Monday, March 21, 2011

The Sacrifice

They say that bad things happen in threes. I don’t know who ‘they’ are and I don’t know who is tallying these things up but in my experience there is some truth to this. Is it because we are expecting it? Are we watching and counting from the moment one bad thing happens to us?

Two weeks ago I turned on our tap to find that there was no water pressure. Upon inspection Rob noticed that the hot water tank was leaking and there would be no water to the house until a new one was installed. At the time I had an oil change appointment scheduled in the nearest town where Rob had a meeting. Thinking I could maintain some semblance of productivity in our day, we kept our commitments and headed off to the big town. I bought my hot water tank ($350 with fittings, excluding the cost for installation as my dearest husband was to handle that task). With two excited children in tow we headed for my oil change. Not far into the appointment I was called in to talk to the mechanic. I asked if something was wrong. Yes, they told me. While I tried to keep my little ones from derailing the cars that were up on jacks and playing with the power tools they told me my brakes were gone and there was a rod about to snap that controlled steering. The estimate was $400.

After explaining that I was on my second emergency of the day, he told me it was probably safe enough to get to my local mechanic to do the repairs. I made it home with the tank and waited out the next 8 hours while my husband endured grueling conditions in our crawl space to bring our house back into water. As you may know, not having water to drink, wash hands, flush toilets, rinse potties, wash dishes, etc. etc. is very, very difficult if you are not used to it. I found myself rinsing my hands with ice and snow from outside to try to feel clean again. My sink was filled with congealed grease and dishes piled high (I’m not one to leave my dishes to hang out very long). The tension that was building subsided as we finally saw the return of a productive tap by nightfall. The other fun part was that our house uses radiant heat from an outdoor wood furnace. A good portion of this time we were also without heat and the damp winter air was starting to penetrate into my bones.

Another week passed and we braced ourselves for the season of great expenses. Every market gardener doles out the majority of their expenses in early spring as they purchase seeds, plastic mulch, pay market fees, heat their greenhouses and upgrade equipment as needed getting ready for a hopeful season ahead. This was that time for us. Credit cards were maxed and they were being stressed even more by our unexpected mishaps.

Fast forward a week to an office dinner party that Rob has organized for the dairy cooperative that he works for. Grandparents meet us in a quaint town central to all of the farmers to scoop up our children so that we can feast on local and organic fare with Rob’s colleagues. After a lovely, but distracted evening, we collected our tired selves to drive the 1.5 hours it took to get back home. In the morning we enjoyed an extra half hour of sleep without our kids (7:30am!) before we were needed for chores and getting on with a half day to ourselves before picking up the kids. Within minutes we discovered a very sad, limping puppy dog outside our door with porcupine quills marking a constellation across his face and a couple of dozen concentrated so heavily in his knee he could not walk. Sunday – no local vets – means a trip to the big city and emergency fees, of course.

Off we went with an uncomfortable, helpless doggie in the back of our van. Relief was upon him within a few hours and it was off to pick up the kids. We were accustomed to taking quills out with needle nose pliers ourselves (don’t try this at home because if they break off you are in deep doo doo) from calves and dogs but this time it was clear we needed assistance. $632.

I kid you not that these events happened during the time I was giving my supervisor the leave form stating that I would not be returning to work indefinitely. I was giving up my salary because we had decided we could ‘make it’ on one income. Was I being tested? Was this a sign that I was making a mistake? The form went out in the mail as I navigated these 3 huge (to us), unexpected bills.

A wise uncle weighed in on the situation. The broken hot water tank could have been found after our house had burned down. The van, including my children and I could have lost control of the road and been in a serious accident due to loss of brakes or steering. My dog’s misfortune could have equaled that of the woman at the vet’s office I heard wailing behind a closed door. She kept repeating ‘but he is always there when I get home.’ She would not be going home with her dog, not even for $600.

There was once a time that people believed (and maybe some still do) that sacrifices must be made to appease a jealous and angry God. Animals were killed in hopes that bad things would be kept at bay. If bad things were to happen in threes, perhaps you could control which 3 those were and spare your children, your family’s health or your sentimental possessions.

The sacrifice that I see worth making to what I think is a compassionate God is one of gratitude for the abundance that is bestowed upon us. I have heard tale (well, to be honest, it was Oprah in the latest Oprah magazine but I don’t usually like to incriminate people in my blog posts), that regularly expressing gratitude led to blessings multiplying. In her words: what you focus on expands. What does that say about bad things happening in threes.

As my first Lent approached I was wary of the idea that I would be giving up something. Deprivation for me has always led to an equal and opposite (or greater) binge. If I cut out chocolate, I would surely end up eating more than usual because of it. So I did something different. I wrote a letter to God telling Her that I would lean on Her instead of reaching for chocolate. I imagined that I might be complete and already have the forgiveness and acceptance that I continually hope that chocolate will bring. Mostly I admitted that I did not need something outside of myself to make me whole. That Great Love from a higher power did this already.

We are now close to 2 weeks into Lent. I have passed on every kind of chocolate in every corner that it has presented itself. And unlike every single time I have turned away from the elephant in the room in the past (not thinking of chocolate usually leads to thoughts of nothing but), I have felt entirely fulfilled in this ‘sacrifice’. Because this exercise to me was about learning to look in the right places for what I need in times of frustration, anxiety, loneliness, boredom, elation… Chocolate tastes so darn good on the tongue and who could go without all of those health benefits? But it doesn’t bring love. Only She can do that completely.

So in a way, I did sacrifice something to God. I gave Her my disillusionment. I let her have my stubborn, unyielding self-righteousness about thinking I can do this thing called life alone, if only until Easter Sunday. Technically I am able to feast on Sundays from now until Easter but my body is telling me otherwise. It wants to know whether I will choose feeling whole over feeling suffocated (which is what my drug of choice ultimately does).

And with this sacrifice, I write down my gratitude for the lives of my children, an intact vehicle in my driveway, a house still standing in the winds with water flowing to it and my body, my health and the health that blesses those I love.

For now, I suppose it is possible that I have used up my three bad things. And taken up a few mighty good ones too.

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