longer the worst to fear.”
I’ve always loved that last sentence, but until the last nine months, I’d never really had to live it. Not that things couldn’t be worse – after all, we have a roof over our head and food on the table, we haven’t missed any bills, my wife and kids are all still alive. But I can’t imagine going through a much worse stretch of time than the one I’ve just passed through, unless it involves divorce, death of a child or World War Three. And the more-or-less-worst having already taken place, what is there left to fear?
For that matter, why should I fear the future, when God’s already brought me through all that mess and out again, not just alive but in some way tempered (like steel after a furnace)? I mean, it’s not like I could have planned for it, or that I inherently deserve to win in the end. His willingness to shepherd me through the last year is just another demonstration of His commitment to me, and also of His trustworthiness. I knew at some level back in June 2009 that I could depend on Him for everything, but now I know it in a deeper way than I ever could’ve before all the breakers crashed over me. It’s like it’s carved on my bones now, maybe even written in my DNA, to the point where if I even think about it, my instinctive response is, “well, of course He’ll come through – that’s what he does!”
So I’m pretty sure I won’t come unglued when I get up tomorrow morning and realize I can’t spray off the previous day’s topsoil. I’ll just have to wear my ball cap and stand upwind of people. Because it’s nothing compared to what I’ve been through … or what He can bring me through.