It's been almost ten years, but I can still remember that suffocating weight of construction loan deadlines, knowing if we didn't finish what we needed to by a certain date, everything we had accomplished up to that point would vanish...poof!...like sawdust on a windy day - along with all of our money, dreams...everything. The deadlines press down on you, squeezing the breath out of you, gripping your insides and twisting. There's nothing you can do but work, work, work and pray, pray, pray.
Our prayers were answered in the form of a friend of ours, Tom D. Without him, we couldn't have met those deadlines. For at least two solid years, he spent hours each day working on our home. My husband Tom would take over in the evenings and on the weekends. I worked whenever I could...days, evenings, weekends...around the kids' schedules and my part-time jobs. It didn't amount to much in comparison and besides, I was just a grunt, taking orders and cleaning up the job site. Tom D., like my own Tom, is a builder, carpenter, artist, jack-of-all-trades.
We paid Tom D. for his time, but not nearly as much as he deserved. My Tom had helped him with the building of his home for a few weekends before we started ours and gave him carte blanche with our backhoe afterwards to finish up the landscaping around his home, but the scales are still off-balance. Rarely a day goes by that I don't give thanks for his sacrifice and dedication to our dream.
So that's why Tom and I are making Tom D. our Lenten project. We found out this week that the city he lives in has given him until the end of March to finish up some work he's doing in his yard (his final project is putting in a swimming pool himself) or he has to tear it all down and probably pay some fines. I'm still unclear on that part. Apparently a handful of golfers have complained about the unfinished work (Tom D.'s house backs up to the golf course)...but wouldn't tearing something down make even more of a mess?
I first met Tom D. when we took our 5th graders on a field trip to the University of Texas for a school career project. Later we volunteered together on many different projects and organizations in the school district and community. He's retired Navy (submarines) and his wife is the high school English and Drama teacher. Like me, he was a stay-at-home parent. His sons were friends of my sons...Boy Scouts, Eagle Scouts. In fact, Tom D. is an Eagle Scout.
The news of the complaints and ultimatums made my Tom and me both so MAD! What a waste of time and energy and so unfair! We couldn't let those old farts do this to Tom D. Even though we had been getting fired up about finishing things in and around our own home for a special event this spring, we agreed helping Tom D. was more important.
The men who turned in the complaints go to my church. Tom D. goes to my church. We're all part of a family. They know Tom D., know all that he has given to the community, all of the personal issues he has been struggling with lately. He isn't just some random stranger, although that wouldn't make it right, either. As my Tom said, "Wouldn't the Christian thing be to offer to help him instead of complaining?"
I drove by Tom D.'s house yesterday after work. I wanted to see for myself what they were seeing...try to see it through their eyes. It had been awhile since I'd seen it myself and there was this tiny seed of doubt in my mind suggesting that maybe it was just a mess.
I was amazed by what I found...it's a beautiful showcase home! Yes, there's a backhoe in the backyard surrounded by loose rocks, but it's behind this absolutely gorgeous wooden fence and hard to see, unless you get off of your golf cart to peer through the slats. There is an unfinished section of fence near the road in the front of the house, but it's not unsightly. And, my gosh, when you realize Tom D. built all of this by himself...it's just mind-boggling!
Glancing at the other houses along the golf course, I thought to myself that this house is a swan in a neighborhood of ugly ducklings. Is he being penalized for being an overachiever? It's as if the complainers are upset that he's creating something in his retirement, rather than spending his days following a little ball up and down the golf course, looking for things to complain about.
Take a look at these photos and tell me...is it just me? Is my view just distorted by my emotions and devotion to Tom D. and his family? (That section of fence that is falling down is Tom D.'s neighbor's, not his.)
Oh, it made me so angry! How DARE they!
Which brings me back to Lent. Lent is a time for self-reflection, for peeling back the cover on yourself for an honest look...letting the light in to all the darkest corners and doing some spring cleaning...getting rid of everything that gets between you and God.
So that's what I'm trying to do now, and UGH!! It's not a pretty sight! You just have to trust me that there are some ugly things in there.
Relax...this isn't going to be a True Confessions post, but suffice it to say, I have plenty of things to ask forgiveness for, plenty of things to try to change about myself, plenty of things getting in the way of my relationship with God, keeping me from being the best person I can be.
I'll share this much: earlier this week I was overcome with despair, discouraged about my writing. It came out of no where and hit me like a tidal wave. The thing is, I know better. I know I can't compare myself to other people. There will always be someone better, someone more successful. I just need to do my best, my way. I know all of that, but still, the wave knocked me down. Oh, sure I could blame it on hormones and exhaustion, but even those are no excuse.
Then I had to spend two mornings trying to untangle a communication knot with the college financial aid office and the loan processing agency. Something that should have been easy but wasn't because of miscommunication and website glitches...a huge pot-holed circle with lots of finger-pointing and passing of the buck, with me stuck in the middle facing unpaid housing bills.
Those are the things that get to me...that make me feel so frustrated and impatient and angry with people...especially when I'm feeling that familiar suffocating weight of all of these loans and Lord have mercy, the last thing I want is another one! I don't want to be talking to these people anyway! But I need the loan and I hate that!
Then I remembered...God is here, beside me, waiting. It was tough, but I let go of my worries and frustration...just handed the whole mess over to him and trusted him to take care of it. And a phone call yesterday morning proved he did. Of course he did. He's much better at that sort of thing than I am.
So back to Lent. Yesterday was Ash Wednesday..."ashes to ashes, dust to dust..." I have to face the fact that I'm human...surrounded by other humans. I'm flawed, no better than anyone else. Just shine a light over there, in that corner...see? ugh.
So my anger at Tom D.'s finger-pointers has disintegrated, exposed by that blinding light. I can't judge anyone. What gives me the right to be so self-righteous? So high and mighty? Who the hell do I think I am?
It's true I still don't understand what they are complaining about. But instead of being angry, I feel sorry for them. How sad and miserable they must be, how shallow and empty their lives must be, to go to these lengths about something like this. I think prayers will help more than anger. For all of us.
Also for Lent, to slow me down and make myself contemplate spirituality and God's work in my life, I've started reading my friend Gina's book From Gravel to Glory. She told me I should take the book slow because it's "pretty chewy", so I'm just "biting off" a few pages each morning while I have my coffee.
How about you? If you peeled back your cover, what would you find hiding in the dark corners? What would you like to change about yourself?