“I had to turn it into a joke,” Harvey said.
When we were in Ontario, our hosts Harvey and Carolyn told us that when they had been married nine months, they took in eight teenage boys. He was recalling the toilet paper crisis and how he had set a quota of three squares of toilet paper per….let’s say, “event”. He had tried to use humor to get his guideline implemented.
“We were going through–ROLLS a day,” Carolyn said.
Clearly, the toilet paper crisis is one they both remember with all the vividness of an upset stomach.
This conversation comes back to me this week. On three consecutive days, we received requests for help with lodging from three separate people looking for a safe place to stay. On the fourth day, neighbor Jen came down, holding a can of Mug root beer in one hand, a plastic straw protruding from it. She was wearing a yellow sun dress with a ragged hole in the skirt, because she had fallen asleep with a cigarette in her hand.
“It’s good your dress didn’t completely start on fire!” I said.
“I know!” she said.
And she told me that Harvey is up in critical care on life support because his lungs gave out.
I sat on the porch with her, partly because her news made me a little weak and I felt tears forming in the invisible places of my eyes. I found, almost to my surprise, that my heart ached for Harvey (pardon the two Harveys in this post. Two different people!). My heart did not ache because I felt that I should sympathize with the poor, or because the Bible commands us to love our neighbors. It ached because Harvey is one of our friends, and because he keeps saying he’s waiting to die and can’t, and that he’s scared and that he hopes God will receive him.
Well, back to the people needing places to stay. I really think we could own a house the size of a motel and never have a vacancy.
It’s simply not possible to say yes to everyone.
But we did say yes to the last, two boys, 12 and 13, temporarily in need of a room. No, we don’t have a license for foster care, although we might get one. But these particular young men are friends of ours, and their mother loves them so much that she wants the best for them while she takes care of a few matters of importance.
The best for them?
I feel my stomach tighten with anxiety in pairs of opposite extremes. What if they don’t like us? What if they like us too much? What if they are bored and want to do everything I’m doing? What if they are too busy with their own concerns that they don’t want to do what they are asked? What if I go crazy because I have no time alone? What if I go crazy because I get attached to them and then they move home?
And that’s without even worrying about toilet paper consumption.
But, then, with the unknown, with the feeling that life is only attainable with God’s intervention, comes an odd sense of exhilaration. It’s not an excited feeling of knowing this is going to be a wonderful time. It’s not a secure feeling of knowing that we definitely won’t inherit bed bugs and boys both. It’s not a confident feeling, that we know we can be just what these boys need at the moment, because of course we don’t know that and likely can’t. It seems more likely that God knows how selfish I am and is bringing them into my life as a kind of refining furnace.
I think the feeling of exhilaration is closely tied to the conviction that we are completely out of control, and therefore, it’s all up to God, and he does know exactly what these boys need at the moment.
Besides, everything is relative. To a person living in a box, having the ability to take someone into their own house would be the pinnacle of delight. To neighbor Harvey on the ventilator, being able to struggle and stress with humanity instead of with his breathing tube might sound like paradise. To Harvey and Carolyn, taking in only two boys after 18 months of marriage would have looked like nothing short of complete and utter relaxation.
So here we walk, on the very edge of the cliff of sanity, not knowing if we will lose our footing and plummet. But we are not alone, and we hope that God continues to remind us of the obvious truth: we have many blessings, and even if things get chaotic, we are still living someone’s dream life.
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