It's here. Grass-mowing season has officially arrived. I know because a few afternoons ago, on a single street, we drove past two men mowing with push mowers and one man on a riding mower--and it was raining. Granted, it wasn't raining hard, but I believe it's only here in the Pacific Northwest where lawn lovers are hardy enough to brave the rain in order to groom their grass.
Seeing the faithful out there in their hats and slickers made Dave come home and uncover our riding lawnmower. Not long after, I heard the rumbly engine spurt to life. And a blissfully short time later, the first whiff of spring drifted through my kitchen window, filling the space with cut-grass freshness. But after only ten minutes or so, the mower stopped. Dave came into the kitchen clutching a tiny metal part in his blackened fingers. “I’ve got a plugged hole here. Do we have any wire in the junk drawer?”
I went to the drawer and pulled out a coiled length of wire. “You're in luck.”
He shook his head. “No, that's too big.”
A bit more digging produced a small twist tie. “Is this better?”
He nodded. I stripped the wire of its plastic covering and handed it to him. Then I watched while he poked it into a miniscule hole in one side of the metal part.
“What’s that metal thingy supposed to do?” I asked. (Let me be straight with you. I could not have cared less what the metal thingy did. But page 93, paragraph 4 of the Wife Manual clearly states that from time to time it is beneficial—-necessary, even-—to feign interest in greasy parts and motors and other such uninteresting man things.)
By the look on Dave's face, you'd have thought I'd given him a present. “It’s the fuel jet. When it’s working right, gas goes through the hole, up into the lawnmower’s carburetor and through the emulsifier. From there the fuel gets mixed with air and is then sent to the piston, where it gets burned.”
Despite my best effort to look fascinated, he must have noted the glazed look in my eyes. “The bottom line is that this little hole was plugged. Gas couldn’t get through, so the lawnmower wouldn’t run.”
That caught my interest. I looked at the nearly-invisible dot on the side of the part. It was practically non-existent—-barely more than a speck of pepper. Yet that little pinprick had stopped a big old riding lawnmower in its tracks.
On occasion, though I don't like to admit it, I've plugged a few such pinpricks and pepper specks in my life. A little grudge here, a tiny compromise there, and before I knew it, I was all gunked up. The easy flow between God and me became hindered by my little "insignificant" sin.
One such time, I harbored a smidgeon of bitterness against an older woman who had snubbed me during my student-teaching experience. I'd irritated her somehow (can you even imagine? :) and she'd retaliated by tossing all my teaching supplies--books, pillows I'd made for the reading corner, displays, files--outside her classroom for the janitor to cart away. When I arrived back at the school after spending the day visiting another campus in our district, I saw that mountain outside her locked classroom and burst into tears. It took 45 minutes to maneuver the mess into my little Volkswagon Bug, but I managed. What I didn't manage very well were the feelings that sprang up in me. Instead of forgiving her, I let the offense simmer and even shared the details now and then during conversation with others.
Some ten years after the fact, I was sitting on the couch one morning having my quiet time, and I said, "Lord, if there's anything between you and me, will you let me know so I can take care of it?" And in that instant, as the prayer left my lips, he whispered the woman's name to me.
My heart drummed and my mouth went dry. It didn't take but a few seconds and I knew what he meant. He let me see the whole thing through his eyes, and it wasn't pretty. It had seemed like such a little thing--and such a justifiable reaction--but apparently my bitterness had become a problem. It hadn't kept me from hearing God's voice or loving him, but somehow enough of that bitterness had collected that it was hindering my flow. I wasn't receiving as much sap as I could from the Vine. I was a clogged branch, and there was only one remedy.
Before I could stop myself, I pulled the phone book out of the junk drawer and found the woman's number. I dialed with shaky fingers, and when she answered, I had to fight the tremble in my voice.
I surprised her, of course, but she seemed pleased to talk. And after we'd caught up on our families and the doings of the past ten years, I heard myself say something I hadn't planned.
"I want to thank you. You taught me a lot when I observed in your classroom, and sometimes, when I'm teaching, I hear your voice coming out of me. I bear your imprint ... and I'm grateful."
I'm not sure which of us was more surprised, but I'm betting it was me. For as I spoke the words to my long-perceived enemy, I began to love her again. The flow from God to me to her wasn't just a trickle--which is all I could have mustered on my own (if I could have mustered any at all). It was a torrent. I genuinely loved her. And if she'd been there in my kitchen, I'd have surprised her further with a long, clutchy hug.
There's just nothing like getting unplugged. I highly recommend it.
Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my thoughts. Point out anything in me that offends you, and lead me along the path of everlasting life. - Ps 139:23-24 (NLT)