Sunday, May 13, 2012

Red Flannels

I hurried into the drugstore and collapsed the borrowed umbrella.  The night sky was pouring out rain like there was no tomorrow, but inside it was dry and bright.  As I hurried over to the appropriate aisle to grab a couple of pints of Blue Bell, I glanced at the line forming at the checkout counter.  My sister was waiting in the car.  It might be a long wait.

I patiently took my position in line behind 3 others and scanned the immediate area.  There was a tall, older man at the front of the line.  He seemed to be in a good mood despite the weather and the lateness of the evening.  We had missed closing time at the first store we stopped at by 10 minutes. The cashier was called away from her post for a moment.   My eyes wandered distractedly to the floor.

I noticed the shoes first.  Tennis shoes.  The kind that kids wear.  Then the pants.  The ensemble was topped off with a plain white tee shirt.  But it was the pants that drew my attention.  They were red plaid flannel pajama pants, the kind that even adults wear out in public.  I shook my head.  What can be said about a culture that accepts pajamas as appropriate street wear?  We have gone past informal to ridiculous.  I wondered if this middle schooler would wear pajamas to a job interview. 

Then, in the middle of my rant, my eyes were drawn to the counter.  There lay a small package of inexpensive chocolates, and underneath, a Mother's Day card.  He handed the cashier a ten dollar bill, received his change, and vanished into the dark and the rain.

I won't forget him.  Or the mother that inspired him to brave the weather to express his love for her in a simple way.  I wish I had had the time to say something to him, to thank him for inspiring me.  But those moments had been wasted.  In my inner tirade about fashion, I had missed the glorious humanity that stood before me, the act of love that was unfolding.

I had dashed in for ice cream, but left with something much more substantial in my soul: the picture of a young man who braved a rainy night to find a gift to express his love for his mom. 

In red plaid flannel pajama pants.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Framing a Soul

I made the first phone call in December. A neighbor had given me the number. Then the world began to spin with questions and answers and plans and the proposal. After the meeting in which the contractor explained in great detail all that was involved and the final cost, I was exhausted. Exhausted and horrified.

Reality exploded expectation, leaving behind despair.

Picture 332

All I wanted was a little sun porch, but the contractor saw so much more: a new roof and completely residing the house. To make it fireproof. And termite proof. A house that would last for years. It all sounded good, (especially after the uncomfortably close wildfires that destroyed so many homes last summer), and previous attempts to reattach our aging vinyl siding in places were unsuccessful, but the final cost was too much. Way too much. Ridiculously too much. More than we had originally paid for the house itself.

But there were obvious repairs that were needed, and after dragging my feet for a few months, I started looking for other contractors. I found three, and spent a seemingly endless day meeting with them all, one after another, going through the same questions, showing what I wanted done, asking what was practical.

The first one's mantra was, "just tell me what you want and I'll make it happen." Although he obviously had experience, I needed more assurance that what I wanted was architecturally sound and would be aesthetically pleasing.

Number 2 contractor was more helpful, and told me I could save money by doing some things myself. He could give me a materials list and I could do the purchasing and arrange for delivery. But how was I to know which materials were sturdier than others, or where to get them? And his window for completing the project was very narrow. He was an entrepreneur juggling several different businesses.

The third contractor's bid was reasonable, and I felt comfortable working with him. A few more weeks passed before I got up enough courage to commit to the project. I was afraid of two things: choosing the wrong contractor and choosing the wrong plan.  I needed to be able to see what the finished product would look like.

So I went online to find a free CAD program (SketchUp) and set about creating a crude mock up of what I thought we wanted.

Perfectionism is a killer. It's all about the fear of being wrong. It consumes and stifles, and in the end, not doing anything is worse than not doing the wrong thing.  My Dear Professor talked over the details and costs and assured me of his confidence in me to make a good decision.

And so, with a deep breath and a trembling hand I called Number 3 and gave him the green light. I was not prepared for the noise, the mess, the chaos.


A flimsy foundation had to be replaced with a solid one.  The old and rotten had to be torn away to make room for the new. A plumb line was needed to make the lines straight and true.

On the first day, after the crew had finished and left, I opened the door to see the bones of the porch, and the exterior walls devoid of siding. My initial reaction was sheer terror.  It felt so exposed.  The previously uncluttered view from the front door was blocked.  The space seemed too small. The perfectionist voice inside heckled, "You've gone and done it.  Wasted money, wasted time, wasted opportunity."


Reality exploded expectation, leaving behind despair.

After I raged within for awhile, I sought wisdom.  Wisdom told me expectation will always turn to despair in the light of reality. Take a deep breath. Wait. See what develops.

So I waited.


The ensuing days brought wonder and astonishment. The obstructed view became an upward view. What was taking shape was a thing of beauty. A thing created by gifted craftsmen.  As the work progressed, I began to relax and trust.  Although communication with the head carpenter was difficult (he speaks Spanish and I speak English), on the morning of Day 8, I managed to express how much I liked what he was doing. He grinned and said, "I make it beautiful for you."

And he has.

We are currently on Day 16, with 60% completed. It's almost time for the celebration. Visitors have offered comments of approval and delight.


It's not very different, the framing of a house and the framing of a soul. We get a vision of the kind of life we want to live and start on a journey to find it. We want it fireproof, we want it to last, we want it to be practical, we want it to be beautiful.

But we don't want it to cost too much. 

There are many voices who offer paths toward realizing that vision. Some say, "do whatever you want, it doesn't matter,"  others say, "you have to follow these steps to earn it".

Only one voice is the Way.
He will take my desires for small things and turn them into desires for eternal things.

Only one voice is the Truth.
He will take my expectations and show me a glorious reality I could not dream.

Only one voice is the Life.
He will teach my trembling soul how to breathe without fear. 

It will cost me all I have but, in the end, that will seem like nothing at all.

If I turn toward that Voice... if I trust.. if I wait,
                             He will make something beautiful out of my life.

Counting gifts with the community of gratitude:
345.  words of wisdom
346.  his confidence in me
347.  a reasonable bid
348.  skilled hands
349.  an eye for beauty
350.  gratitude that transcends language
351.  chaos that gives birth to order
352.  fear that gives way to trust
353.  a new upward view
354.  a new space
355.  learning to wait
356.  stripping away the old
357.  despair that gives way to joy
358.  a good plan
359.  a solid foundation
360.  a plumb line
361.  the eternal beneath the everyday
362.  hammers & nails
363.  the Master Carpenter