February 12, 2016

The “Ministry”

Category: News — admin @ 6:00 pm

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Silence receive us, and the field of peace, hush of the
measureless land,…replenish us, restore us, and unite us
with your vast images of quietness and joy…come swiftly
now; engulf us,…speak to our hearts of stillness, for we
have, save this, no speech.

—Thomas Wolfe
_____________________

It was a slow Saturday morning at work last month. Not a lot going on. Saturdays are like that sometimes. There’s only one guy in the office, and one guy in the yard. And you’re either sitting there twiddling your thumbs, or you’re slammed with crowds of customers. It’s one way or the other, mostly. Ain’t no in-between.

About mid morning, the door bell jingled. A customer. I got up from my desk and stood at attention behind the counter. Two guys and a woman walked in. A youngish man, in his thirties, maybe. And an older couple, who looked to be the parents. I greeted them. They smiled and greeted me back, all three of them. Friendly people, seemed like. And I asked them. What can I do for you today?

They were looking for a pole building, of course. It seemed a little odd, though, as we got to talking. The older guy told me. He and his wife lived up in one of the small provinces in northeastern Canada. He told me where. Wow, I said. I was born in Canada, but I never got that far east and north. Anyway, the younger guy was their son, just like I’d figured. And Dad and Mom were wanting to move down to this area, to be with their son and his family. They wanted to convert the attached garage on the son’s home into living quarters. And the parents would live there. That meant the son needed a new garage, to move his stuff to. And I thought about it, real fleetingly, right there. I wonder how that’ll work out, having your parents live in your garage. I mean, I loved my Dad and Mom. But I couldn’t ever envision such a thing as that. But it was none of my business. So I leaned over on the counter and engaged. I asked questions. What size garage did they need? Their basic budget? And the three of them just stood there and we talked.

I thought about it a few times. The son was very clean-cut. Maybe a little too clean. Reminded me of the people I hung with down at Bob Jones University years ago. It was a formal setting, all the daily classes were. Everyone always acted all happy and chirpy. And all around, all kinds of happy rote prayers floated up to heaven every day. I can’t remember that I heard much honesty from anyone. This guy reminded me of all that, somehow. He was just a little too cleaned up. All strictly my opinion, of course.

We stood there, talking, taking little bunny trails off to the side now and then, for the next fifteen minutes or so. And then the door bell jingled again. I looked over. A young woman. Modestly dressed in a skirt and jacket. She wore some kind of knitted hat on her head. Dark, long hair. No question, she was strikingly beautiful. She walked right on over and stood with the others. The young guy’s wife. And after greeting me, she joined the conversation. And again, I wondered fleetingly, as I talked to her, talked to them all. How in the world is it gonna work, to have these older people living in what now is your garage? I hope it all does work out. But I can see a lot of potholes, lots of danger points ahead. Not because I know any of you. But I know little bit about human nature.

I’m rambling here, a little bit, too. Still, it all fits, I think. We chatted along for another ten minutes. I gave them some good grasp of what they were looking at, cost-wise. The young couple stood there, right in front of my counter computer. And I noticed the younger woman when she saw it. The poster I have taped to the front. The poster of my book. She looked a little startled, then looked at it more closely. Absorbed it. Then looked at me. Then at the poster. Then at me again.

“Did you write this book?” She asked, a touch of wonder in her voice. Yep, I said. A few years back. It’s done pretty well. And the husband looked, now, too. Read the poster. “Growing Up Amish,” he mused. And he asked, suddenly. “Are you born again? We’re Christians. We go to (Blank) Baptist Church right here in Chester County.”

I nodded and smiled. I’m a believer, yes. I said. And they both beamed at me, all welcoming and kind. Still, there was that bit of reservation in their eyes. I could see what they were thinking. This guy claims to believe. We’ll take his word for it. But we’ll keep our guard up, too, until he proves himself. That’s the feeling I got, that they were feeling. The parents, during this little exchange, stood blissfully off to the side, murmuring dreamily to each other of living in their son’s garage. There were no questions at all about my faith from Dad and Mom. They seemed very content to take me at my word. No judgment exuded from them.

I guess I shouldn’t say I felt judgment from the younger couple, either. But they were just so clean cut, so perfectly coiffed, and, oh, so Christian. The kind you pick out from across the room because they’re standing there, looking all grim and holy, while everyone else is having a drink and playing cards and having a grand old time. It’s not enough, to politely decline the invitation to the party. They have to show up and make sure everyone sees how strongly they disapprove of such sinful behavior. That’s what they reminded me of. People like that.

And then the wife smiled a dazzling and knowing smile. A secret smile, like we were in the same club, and knew the sign. She gushed at me. “Oh,” she half squealed. “You come from the Amish, and you’re born again.” And then it came. The million dollar question. The one they would judge me on. “Do you have a ministry to the Amish people, now that you left? Now that you’re born again?” And again, that dazzling, 1000-watt smile. You and I know what unwashed people like the Amish need. That’s what she was telling me. But are you doing that? Are you telling them what it is to live right, like you should be?

I smiled at them both. The older couple still stood off to the side. Still blissfully uninvolved in the conversation, still dreaming about their future. I wondered again, fleetingly, how in the world it would be, to go and live in the garage of your son and his wife. And I looked at them both, that son and his wife, and smiled again. And promptly failed the test they’d put me up to. Not only did I fail, I flunked it spectacularly.

No, ma’am, I told the striking young woman with the dazzling smile. No, I do not have a “ministry” to the Amish people. Actually, I don’t have a ministry to anyone. My Amish friends accept me as I am, and I accept them as they are. If I ever “minister” to them, it’s through my actions. And I don’t know it. I kept smiling at them; they smiled back with frozen smiles. I talked on. I got a hard enough time looking after myself. To me, it’s a miracle that I can take the free gift of grace. I got nothing against people who have ministries of whatever kind. But I just walk. I figure that’s pretty much what I’m called to do. Just keep walking.

They both took it tolerably well, I have to say. The dazzling smile dimmed maybe just a fraction, you had to look hard to notice. The man smiled, too. I had let them down, but they were all generous and uplifting. I made some comment that I keep a few copies of the book around here, in case anyone would ever care to buy one. Neither of them showed the slightest inclination or interest. We wound down, then. I reached across the counter and shook hands with all of them. They thanked me very much for my time. Not a problem, I said. That’s what I’m here for. And they all rambled out. And I wondered again how that was going to go, the parents living in the garage of their son. In my heart, I wished all of them well. The parents, especially. I’m sure there will have to be grace and forbearance from all sides, when and if they ever get moved into that garage.

And I have thought about those people a lot since that Saturday. What exactly does it mean, to have a “ministry” to anyone? Why is it so important to some people, to be seen as ministering? What drives the desire? Selfless ideals? Ego? Is it the natural superiority that comes from knowing you have something that others don’t, that others need? I’m not judging the woman, or her question to me. And I got no problem if she or you or anyone else wants to run around out there “ministering” to whoever it is that needs it.

But somehow, I’ve always recoiled instinctively from the term. Maybe it’s the Amish blood in me. Ministry. It just sounds so, well, so perfect. I know a little bit about human nature. And I know when you’re consciously stooping down to “help” another, you are not at that person’s level. You can’t be, reaching down. You can’t speak eye to eye to someone you’re looking down on and preaching at. And to me, looking people in the eye is as important as any message I might have to tell. More so, even. Who’s gonna listen to someone talking down to them? No one. Well, people might pretend to listen, but they won’t hear.

When you look someone in the eye, you’re saying way more than the words you speak. You’re saying, I’m talking to you right where you are, because that’s where I am, too. I know where you’re coming from, I know where you’ve been. I can tell you there is a better way, I can tell you there is a better place. Standing right here with you, I can tell you that. And, no, I’m not “ministering.” I’m no preacher. I’m no “warrior,” either. Those are all stuck-up terms for stuck-up people, looking down on sinners from above. I’m just a guy, walking along, right here where you are.

One other thing, too, bugs me about consciously having a “ministry.” It seems to me people all wrapped up in “ministry” get to thinking that they’re in pretty good shape, they got the inside track to God. And then they get to thinking that the Lord needs them pretty bad, here, to get all His stuff done. And no one else can do it quite like they can. They get to thinking that they’d be pretty hard to replace, that they’re not expendable. And they get bogged down with all the hidden pride that comes from thinking like that. Not saying it’s always that way. But it often is.

I want to be careful here. And I want to be clear. I’m not talking about the preacher man who is called to proclaim the gospel to people like me and others. I’m not talking about the singer and his song. There are lots of legitimate ministries out there, and I got good friends sacrificing a lot to get out there and spread the word. I cheer such people on, and I respect them. I’m talking here about the regular person, walking along through life, all puffed up with importance. Kind of like that young man in the office that Saturday, and his lovely wife with the dazzling smile. Kind of like that.

And I felt the same way sometimes, when people talked to me after I got out of the hospital late last year. When I told them how low I had slipped, how close I had come to cashing out. How I had looked death in the face, and returned. More than one person listened to my tale, then told me. “Well, the Lord sure has something for you to get done, here in this life. There’s a reason He spared you, there’s a reason you’re still here.” And it was fine, and it was all well meaning, such talk. But my response was always pretty much the same.

Nah, I said. That’s not necessarily true. I could walk out of here and get run over by a truck. Or I could get into a serious accident on the way home today, and get killed. The chances of any such thing happening to me are exactly the same as they were before I ever went to the hospital. The statistical chances, I mean. I’m not saying the Lord won’t protect me. He might. And maybe He does have some more work for me to get done. The thing is, that work will get done, whether I get to it or not.

That’s what I said. And that’s what I believe today. And no, I’m not being fatalistic. Far from it. Because I can say right here that things have been different since I got home from the hospital. A lot different. You don’t look death in the face and stay the same as you were before. I don’t think it’s possible. It’ll affect you deeply, one way or another. After I got back home, and got settled in a while, I looked back over my life. And I looked at the stretch of road before me. And gradually I realized. There’s so much to do that I haven’t done, so much life that I haven’t lived. And at this moment, I feel more alive than I have felt in many, many years. It’s a strange and startling place to be.

I have lived intensely in the past, intensely enough for several lifetimes, probably. And I look back over it all sometimes, and reflect. On how it was, and how it went. So many miles, so many years. So many hard roads, so much left behind. I know what the darkness of the valley is. And I know the view from the mountain’s peak. I have seen and felt so many things.

I know what it is to feel old and tired. I know what it is to trudge along, exhausted and famished and beyond weary of the road. To look at the future and feel flat and joyless. I know these things, I have seen and lived and felt them all. And the last time I knew what it was to be filled with real joy, well, that time was so long ago. The past can never be changed from what it was. The future can be changed from what it might have been, though. And I have wondered if such a time of real joy will ever come again.

And now I know. It will, because it has.

I can say this, from right here. I look forward to what the future holds. I mean, I welcome whatever comes with anticipation and joy. Whatever it is, across the board. Good or bad. It’s a strange new place filled with strange new things. And I’m grappling along like a blind man through unfamiliar terrain. Feeling my way through what it is to walk with joy through whatever comes. Figuring out what it means to truly be alive.

And I try to grasp what I’ve heard Tim Keller preach many times at our Tuesday night Bible Studies. Whatever the Lord allows in your life is the best thing that could happen to you. In the long run, for His kingdom. Whatever happens to you is the best thing. It’s almost impossible to wrap your head around such a truth as that. It’s flat-out counter-intuitive. And yet, here I am. And here I stand, believing. Lord, help my unbelief.

And right now, the near future holds a grave and dangerous thing. I mentioned it a few times since I’ve been out of the hospital. The A-Fib doctors want to do an ablation. That’s going up a vein in my leg, and snipping the wild muscles in my heart, so it will beat right. It’s a totally routine procedure. So common that it’s almost an outpatient thing. I’m scheduled for the last full week of this month. Go in one day, do the operation, then get out the next.

Everyone talks all calm, the doctors and their staff. And they have reason to, I’m sure. Still, the thing I realize is, it’s serious any time any foreign object touches your heart. It’s serious, any time you get “put to sleep.” Some people never wake up. Sure, it’s routine, and sure, the doctor has done hundreds and hundreds of similar procedures. Statistically, it should go fine, and I should be fine. But still. There are no guarantees. There can’t be. And as the day gets close, it’s slowly seeping through me, it’s sinking in for the first time in a long time. I intensely, intensely want to live.

I want what the future holds. Whatever may come, I want to live it and see it. Feel it. Taste and absorb it. I want to walk through all the joy that life has, I want to trudge through the dark and dangerous places, too. And I want to proclaim to every person I meet, be that in the wilderness or on the streets. The Lord is who He claims to be. I faced death right up close, and walked away. And let me tell you the strange and impossible thing that happened. I surrendered life, gave up all I am or ever was or ever will be. And now I truly live.

And yeah, I know what fear is. There are a few things that have loomed fearful in the distance for years. I fear growing old alone. I fear a debilitating illness, fear growing old and sick and gray and feeble, fear becoming a burden to my extended family. Fears such as that lurk ever dark and silent like so many ghosts in the night. So, yeah, I know what fear is.

But I do not fear what it is to die. And I have never, ever felt so free.

And so here’s how things are, going into the operation the week after next. (I won’t be posting that Friday, by the way.) I feel intensely alive, and I intensely want to live. But the bottom line is, it really doesn’t make a whole lot of difference in the end. It really doesn’t. Because if this life is taken, something far better waits on the other side. This I know. This I believe by faith. Quietly and calmly, I believe it.

And so I leave it all at that. If the stats work out, I’ll plan to post again in early March. When that time comes, and as I’m walking forward into each new day, well, I’m planning on doing a whole lot of things I’ve never done before. And there will be a whole lot of living coming down such as I’ve never lived before.

Only the Lord knows the future. What is to be will be. I’ll just keep walking.

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January 29, 2016

Jonas and the Ninja…

Category: News — admin @ 6:00 pm

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All things proceeding from the earth to seasons, all
things that lapse and change and come again upon
the earth–these things will always be the same, for
they come up from the earth that never changes, they
go back into the earth that lasts forever.

—Thomas Wolfe
___________________

I kept telling the people at work, all through the fall and early winter. My coworkers, and my builders and random customers. It’s been too nice. It can’t last. There will come a storm. And tons and tons of snow. That’s gonna happen. But you know what? And I paused dramatically, to let it sink in to whoever I was talking to, often some poor listener who was trapped, or at least felt obligated to pretend to be paying attention. You know what? I’m good with that, good with whatever comes. When you look at the last couple of years, winter came real early. And regardless of what happens this winter, it’s gonna be shorter than the last few. And I’m good with that, I’m good with whatever comes.

It had been a real wuss so far, the winter. I mean, not that I got anything against that. I love wussy winters, where it stays mostly mild. And where you don’t get two or three feet of snow, all at once. I love to drive to work not fighting messy roads. I love to schedule my trucks at work, and know that the drivers will have safe, dry roads to travel on.

All through November and then December, it was balmy weather all the way through. Scary warm, almost. I think on Christmas Day, it was in the sixties around here. I sure wasn’t fretting about it, but I thought. It has to at least get cold enough to kill the bugs in the ground. Otherwise, there’ll be trouble next spring. And next summer. That happened a few years back, when it never really froze deep. That next summer, the stink bugs came crawling out in full force. They were everywhere, inside and out. And stank up the place, everywhere, too. They even got into Big Blue, somehow, and pested me while I was driving. Didn’t matter if you kept the windows closed, and all sealed off. They got in, somehow. That happened more than a few times. I blame it on mild winter weather.

And the New Year came sliding right in. Still nothing cold to speak of. Through the first half of January, it was about as balmy as it could be. Our crews were busy at work, building. We can schedule work right through the winter, I said. And that’s pretty much what we were doing. And so it went, until early last week. That’s when the chatter started from the weather people. There’s a big old snow storm coming. No one knew for sure the path it would take. And I heard it every morning on the way to work, and every day on the talk radio station I listen to on my computer. Now it was coming in from the Pacific. Now it was crossing the Rockies. And as each day passed, they got a little firmer, a little bolder with their predictions, the weather people. And by mid-week, they pretty much proclaimed it. A major storm, coming in from the west. Anywhere from a foot to eighteen inches of snow. That’s what was forecast for the local area. To the south, down in DC and Baltimore, down there they would see a record snowfall. These were real rumblings, of a real storm coming. And we got set mentally to hunker in.

They even gave the storm a name. Jonas. I was astounded. Where in the world did they come up with a name like that? From the Jonas Brothers? From Jonas-Jonas Huckabuck? For a first name, Jonas is about as Amish as it comes. I would bet there are more Amish Jonases than any other brand. It sounded kind of cool, actually. Jonas the Storm. And now Jonas was roaring in from the west and south. By all accounts, he was not a happy camper. And he was all primed to dump a load of snow right here in New Holland.

And I thought about it. If this thing was anywhere close to as bad as they were saying, I’d be holed up in my house for a few days. For sure all day Saturday. And I thought about it some more. For years, when a snow storm had me holed up in the house, I always turned to my favorite beverage. Scotch or vodka. You mix yourself a drink, right in the middle of the day, and you just sit there and sip that baby and look out the window and watch it snow. That’s how I’ve always, always done it. I won’t say I was all uneasy or anything like that, as my first vodka-free snowstorm named Jonas swept up from the south and west. But I will say I sure thought about it. I will say that. Oh, well, I thought, too. I got my food, my eggs and taters to fry up. I had plenty of both. And I had something else, too, a new thing. And no, this wasn’t a cooking pot from my father’s stash from years ago. This was a new kind of tool for a new kind of food. I had my brand-new Ninja blender.

Bunny trail, coming right up, here. This is how it all came down. It was about as far from my mind as anything can be, a few weeks back, when Rodney told me at work one day. He’s got a blender at home, and every morning he mixes up a healthy mixture of veggies and fruits and other goopy things. He just throws that stuff all in, he told me. And then it blends, there in his blender. He drinks a shake for breakfast, goes home and mixes one up for lunch, and then eats a regular meal for dinner. And he’s slowly losing some weight. I was intrigued. Wow. That’s a world I’ve never seen before Tell me more. And he offered. “I’ll mix one up for you tomorrow, and bring it in. You can have it for lunch.” He did. And I did. And I was impressed, I gotta say. And I was about to step through the door of the blending world, a place I had never known even existed, except maybe in the vaguest sense. I mean, you figure some whacked-out vegan is gonna be out there, blending up nuts and stuff. But not real people in the real world. I was about to find out different. Big time different.

It’s a very strange world, when you get to talking about blenders, I soon found out. Rodney had a Vitamix. The top of the top of the top. I guess it will do about everything except actually eat what it chops and slices and dices up. You can even make soup in eight minutes in a Vitamix. And that night, I threw a little post out on Facebook. I was impressed, I wrote, with the shake Rodney had brought me. I can see a quality blender real soon in my near future. Well. You’d think a herd of cats were set loose, with their tails tied together. The comments came spitting out, fast and furious, from almost the first minute. Get a Vitamix. Definitely the best. No, no, get a Nutri Bullet, came from over here. And from over here, no, no, get a Ninja. And back and forth it went, the conversation, and back and forth. My head was spinning. I never had any idea there were so many different brands of blenders, and so many passionate fans of each brand. This was a whole new world I was wandering into.

The Vitamix definitely seemed to be at the top of the totem pole, when it came to quality. But it definitely is at the top tier in pricing, too. A refurbished model goes for $300.00. Double that for a brand new model. That’s a lot of smackeroos, for a blender. My cash flow is fairly modest, and there’s been sizable hospital bills coming in. All the other brands were more reasonably priced, more in line with my budget. I figured I’d look around for a few weeks, then make my decision. In the meantime, I bought a $16 cheapo blender at Walmart, to use while I was making up my mind. And I gotta say. If that’s all that would be available on the market, I would never have taken up blending. The cheapo blender was a piece of junk. After a few weeks, I decided to step on up to something of a bit more quality.

I really liked the looks of the Ninja, and eventually that’s the one I settled for. The people I knew who owned one had nothing but very good things to say. And I watched an infomercial, too, that just happened to be on one day. According to my TV, the Ninja chops, dices, slashes, dips, mashes and blends. It does everything but cook. One notch below the Vitamix. And also vastly more affordable at an even $100.00 at Walmart. So one Saturday, a few weeks back, I picked one up. I brought it home and carefully unpacked it and set it up. The circular, spiraling blades looked so cool, and very capable of doing any job I needed done. And every morning since then, I’ve been blending up my very own secret formula of smoothie for breakfast and for lunch. It’s a production, but it’s a lot of fun, too. And I actually love the taste.

smoothie

OK. Back from the bunny trail. I was all stocked up for any snowstorm, I figured, as Jonas came roaring in. Plenty of greens, and plenty of frozen fruits in the fridge. I’d be in good shape, as long as the power didn’t go out. And I chatted with the tenant, as the weekend got close. We might be getting a good chunk of snow, I told him. I just stopped tonight at the hardware and bought me a new shovel. My old one broke last year. And he looked at me, all wise. “Well,” he said. “We got a pickup with a plow blade at work. I’ll bring that home on Friday night. I can clear the drives here when it stops, then I’ll have to go to work and clear the place.” Works for me, I said. And right along, that Thursday, the weather people got bolder. Jonas will arrive tomorrow night, they proclaimed. On Friday night, at around seven o’clock, the flurries will start. And it will pick up, then, and snow all night and all the next day.

Friday. D-Day. We felt it in the air. Definitely something serious was coming. The weather people kept saying. Down south a ways, they will get hammered. Two feet, maybe thirty inches. Here, around this area, eight to twelve. By Friday, that was upped to maybe eighteen inches. Wow. That would be a mess. After work, I headed for home. I wanted to stop at Amelia’s Grocery for a few things. But first, I needed gas at Sheetz. I approached the station from the south, on my way home. It was just before six. Dark. Sheetz was all lit up. And there was something unusual going on, I saw when I got close.

The place was a madhouse at the gas pumps. Trucks and cars lined up, waiting. Not long lines, just a few vehicles deep. But still, I had never seen anything like it, not here. They have fifteen pumps or so. The place is big and roomy. I pulled in to the crowded lot. Come on, you people, I grumbled to myself. Do all of you have to wait until just before it snows to fill up with gas? And about then, I thought about it. That’s what I was doing. That’s what I had done. And I simmered down right there and quietly took my place in line and waited, just like everyone else.

And it all came down, as it had been foretold. Right at seven, I strolled out to get my mail. Snow was spitting sideways from dark skies. I saw the highway was starting to get covered, too. The road looked slick. Cars crept along carefully. A bad time to be out, tonight, I thought. And I walked back inside my warm and well-lit house.

And later that night, before hitting my bed, I looked out again. I was scheduled to work the next day until noon. And I wanted to get a good idea if the roads would be open. At 9:30 that night, I knew there would be no going to work the next day. Snow was falling steadily, and it didn’t look like it was going to stop anytime soon.

Saturday. I slept in. Around 8:30, I got up. Took my shower, then cranked up the Ninja. Sat at my computer as I sipped my breakfast. Outside, the snow was piling up, and I mean, piling up. Still. I looked longingly out the window. A quick run to Sheetz for coffee couldn’t hurt. And I bundled up in my hat and heavy coat and walked out to the garage, where Big Blue was safely parked inside. The tenant usually keeps his car in the garage. I evict him only when there’s a snowstorm coming, so I can park my truck inside. He doesn’t grumble. And it works out well for both of us. I waded through the knee deep snow and opened the big garage door. The day before, I had loaded some concrete blocks on my truck bed, for weight. Now, I got in, and backed out into the storm.

It was pretty bad getting out of my garage and driving the few hundred feet to the main road. Great drifts stretched and swathed everywhere. A few times, I had to back up and take a run for it, to get through a drift. And eventually I got out to Rt. 23. Headed left, and on down to Sheetz. That place is always, always open. Don’t matter what the weather’s like, or if all the roads are closed. Sheetz is open. I pulled in, parked, and got out. Walked in. A few straggling snow plowers wandered about, stocking up on food for their shifts. The coffee was on. I filled a large cup, paid, and walked back out. Getting onto my side road and into my garage was quite an adventure. An hour later, I don’t think I could have made it. But now I did. I waded back to the house. And stepped out again to take a picture of my stone angel, huddled and cold under the shrub tree, the snow swirling all around.

Look Homeward, Angel

And that was the only excursion anyone took from my place that day. The snow kept sweeping down, and kept getting deeper and deeper. Inside, all nice and warm by my Eden Pure heater, I putzed around. Played on the computer. Surfed Facebook. And got some reading done. Since my hospital stay, I have been reading much, much more than I have in many years. I’m working my way through about ten P.G. Wodehouse books that have been gathering dust for a long time. The man was simply a genius, and simply the greatest humorist to ever lay pen to paper. I devour one book, and go right on to the next. Jeeves, Bertie, Blandings Castle, the Mulliners. I saw somewhere that Mr. Wodehouse wrote a hundred books. And right now, I’m working my way through that list at a pretty good clip.

I fired up my cooking burner that day around noon, and fried up a mess of potatoes and eggs and toast and butter. What better feast is there than that, right in the middle of a snowstorm? And I glanced at the liquor cabinet now and then. A vodka sure would go down good about now. And that’s as far as it ever got. Just me thinking about how good it used to taste. It never was a close thing, as far as giving in.

And I thought about it, mulled it over a good deal that day, as Jonas swirled and swept around outside. The strange place I’m in, when it comes to alcohol. It’s all pretty uncomplicated. A lot of people make things a lot more complicated than they’d have to. They make the mountain way too steep, the monster way too fearful. Recently, there was a real popular link floating around on Facebook. I saw it posted at least half a dozen times. Some pastor wrote it. Fifty Reasons Why I Don’t Drink. And I read through the list, and it was all fine, I guess. But I thought to myself. Why twist yourself into fifty different pretzels to come up with fifty different reasons not to drink? Does that make you more holy, the more reasons you have? I don’t drink for only one reason. My doctor told me not to. That’s about as simple as it gets. And there’s nothing “holy” about any of it. Nothing moral or immoral. It’s just a choice, as most things in life are.

By late Saturday, before I got to bed, the snow had pretty much stopped. Jonas had played himself out, and a record storm he turned out to be. Outside, right at thirty inches lay spread on the ground. I chatted with the tenant on the phone, and we plotted our move for the next morning. He had parked his pickup and plow outside, where I usually park Big Blue. He’d get right busy as soon as we got up.

And the next morning around nine, he was out there, warming up his truck. I bundled up and stepped outside with my shovel. He walked over and we stood and talked. And after a bit, he cleared his throat. “Look,” he said. “I want you to be careful, shoveling out here. I don’t want to come around and see you lying there in bad shape, or worse. Take it slow. Stop and rest often. Shovel for ten minutes, rest for five. Shovel for ten, rest for five.” Yes, sir. I said. There wasn’t really anything else to say.

He got to plowing, then, and I had my short back walks cleared in ten minutes. And soon enough, both drives were open as the tenant plowed right along. He took off, then, for his work place, to get the lots cleared there. I stepped out to the garage and unlimbered Big Blue. Time now for another coffee run to Sheetz. And that morning, the roads were passable, almost fully cleared.

After lunch, the tenant had not returned. I retired for a brief nap. And just as I was dozing off, there came a tapping on the door, out on the street side. Ah, come on, I thought. I’m trying to rest, here. But I got up, and stepped to the door and looked out, then opened it. A young teenager stood there, shovel in hand. “Do you need your walks cleared?” he asked. And I was impressed. Tell you what. I need a path cleared to my mailbox out there, and I need the snow cleared away so the mailman can get in, I said. How much? He shrugged. “Fifteen bucks,” he said. Deal, I said. And I was impressed again. The kid got right down to business, and half an hour later, he was knocking on my door for his money. I walked out and checked his work, then handed him a twenty. Keep the change. He thanked me and walked on to the next place. An enterprising kid, right there, I thought. He’ll get somewhere some day, with that kind of drive.

The next day, things got back to half normal. I headed off to work. A slow Monday, for sure, after a storm like that. The boys spent much of the day on skid loaders, clearing the parking lot and yard. And all this week, the temperatures have warmed into the thirties every day. The snow banks are settling, sinking. And soon, all will return to how it was before.

And thus Jonas came and went.

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