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It all started with the bathroom ceiling. We couldn’t figure out how to fix it.

In this part of the world the basement is more than a foundation. It is a well-used part of the house. We had a bedroom, partially finished bathroom/laundry room, storage/utility room, craft room, and family room with a big stone fireplace down there. Since it’s not the part of the house that students and guests usually see, it has received the least attention as far as repairs and maintenance go. But we fixed the leak last summer and had an unexpected provision of income this year so we decided it was time to tackle the basement.

I just wanted a proper bathroom with a ceiling, and maybe a shower. It would be nice if the ugly dark water-stained wallboard in the bedroom and hallway could be replaced with Sheetrock while we were at it.

We have a super carpenter (he happens to be our son and already did a splendid job on the kitchen and roof). He asked us to empty three rooms and a storage area of all the stuff hidden away in there. My daughter and daughter-in-law and close friend helped sort, toss and recycle.

I found things I didn’t remember we had. It was like seeing my life pass before my eyes. It’s tough to say goodbye to objects from times of my life that are no more.
-Boxes of music books and teaching aids.
-Crafts the kids made or gifts students gave me.
-Sports equipment that makes me shrug and walk away.
-Craft and sewing projects that would be merely quasi-useful or unappreciated if I ever did manage to finish them.
-Perfectly good collections of stuff that could be quite useful  if I had the inclination to actually fix or re-purpose them.
-Camping equipment that will probably not come out of the bins because my husband still hates camping – and it definitely fails the five year guideline (“If you haven’t used it in two years, it goes, Mom.” We bargained it up to five years because I hope to get back on my cross-country skis someday.)
-Things that reveal how much I live in fear of having to scrounge to survive in the future.
-Books I think someone besides me should read. (I just haven’t met them yet.)
-Movies you couldn’t pay me to watch again.
-Cleaning supplies that were not as magical as promised. Apparently they required application and effort.
-Baby items, in case one of the kids changes his or her mind.
-Research for the novel I never finished.

Mourning was involved.

We bagged and boxed and the guys took it all down to the thrift shop or the dump. Then the gutting began. With the walls, and toilet, sink and old washer and dryer  gone and with the musty flooring peeled back and scraped off  and everything we kept piled ceiling high in the family room it looked very different. The carpenter kept telling us about more uncovered discoveries that needed to be fixed, moved or replaced.

The basement is a mess. It’s been gutted. Down to the concrete. Torn apart. Jack-hammered in parts. Stinky, because pipes had to be moved. Dusty, because who cleans pipes and vents? Mouse poopy, because apparently we entertained a family at some point in history.

“This is not up to code,” the carpenter said. A lot.
“This was maybe okay thirty years ago, but not now. Look, you’ve got a frost bubble in that line to the outside faucet. We’ll need to take the mudroom wall out too.” He tore it down and took it away.

“You’re going to have to change some of your plans,” he sighed. He must have seen the look on my face. “Give me some time and I’ll come up with something. For one thing, I’ll give you more windows and better lighting and much more efficient use of space.”

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So here we are in the basement, torn up, tossed out, piled up, stripped down and with limited electric power. I realized this mess in our basement, which also spills into the rest of the house in the form of black finger prints, concrete dust, and muddy footprints, (and as our neighbour complained yesterday, shows up in the yard in the form of neglected grass-trimming) is kind of symbolic of what has been happening in my life in the past year or two. I wanted a repair that would make improvements in function and appearance.

“Restore me, Lord,” I prayed.

God decided to gut me. He changed my plans. He pointed out areas that look fine on the surface but will not work in the long run.

He is not doing a restoration of the facade. He is working on the foundation. He is giving me more light. He is urging me to let go of old thoughts and desires and habits and replacing them with his version of something new (that I haven’t seen yet.) He is not merely repairing or restoring. He is renovating. Re-newing. Re-forming. When I think I know where He is going with this He points out how changing one area affects everything else in my life. More walls have to come down. New supports and headers have to go up. The job keeps growing.

I wanted a new clean comfortable “throne room”; He wants to build a palace fit for a King.

Sometimes I appear to be a mess. I am throwing out old assumptions. I am letting go of familiar ways of doing things. I have disappeared into the place of stored memories and come out smelling like poo pipes as I try to learn new ways of dealing with stuff that needs to be flushed. I don’t know how to do this. The mess spills over into other areas and sometimes I’m hot and tired and grubby and emotional and I take it out on innocent bystanders who are perfectly content with their tidy routines. Sorry about that.

I keep running into people who seem to be going through this same process of re-thinking and re-forming. It’s like seeing microcosms of a larger reformation popping up everywhere. What are you doing, Lord?

These folks are getting push-back though. Changes in thinking and operating affect balance in our relationships because it’s difficult to change without provoking defensiveness in others. The mess clean-up makes irritates other people, like a six-foot strip of untrimmed lawn annoys a neighbour, when they are just trying to maintain standards in the neighbourhood and are not in the mood for upheaval.

It’s painful and isolating, this gutting process. But I know the Master Builder. I’ve seen his work.

I trust Him.

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Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me. (Psalm 51:10)


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“If we can share our story with someone who responds with empathy and understanding, shame can’t survive.”
― Brené Brown

Shame. Shame on you. That’s a shame. What a shameful thing to do. You shameless hussy!

Shame has power. Shame doesn’t  just say, “You did something wrong.” Shame says you are something wrong. Shame asks, “What would people think if they knew…?” Shame says, “You are not worthy.”

We can hide it, we can excuse it, we can justify it, we can take pride in it or we can use its perverse power to judge others.

Most of us hide our shameful stuff away. We close and lock the bathroom door on more than our bad smells and unmentionable bits. We lock the door to keep our weaknesses, our temptations, our messes, our doubts, our hateful side out of sight. Shame holds us prisoner in the bathroom, in the closet, in the basement, behind anonymous accounts, inside less-shameful-than-thou good-works forts.

Some people fling open those doors, declaring they have no shame because sin, like bodily functions, is unavoidable. Sometimes they re-define sin. Like the fallen woman in Proverbs they eat forbidden fruit, wipe their mouths and say, “I have done no wrong.”

Some people, understanding that dealing with shame requires the application of light, expose it to people who have little empathy, confessing in meetings full of other shame-based folk ready to foist their own shame onto the sacrificial confesee. Thus they punish themselves and try to cure the problem of shame with more shame.

Opening up to even one other person is taking a risk. It is a courageous act. How many of us have trusted someone with our shame story and later felt betrayed? It’s the theme of thousands of novels. That’s why we sometimes pay professionals to keep our secrets, and hope their pride in reputation will give us another layer of protection.

There are people who will sympathize (“Yes. I’ve done the same things.”)  but precious few who can empathize (“Yes. I feel your pain even though I have not done the same thing.”). Jesus Christ is one who empathizes. He has compassion. He knows what temptation feels like and can understand our weaknesses, but not as a sympathizer who needs to justify or dismiss it because he is also guilty. He did not give in. Instead he bore our shame willingly, accepting shameful death on a shameful cross in collaboration with the ultimate symbol of societal rejection – execution, because he didn’t come to heap on the condemnation our shame says we deserve. He did it because he loves us and wants to free us from shame.

It’s wonderful to find that rare safe person who will respond with empathy and understanding to our shame, but there is One who is guaranteed to understand — and He not only takes it away, He changes who we are. The old shameful part dies and is buried with Him and is raised a new creature, one that knows where grace and mercy sit and can boldly approach God.

 So then, since we have a great High Priest who has entered heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to what we believe.  This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same testings we do, yet he did not sin.  So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most. (Hebrews 4:14 – 16)

What Were We Thinking?

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We are doing renovations to the lower level of our house. “Renovations,” I have learned, is builder-speak for “Prepare for nasty surprises.”

In the process of tearing walls down and throwing stuff out we discovered we have been harbouring things we knew not of: beetles in the insulation, an axe in the ceiling — and this wallpaper. It was hiding behind the wainscoting in the hallway.

Seriously? Psychedelic orange and gold swastikas? Someone spent money on rolls of this and then went to the effort of pasting it to the walls? What were they thinking?

Here’s the thing: they were probably thinking this design fit with the concept of fashionable home decorations of the day. (I’m guessing early 70’s. What do you think?) The truth is, that even though we lived in another city at the time I may have applied some burnished orange and harvest gold and avocado green striped paper in our old kitchen myself. Just adding some “pop” to a feature wall, you know. (No wonder our adult kids all head for “neutrals.” They grew up with enough “popping colours” in their lives to require a greige sedation treatment program for years.)

But hey, it was trendy. Everyone was sticking those colours up. They matched the new fridge and stove – and bathtub.

I’m old enough now that I watch fashion trends with amusement. I’ve seen the demise and return of shapes and colours and lengths so many times I figured I would just hang on to my bell-bottom jeans to see if the trend swings by again like a 20-year comet. But my family and friends were helping me purge this week and they wouldn’t hear of it. (How can you deprive a lady of a certain age of the hope that the next time the bell-bottom comet shoots across her horizon her backside will have shrunk to 1970 proportions?)

“Ain’t gonna happen, Mom,” said one of them, stuffing frayed denim into a green plastic bag full of other formerly precious stuff. “Get over it.”

The hard part of purging is realizing how much I wanted that stuff and how much it cost me back in the day when a secretary made $1.98 an hour. That wallpaper felt like a necessity. Now I see young people going into debt to buy granite counter-tops and stainless steel appliances that are going to be a pain to remove when they become “dated.” And they will become dated. The industry depends on us despising the things it once insisted we absolutely loved. We believed and strove to attain. Five years later we were ready for fashion divorce court with a new trendy item in the wings attracting our lustful attention.

Fashion is fickle. But it’s a good example of the power of propaganda to sway the minds of whole swaths of people.

I began to think about trendiness in the way society thinks and how some ideas appear to be as bright and fun and full of potential as psychedelic orange and gold swastika wallpaper. Some ideas appear to be solid and wise in terms of long-term planning, like a one-child policy (with forced abortions) in an over-crowded country. But what happens when parents still value boys over girls? Now, for this generation coming into adulthood in a China with millions of missing women, there is no girl for every boy, nor are there siblings or cousins or aunts or uncles to practise social skills on. Who knows how this is going to play out?

How does a society reach a point where killing or harassing people of a certain gender or race or ethnic group, or age, or philosophy, or religion, or lifestyle (declaring them “non-persons” and thus undeserving of honour) seem like a good idea? I’ve watched some of the Facebook lynch mobs go after people with different ideas lately. These people don’t show mere disgust for taste in wallpaper. They want to hurt folks who think differently.

No one is free from the effects of the trendy-thought terrorism of propaganda. Your wallpaper is now ugly. Get rid of it. Those people are not acceptable. Get rid of them.

I wonder, if in twenty years time, when the consequences of riding the wrecking ball pendulum of trendy fashionable ideas that persecute others play out, if we will suddenly open our eyes and say, “What were we thinking?”

I bet there will be tears. A lot of tears.

Not My Problem? When Fire Season Doesn’t Recognize Borders

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Say what you will about fire season. It makes for some amazing sunsets. This was the view from my house last night.

It also makes for burning eyes, sore throats, and wheezing from the poor air quality – not to mention the inconveniences of evacuation, closed highways and the expenses of firefighting and outright loss of life and property.

Our valley is filled with smoke. There was a minor fire nearby, which I believe is now under control. Most of this smoke is not “ours.”  What I mean by that is that most of the smoke is from fires burning across the border in Washington and Idaho states. British Columbia is experiencing more fires than usual, but the prevailing winds here in the East Kootenays are from the southwest, which means we are choking on smoke from the country to the south.

I learned something the other day. I saw an article on “The Big Burn,” a massive forest fire in 1910 that burned from Missoula, Montana, through Idaho and into eastern Washington in merely three days. This was in the early days of the US forestry service and they had only a few men with shovels and pickaxes to fight it.

I googled it and according to the maps provided, the fires must have held great respect for Canada’s crown land because the red patches indicating affected areas stopped right at the border in a perfectly straight line. (They looked just like the weather maps on American news reports that seem to imply that weather systems also stop at the border.)

You know I’m being facetious. These boundaries are entirely artificial as far as nature is concerned. “The Big Burn” did include southern British Columbia. The terrible fires in Okanagan county in Washington (which have put an entire county on evacuation alert) have spilled over the border near Osoyoos in Canada and shut down two highways. While we were on a day trip to Idaho last week we saw a fire starting on a mountain near Porthill. It’s threatening the folks on both sides of the line now. Both have received evacuation alerts. I’m sure Canadian cigarette-instigated fires have slipped south over the line as well.

It struck me this morning how often we dismiss something as “not my problem” until it directly affects us. Sure, we all suffer from compassion overload and outrage exhaustion sometimes. We also need to respect boundaries when it comes to being responsible for taking action to solve a problem, but there is really no choice in this big old world that has consequences for one person alone.

Some people say, “This is MY choice. It doesn’t affect anyone but me.” But you know, it does. The connection is not always obvious, but it will show up and drift across boundaries eventually. Unhealthy habits, “just business” practices that exploit the poor and pollute the environment, religious power-grabbing ploys that exploit the trusting and pollute the spiritual environment, political commercials that dishonour other candidates, the destruction of a human life in the womb, even the decision to turn left to buy beer or right to buy tomatoes – many choices are unaffected by borders and will spill over into the lives of others somewhere, someday.

I think that’s what Jesus meant when he talked about being aware of the yeast of the Pharisees and the yeast of Herod. It was a metaphor for the way an attitude or idea can permeate an entire society. We have accepted an attitude that our own personal peace and our own personal prosperity are more valuable than other people’s and they can somehow be protected by artificial boundaries. This attitude has permeated our culture. We need good personal boundaries, (good fences make good neighbours) but we also need to recognize our connections and that we have an influence on our brother’s and sister’s well – fare.

I apologize to the people south of the border who have been suffering from a terrible fire season. I’m sorry I never took note until the smoke bothered me. I believe in the power of prayer and I will also appeal for you. If you are reading this from another part of the world, please join me.