Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Reap the Whirlwind

They sow the wind...

I've had this phrase going 'round in my mind for a couple of weeks, and recalled that it was from the book of Hosea.
"They sow the wind and reap the whirlwind. The stalk has no head; it will produce no flour. Were it to yield grain, foreigners would swallow it up."    Hosea 8:7

Sow the wind, and reap the whirlwind.

Poetic, evocative. You can see the imagery; a hand sowing seeds into air, the crazy, howling twister approaching.

This phrase has been used for book titles, poems, songs, speeches -- both in and out of Christian circles. Many people quote these lines with no idea they come from the Bible, much less the context of the prophet Hosea and the Israelites who were spending themselves on idols, and still expecting the blessing of God.

But for here and now, how to understand the meaning? It can't be divorced from the original intent, a warning to people that their striving was leading to nothing, and even worse than nothing. The biblical people were expecting their God to come through for them, while they bowed to the neighbor's idols and basically did as they pleased.

A wind is nothing; it buffets, you feel it against your face, but it can't be seen or grasped. A wind is an emptiness. It blows where it wants. Who can direct it? 'Who Has Seen the Wind', writes W.O. Mitchell in his title, one of my favorite novels. Sowing the wind means sowing nothingness into air.

The whirlwind.... much different. A terrible force - a destruction that leaves chaos and scattered ruin as it passes. The power of the whirlwind belies the fact that it is wind, made up of only wind...of nothingness, of emptiness pushed. Little puffs of air, in tremendous synchronization. A whirlwind wreaks havoc.

In what ways do I sow the wind?

It's easy to look at society in general, to point fingers at aimlessness and the empty trappings of materialism.
"You have planted much, but harvested little. You eat, but never have enough. You drink, but never have your fill. You put on clothes, but are not warm. You earn wages, only to put them in a purse with holes in it." Haggai 1:6
Small, meaningless acts that may add up to horrible consequences. I think of our endless upgrading of computers and cell phones, and of the huge piles of discarded technology I've seen in pictures or documentaries. Children in China and other places burning holes in their fingers and lungs while separating the salvageable with vats of acid. A teenager in Somalia sifting with a stick through smoking circuit board remains to find a piece worth selling. The air above and the rivers above and below, a conduit of toxicity. When will we see the whirlwind? It grows in menacing strength over scenes like this all over the world.

Depressing, isn't it? Not exactly the cheery winds of Mary Poppins, or even the magical cyclone of The Wizard of Oz. But  I'm not thinking so much of the environmental storm clouds the world over -- though they are significant.

In what ways do I sow the wind?

I can sidestep the question by thinking closer to home. Those I know who I have watched, with a sinking heart, sowing the wind. Some reaping their own personal whirlwinds of pain, some who have the shadow of it over them. A useless and finger-pointing sort of business it would be to discuss. It does seem to make some people feel better to scrounge through the scattered remains of a life in a whirlwind's wake, poking and looking for reasons and holding up scraps of sins. What good is that? And if I haven't sounded a warning, who am I to shake my head after the destruction passes by?
How do I know the real story, the one I couldn't possibly understand even if I did know it?

In What Ways do I Sow the Wind?

So, back to a more personal (uncomfortable) level.

Empty conversation where I could be speaking life and truth.

So many times I hear my voice saying words that just stuff the air, as feathers in pillows. I meet someone, and tell them nothing that will save their soul. I keep my treasures under wraps, like rings turned backward on a royal hand. Tramping the water into mud underfoot, instead of holding it out to cracked lips.

"It's just not the right time." "I don't really know them". "They probably know already." "They've already made their choices; and rejected mine." "I have to work with these people."

Eternity waits. The blind man thanks Jesus for not making light conversation when he cried out for mercy. "Son of David!!"

I've been blind. Now, I see. Jesus I'm definitely not, but I can see.

Wasted time where I could be investing it wisely in things that count.

Entertaining myself. Stupid games are fun. I do need to have some fun, everybody does.
How long? What could have been carved into stone while I sifted sand through my hands?

I avoid fixing problems because it feels so futile. I don't know where to start! And the finish line is broken or obscured, and there doesn't seem to be anyone else running. I stop in the race and look around. It's lonely and meaningless. Household tasks I've put off for years. I sit down in the track and trace shapes in the sand.
.....The sands of time speed on.

When the Glass Runs Out

Sometimes I'm just tired, really, truly exhausted, and we all know life has a way of sucking us dry, day by day. A good rest can be the best use of time possible now and then!
There are a lot of messages out there to just take it easy, to relax, you deserve it. And once in a while it's good advice to take.

But what are we doing with our lives? Are we simply animals, to sleep, to wake, to feed, to procreate, to have the best day possible until the next holiday comes around? Is that it??!

Wow. If it is, 'tis misery. I can't be satisfied with that. I would be very like Van Gogh. Pursued by too much emotion and striving into madness, and worse. I don't know enough about his life, but I think I understand some of the agony and ecstasy. Always a dark corner, an obstruction of the light, searching, finding, trying, failing.
Beautiful starry, starry nights. Ragged men in ragged clothes. Too much life, in life, for it to be a futility, a grasping of wind.

If I sow the wind, giving way to meaningless words, empty work and endless entertainment, bowing low to the rituals of pleasure and profit, of town and country, what then?

There are days when that is enough.
Today, obviously, is not one of those days. It may be good to keep me busy, so that my thinking is so wrapped in the cellophane of urgency that I ship it off heedlessly and never unwrap it or set it out to observe. It's a rainy day. I was meant to be mowing the grass today...see, it's the fault of the rain.

I do know from observation, history and my own little life that trouble is stacked up bit by bit and then crashes down suddenly. The Bible is full of
wisdom, and warns often to avoid the fury of the whirlwind and live with eyes upward, watching what we sow daily take root and grow into a healthy, edible stalk of grain. When I don't know where to start and the sands of time seem to be running out way too fast, I will look at this hour.

Those who sow the wind, will reap the whirlwind. It strikes fear into me while at the same time there is hope, because I know Who holds the future, and I know Who holds my hand.

"Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life." Galatians 6:8

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Quality Work

Well, there are 101 reasons I haven't blogged in a while. Mostly I've had responsibilities that are more massive amounts of yard work (knew that was coming) and house work (always) and transporting my kids everywhere, everyday (that's life) and meetings (sigh). But I could always get up earlier. There ARE more hours in the day...but they often belong to the night, and I'm generally using them for sleeping. Or trying to sleep/pretending to sleep, depending on the situation at hand, or who is calling.

One reason is my little job, cleaning the offices and shop bathrooms at my dad's business. It's a bit of drudgery that I don't mind too much. Somehow it's easier cleaning any bathroom other than my own, and mopping and sweeping up anyone else's mud but the stuff that's tracked all over my own house. At the end of a long day, when I'm rushing to finish so I can go pick up kids or get home before midnight, it's not that fun. And really quiet....a bit creepily quiet....just the howling and banging of the vents near the ceiling, a random tool crashing, the squish and slosh of the mop. At times I break out into song, a bit nervously, thinking probably no one is listening, but if they are, I'd better at least sound good.

As I stack chairs and wipe tables, walking past trucks, trailers, graders, a pump truck, and various tools of the trade, I think back. Back, and the lone rubber-tired hoe parked outside a little house on the street. My mom working all hours at the hospital, my dad working all hours in the bush. No mobile radio, no cell phone, not much in the fridge. There's a picture of dad pointing to a few eggs on the top shelf, smiling, cuz that was it. The little house whose floors sloped in so many directions you had to get your sea legs.

Then, a wee bit 'o trouble. The town getting all up in arms over a backhoe parked on the street. Well, well. Have to move. Into the country, out of the way, into a trailer. Trees to clear all around, but no matter. The backhoe was well-oiled and practiced. Just not quite paid for. So work, round the clock, keep it working. When's he coming home? Late, for sure. Lots to do, and now we need a truck. A trailer, another hoe. A gravel truck, a shop, a set of fuel tanks. A few good men to leave early in the dark morning, and come back tired, full of sweat and dust from the road.

We went out a few times, to see where dad was going. Is this a road? Well...not really. Are we crossing the creek?! Oh yes, I do it all the time. But there's no bridge! Just hang on. I many times did I hear that, "Just hang on!". How much further? Are there bears? Oh yes, lots of bears. So many animal stories.....wolves, cougars, moose, fish the size of Friday, if you could only get a rod in there and catch them. Or have the time to.

Us kids would watch from the upstairs window of the new house, waiting for dad. There he was in a swirl of dust and grime, his hat on, moustache full of exhaust and prickly as he raised us over his head, laughing and saying, "Just wait, I've got to fuel up, just wait a bit. Go on in. I'll be right there. You want a ride in the hoe? Alright, hop in, we'll ride to the house." Favorite thing!! Up, up the orange metal stair and into the cab that smelled of rubber, leather gloves, and a hard day's work.

Years went by, and the office went from a pile of papers on the kitchen counter and a mobile radio that squawked all the live-long day, to a trailer you got to by walking across the yard by the garden. One time my banana-seat blue-sparkly bike got run over by the gravel truck. Well, it wasn't mine anymore, it was my sister's, but still it was hard to see it go that way. I talked to the guys often, as they trooped in the house with a question or stood shooting the breeze in the cool of the shop. I heard stories of washed-out culverts, impassable roads, places where you could get a huge piece of pie and a coffee for almost nothing. Stories of break downs, the near miss, the lost driver from the city who had to get pulled out of the ditch. And dust, always dust and diesel, and little oil slicks on the puddles in spring time. Working six days a week, early morning, late night. Supper waiting on the stove. A bit of fried egg on a plate to say someone was at the table, long before the sun stole onto my bed and woke me up for school.

More years, and the office moved to town. The shop too, and now it stands by the highway, a big sign and a big Canadian flag. We always had the flag; we were Canadian. The yard was quiet now, the shop empty but for the riff-raff leftovers that belonged to the domestic life. No more convoys of gravel trucks rolling down the driveway, quick get off the road with your bike! Life and business separated. The house was left for a bigger one. There were horses -- real horses that you paid money for, not the Paint with the matted mane and broken hooves that would stand stock still for no reason at all and had to be moved on with a good deal of boot action. There was more stress but less dust - computers, not piles of paper held down with a rock. More desk chair, less fresh air.

When I finish the cleaning, lock up and walk out to my car, I look up and see the lone rubber-tired hoe on the sign. "McPhee Construction. Quality work". In brown and tan, just like the old Ford we had in 1979, and the business cards we were so proud to sniff, crisp and new in the packages. It's a strong emotion, and it hits me sometimes when I hear people talk, about oh, the money, and when they demand things, and complain, and take advantage. If they could see the mud, sweat and tears that went into that first lone backhoe, and all the bills and sacrifices. To me, it's as clear as the creek water flowing over the pit run. I lean out the window and smell the pines and the diesel, and I know.

Friday, May 3, 2013

A Lot Of Heart

Earth's the right place for love. I don't know where it's likely to go better.
                            Robert Frost

Haven't written here in a little while. My thoughts have been switching stations like a kid with a car radio dial. I have trouble concentrating in general, but these last couple of weeks I've had a spastic brain -- just focus on a thought, and it switches to another. I want to write about something -- then I want to write about something else. SHINY!!

One common theme has been a song that I. Cant. Get. Out. Of. My. HEAD. But I like it so it's okay. Ha ha. Lady Antebellum's "Just A Kiss". I know, I's sappy and I'm not even a big Lady A fan, but there's something about the harmony, the melody, the's crazy but I could have it on repeat for half a day.
(Not that I've tried that. No, believe me, I have NOT. I might though. Just as an experiment, for Science, like.)

So the song gets me thinking about emotions, about feelings, about the way we turn away from sappy-ness and gag.
I've always felt things too deeply, too much. I always hated that about myself. As a kid, I wore my heart on my sleeve, and it got roughed up. When I had a friend, I loved them to the moon and back. When I was hurt, I cried for a day.  (seriously I cried for a day when I was seven. yikes.) I felt everyone else's heartache and joy too. It wears a person out.
There's something rotten in human nature that rejects too much feeling in others, I think. I was open, I was honest, I was myself. I laughed too loud.
I was too much.

I learned, like we all do, to hide the truth of how I felt, finding a neutral expression that would stand by me through painful rejections, awkward moments, electric joy... that would cover my features through the sound of a heart breaking in half, mine or another's.

Another song I love is The Killers "Be Still".
Be still, wild and young
          Long may your innocence reign

          Like shells on the shore
         And may your limits be unknown
         And may your efforts be your own
         If you ever feel you can't take it anymore --

         Don't break character
         You've got a lot of heart

         Be still, one day you'll leave fearlessness on your sleeve...steady and straight
         And if they drag you through the mud,
         It doesn't change what's in your blood
         When they knock you down

         Don't break character
         You've got a lot of heart...
         Be still, be still

         Over rock and chain, over sunset plain, over trap and snare, when you're in too deep,
         In your wildest dream, in your made-up scheme, when they knock you down....

         Don't break character, you've got so much heart....

I don't mind expressing myself more these days. I can take the strange looks I get from people and just laugh at them. I've learned that there are those who are like cold fish on a marble slab, cold through and through, and there is no waking them. You could pour on passion, fire, wind and water. Just dead eyes staring. I don't waste a lot of time, these days, in reviving cold fish.

Others feel a great deal and hide it well. They've got a lot of heart, but they've had to lock it in a safe, that's locked in another safe, that's locked in a vault. That's in a bunker at the bottom of the ocean.
To you I say, don't break character -- be you, your wonderful self. Let yourself feel again, though it sears -- earth might be the best place for love, but it will never be safe.

I can be unbelievably cynical. I surprise myself with my lack of faith in the human race, sometimes. But I'm not willing to bury myself with the cold stones that break and bend; I want to be the river that runs over them, that ripples and sparkles and rushes down falls, that roars and trickles and bubbles and rests in deep dark pools.

I know what is sappy and ridiculous -- I revel in it. I laugh at it, I relish it.
I'm alive and arms outstretched on the open shore.

I have a lot of heart. I'm betting you do too.