I can’t even begin to tell you what pulling weeds has done for me. For about a week now, I have been working as the “yard boy” at a camp/resort in the mountains. My job is to make the place look nice. I love this type of work!
Well, as it turns out, much of my job has been getting rid of weeds. With a place this size, weeds can take over pretty quickly. And a couple of my days have been spent weeding thorns.
I woke up today just like any other. The sun was already shining through the front door and the back window. I had gone to bed at 11:30, though, and I wanted to sleep some more. I pulled the comforter over me to try to block out the light. It worked, but I was already awake. For the week that I have been here, I haven’t set an alarm clock once, but I always wake up around the same time...between 8:00 and 9:00 (except for that one late night where I slept until 11:00!).
I take a shower, then grab a t-shirt and jeans. Today I am going to tackle a huge patch of thorns that has taken over what used to be a garden. The garden was neglected, and the thorns saw a ripe opportunity for conquest.
I grab what has become my tools of trade here...two gloves and a large pruner. And I get to work. The thorns are so intertwined with each other that it is hard to know where they begin or end. The thorns themselves are sharp, and an uncautious move will inevitable land me a scratch of remembrance.
Snip, snip, snip. Before I can even get down to the bottoms of the plants, I have to clear away the tops to see the ground. This is going to be a long day. I only have to work two hours today to complete my 10-hour work week, but at this rate, I will have two days of work ahead of me!
Snip, snip, snip.
Last week on my first day of work I was doing the same job...this time around the pond. When one is cutting thornbushes, there is no need for accuracy. You need not worry about cutting at the right angle, about pruning at the right spot. All you have to do is destroy. Do whatever it takes to completely rid the land of all thorns in sight. And because of this, my mind is free to wander.
And wander it does. I don’t suppose I could tell you what I think about most of the time. Sometimes it’s the chickens pecking next door, sometimes it’s the peacocks walking around, sometimes it’s the seldom plane that flies overhead, sometimes it’s what I’m doing this weekend...and on and on and on. I just let my mind wander.
Well, last week I couldn’t help but learn a few things from cutting thornbushes. When you spend a couple of hours behind the shears, you tend to think about life. Here are soe thoughts...you can apply them to whatever area you would like.
Much of the time I think how easy this job would be if someone had just tended to the first sight of thorns in the first place. The owner said that this garden has been unkempt for two years. Two years! Yet none of these thorns would be here if someone would have just kept an eye on the garden. I always heard the phrase “A stitch in time saves nine” when growing up, and that phrase kept on coming back to my mind. Of course, I would be out of a job, but I’m sure I could find something else to do!
How many of our problems could be avoided if we just addressed them when we first noticed them? Kids involved in bad behavior, a marriage now on the rocks, being overweight, pornography, having to have another smoke...
After 20 minutes, I stopped and looked at what I had done. It was barely even noticeable. I had cleared a tiny corner of the large garden. And the corner that I had cleared wasn’t even the thickest part yet. I was only just beginning. So what did I do?
Snip, snip, snip.
Immediately after college, I began pursuing my Master’s degree. I had planned to graduate at the age of 23. I am now 25 and still have no Master’s degree. Yet I have completed all of the required coursework. So what’s the problem? It’s an 80-page paper. I took months before I even started that thing. And it’s not that I can’t write 80 pages. Frankly, through college, I probably wrote a good couple hundred of pages. So what was my problem? Well, the answer is actually as diverse as the colors of the ocean, but one of the reasons was that it was 80 pages. If it was 10 pages, I would have been done in a heartbeat. Actually, if it was 10 pages, I could have probably written eight papers!!!
Exactly. And again, we have a saying... “How do you eat an elephant”?
One bite at a time.
Snip, snip, snip.
The problem with thorns is that the branches of the thornbushes are long. I might very well be working on this thornbush in front of me only to find out that it is connected to five other thornbushes. I’d cut one branch, and I’d try to pull it out with the shears (even my gloves wouldn’t allow me to pull the branches...the thorns would easily go through as I quickly learned!). But I couldn’t pull out the already-cut branch until I cut another branch...and another...and another...from different bushes!
For years I have been fascinated with people. My sister and I have taken up the habit of people-watching. Whether at the mall or at a restaurant in the middle of New Mexico, we love to sit and watch people. You just never know what you’re going to get. She is actually pursuing a degree of “people-study.” To think that you can spend your whole life actually studying people.
Well, I am always fascinated with why we do what we do. Why do a make a certain decision. Why do I do this and not to do that? Why do I not do this? Is it morals? Is it desire? Is it both? Is it good fighting against evil? Is it spirit against flesh? Is it hunger against boredom?
I spent years teaching kids. And before that, I myself was the one being taught. What always fascinated me was what someone does after they learn something. It’s quite simple in some areas of life. Once you learn how to say “hola” in Spanish, your hellos south of the border are always “hola.” Or when I fly, once I learn how to speak over the radio, I am forever speaking pilot talk. “Logan County, Cessna 757 Kilo-Whiskey...” But it’s the other lessons that amaze me far more.
“Well, you should stop drinking then.” And later that week, he is tipping the bottle. “I have been trying to quit smoking for six months now.” We talk through the fog from his last puff. “Pornography has a negative effect on my marriage.” But a weekly meeting only reveals more hits on the websites.
And so I begin to wonder...snip, snip, snip.
Is it really just smoking? Or is it really just drinking? Or is it really just pornography? Or eating? Or anger? Or jealousy? Are these the actual problems? Or are they just the symptoms of something else?
One of the most frustrating parts about pulling these thorns is that I never know when I can actually pull one of the branches out. I snip it, then tug on it. Nope, it’s still connected. So I snip some more, then tug. Nope. Still connected somewhere. It has interwoven itself in another bush. Snip. Tug. Nope. Snip. Tug. There we go! It has finally given way. I tug a bit, but then I am forced to stop. I now have a little more slack on that original branch, and I have separated it from another bush...but now I find out that it is connected to yet another bush.
Snip, snip, snip.
Maybe the reason we don’t stop smoking, drinking, having sex, being jealous, or looking at pornography is not that we don’t want to stop. Maybe it’s because if we stopped doing those things, we would have to address other issues that are so deeply rooted in why we do what we do. If I stopped having sex, I might have to actually face my loneliness each week. I might not like being single. If I stopped smoking, I might actually have to realize that I am deeply in debt. And I have no idea where I am going to turn. If I stopped drinking, I might actually realize that my marriage is worse than terrible. I treat my wife nowhere close to what I did when I first started dating her. If I stopped looking at porn every night, I might realize that I am an empty man on the inside. I just want to be loved.
Snip, snip, snip.
I could have been done in under a half an hour with these thorn bushes if they were spread out over a large field. But in fact they were not. They were tightly interwoven, and I think somehow the thorn bushes know that to stay together they are protected. A stray thorn bush along a path is quickly uprooted. But an entire garden full of thorn bushes?! That would take some time to clear. “I’ll get around to it later...”
And the thorn bushes continue to grow. And intertwine. And mingle. And spread...
I wonder what would happen if we actually took the time to address our actual problems. Not the symptoms. Not the first thorn bush that we come to. But the actual mess that some of us are in. Maybe all of us somewhere? I wonder what would happen if we told each other that we are lonely, that we find it hard to love our wives, that we feel so empty inside, that we have an eating disorder, that we keep buying on credit, that we...
“45 minutes more. Then we watch USA.”
Bernd (the owner) popped up on the other side of the fence. He came to help. I had been working for nearly an hour maybe, and I was quite tired. My knees were spent, and the constant bending over while holding the long pruners starts to wear on you. Not to mention the sun is now at its peak, and there are flies that literally bite through my shirt. They are nasty ones...ones that even covered skin can’t avoid.
And maybe it’s just me...or maybe it’s just people in general. But I found a renewed vigor inside of me. I watched across the fence as Bernd snipped away at the thorns. I started snipping with a renewed passion. Snip, snip, snip!!! The thorns were going away quicker now, not just because Bernd has helping, but because I was now working better myself.
And I had a goal, too. In 45 minutes I was going to head to the beer hut and watch women’s futbol...the 51-game unbeaten streak was on the line for the USA women. Brazil wanted to take it from us.
“You know what I don’t understand?” Bernd was quick to break the silence. “When I was in America,” (his German accent is so thick!) “I would watch your news. There would be 25 minutes of what is happening in your town, then five minutes of what is going on in the world. To me, you all seem so ignorant.”
Some would be inclined to take offense at such comments, but after 45 days of traveling abroad, one gets used to hearing comments about America. And I have learned to take them all, whether good or bad, whether true or not...and then I weigh them. What is this person trying to say? Does he have a point? Does she speak from experience or bias?
News Channel 20. Breaking news...we’ll head out to the State Fair for live coverage...yes, we are having fried twinkies again this year! And a few people were killed in Burma again. Gus, how’s that weather looking?! Great! I hope you all have a nice weekend.
So really how was I supposed to know what the European Union was? How was I to know that the dollar was weak over here? How was I to know that...
Bernd interrupts my thoughts. “And what we Europeans don’t get is why you don’t understand what these things are for. Here in Portugal, when we use a hammer, we understand that it may smash a thumb. It does not need to have a sticker on it. But you take each other to court when you smash your thumbs. This does not make sense to me.”
And I couldn’t argue. This was the second time that I have been accused of coming from a country that is obsessed with lawsuits. We talked about someone suing McDonald’s for their coffee being too hot. Bernd just didn’t get it. And neither did Marcel. Marcel was a friend of mine from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. We lived in the same house while in Boston, and every day around noontime, Marcel would watch Judge Judy or The People’s Court or some other court show on TV. But he wasn’t interested in the system or in the hearings. This was Marcel’s comedy hour. He laughed and laughed and couldn’t believe why someone was taking someone else to court for not feeding their dog. Or for not paying $75 rent. I tried to explain to him that not all of America was like this, but this was the only court that he ever saw while in the States. And so who was he to believe? Me or TV?
And then I was reminded of a story of my own. A couple of years ago, I was sitting in Dairy Queen with a couple of students. Some girl comes running in the door, screaming, “I’ve just hit someone on a motorcycle!” Then she disappears out the door. Just like that. It took two seconds total.
A serious state of “What in the world just happened”? came across all of the employees and consumers in the restaurant. Including myself. What?! After the words that she said came together in my head, I asked the students if I had heard correctly. Then I ran out the door. Sure enough, there on the street was a man lying underneath a motorcycle. A couple of us ran out to him, and his foot was so twisted in the opposite direction that it was painful even to look at. The bike’s weight was keeping him from moving. And he was screaming...”Help me! Oh, my foot. MY FOOT! Someone help me!”
And it was easy to see that the bike simply needed to be lifted up to remove the pressure...but it was a large bike. “Hey, will someone help me...we’ve got to get this bike off of him.” I was eager to help.
And they all stared at me. Then one of them yelled at me. “Don’t you dare touch that bike or that man! Leave him alone!” But the bike was on him! It was crushing his foot! And I looked around as everyone was paralyzed with fear. They didn’t want to touch anything for fear of being sued.
I was appalled. No one would help me. And they even made me stay away from him. We had to wait until the paramedics came, and the first thing they did was raise the bike off of him. He was now able to lay on the pavement. Sure, his foot was still backwards, but he was a step closer to freedom.
This is exactly what Bernd is talking about. And, sure, we have the Good Samaritan Law, of course. But what good is a law when the people don’t even know how to use it? My brother works for 911, and he has stories where people call in reports of wrecked vehicles out in fields or ditches. “Well, is there anyone in there, sir? Are they injured?” But the person doesn’t know, because they refuse to leave their vehicle. What have we created?!
“This is just too much for me.” This is one of Bernd’s favorite quotes, and I love hearing it. He only uses it when he doesn’t understand someone...whether it is a British person who comes to live in Portugal for 20 years but never learns the language...or whether it is an American that thinks they have everything they need in their own country...
He asked me what I thought about 9/11, and I said I didn’t know. What seemed to be a terrorist war now seems to be an oil war. And he asked me if I had ever seen Michael Moore’s documentary (which I haven’t). He says he has it if I can watch it. And I was reminded of the time in Galway, Ireland, where I was ever-so-confidently told that our very own government was responsible for the collapse of the twin towers. I mentioned that to Bernd, and he just raised his eyebrows and turned his head in a “Well, friend, you should do the study yourself...I’m not going to say anything.” But we both knew what he thought.
“And what I don’t get is how you voted for Bush a second time after watching documentaries like that. This is just too much for me.”
Snip, snip, snip.
“Hey, the game has started.”
And just like that, we were done. We had accomplished quite a bit in those 45 minutes. I had learned a lot, and I had worked harder with someone there with me. But now it was time for the game. I have become a huge fan of futbol. Some of my most fond memories are of watching German women’s futbol in Bernd’s beer hut. I listen to the German announcers, and I even look forward to the commentary from the German women commentators. At first glance, I didn’t think they were cute, but now the more I see them, I think they have grown on me. Maybe it’s just a week of being in the mountains!
Well, for the next hour and a half, I watched a very physical game, and I watched a more-hungry and more-passionate Brazilian team defeat USA 4-0. Bernd was surprised. He had thought Germany and USA were going to meet in the finals, and I had wished that as I would have been the odd one out.
The game was great. All I could think about was playing futbol myself, and I was overcome with more sorrow as I think about my ankle. It has really become a burden to me as of late. I want to run through these mountains, I want to play futbol in the towns with the kids, I want to run every day and not be sore the next day. But, alas, I can’t. And that hurts sometimes worse than the foot itself.
Well, after a couple of German beers, I left that hut with a renewed passion yet again to conquer those thorns. I have discovered that working with people makes me work better, as well as having breaks. After a good break, I am refreshed and ready to go again. And on top of that, I hate leaving projects undone, and this was not about to be the day to do so. Besides, a Portuguese man was working on making a beautiful brick wall, and he had been working even before I was up. I have awoken to his whistling the past two days, and he was whistling again at three o’clock in the afternoon. How could he maintain this enjoyment of work all day long?!
I wanted to be done with those weeds, but because I now hated Brazil (actually just the fact that we were taunted and that we looked like we couldn’t run and because I couldn’t run) and because this man was whistling seven hours into his day, I wanted to tear those thorns apart.
Snip, snip, snip!
The sun was still hot, and I had to go fetch some juice. I sat in the shade to relieve my knees, and I looked over at the man laying bricks. Unbelievable.
I hopped right back up, then continued again. But not before standing in the corner and looking at what I had accomplished. I was about 2/3 of the day finished.
When I grew up, I had a list of things to do and not to do. As I mentioned in an earlier post, I couldn’t drink, smoke, or chew. And I couldn’t cuss, lie, steal, cheat...you know the list. Of course, I could smile, give encouragement, play for fun and not to win, congratulate others, appreciate my brother and sister....you know that list, too.
But there was another list, too. It was one that was handed down to me from the church. And frankly, the list was much the same as the one I had in home. Home and church were so intertwined while growing up. If I did these things, great. If I did those, not so great. Good and evil were so apparent. It was all black and white.
Until college. And then until seminary. And until talking with friends.
Case and point. Here is the situation...a guy has been addicted to gambling for years. Insert smoking, drinking, chew, pornography, whatever. And he has decided to stop. Let’s say for spiritual reasons. He used to gamble five days a week.
So the question comes in...what is considered success?
Is it four times a week? Is it three times a week? Is it twice a month? Or is it only stopping cold turkey?
Honestly, I really don’t know the answer. In my former years, I would have said cold turkey was the only way to go. You’re either good or bad. You’re either for God or against God. Then the argument comes in for the personal struggle...
I remember a friend of mine who used to work at a homeless shelter. She had been involved in drugs and prostitution, but she had become a Christian, and she no longer wanted to do that. It turned out that she ended up dying in her 50’s...and it was only after her death that I learned that she still battled her drug addiction. Even as a believer, she still wanted the cocaine.
So I am forced to ask myself that question....does the Spirit require a quick end to sin? Does the Spirit have absolutely no room for darkness? Do all of the Asherah poles and high places have to be destroyed immediately? Or does He take a gambling addict who has gone from 20 times a month to only three. He hasn’t stopped at three...he wants to get to zero, but in reality, he is at three.
Where the rubber hits the road, though, is when you start looking around at everything that this could apply to. A student learns that sex before marriage is not God’s plan. He used to sleep around a lot. Now he only occasionally has a night in bed with another. Hmm. Or is he to end it all just like that? Does the Spirit work like that? Or maybe a better question is...Do people work like that?
When someone looks at pornography, should they feel guilty every time? Or should they be able to rejoice that this month they only looked once rather than the 20 times they used to do? Hmm.
Snip, snip, snip.
I backed up to look at it again. I now had just a couple more feet to clear out. I had worked well over the two hours that I needed to work today. But I had a garden that needed to be found. And these thorn bushes were in the way.
I was sweaty. I was dirty. I had bug bites. My legs were tired. My hands were starting to get callouses. And I now had a huge mess of dead thorn bushes to pick up.
But the neat part about it all?
I now had a garden. And I think I am going to leave Bernd a board with these words posted on it...
“Whenever you see the first leaves of a thorn bush, take the thirty seconds out of your day to kill it. You will be forever thankful.”
If not, I know exactly what will happen.
And this is just too much for me.
2007-09-27 21:47:25 GMT