Dear Rhonda

Dear Rhonda,

2013 year in review maggieThank you for helping me find my house. I resisted liking that house since it was more my ex-husband’s preference than mine. You might even say that I resented that darn house for a long, long time, actually. Slowly but surely, the longer I lived in it (particularly the longer I lived in it by myself), the more it grew on me. The house and I made our peace. I learned to love not only the house but the yard, the view from the front porch (thank God for the pasture and horses paid for by the neighbors!), and the woods behind my property. With lots of help, significant elbow grease, and minimal financial investment, I converted the house into a home.

Rhonda, thank you for introducing me to Cheryl and Henry Wilson. They became surrogate parents to me. I miss them so much, particularly this time of year when I just long to go home to their house and bake, bake, bake spicy pfefferneuse cookies with Cheryl. 252482_516930600632_6872391_n

Rhonda, when you offered me the opportunity to work for you as a sub-contractor six months after we closed on my house, doing odd jobs under the umbrella of real estate, I felt relieved and honored. The offer came in the nick of time. As my life mentor says, “God goes ahead and plans in love.” He certainly did that time. I was recently divorced and desperate for extra income with flexible hours. Working with you was much more classy and fun than serving drinks at the Underground Pub, and I gained experience in real estate for three years, picked your brain on a regular basis, and benefited under your leadership and guidance.

229694_506890022032_1308731_nRhonda, thank you for mentoring me and teaching me everything you could in every situation we encountered while working together. I never felt bossed around by you; I felt like a team member. I watched you open your own business. I learned how to be fearless and brave. I listened to you open and close deals while upholding high ethical standards. I observed you undergo difficult business and personal situations with grace and dignity.

I cannot even begin to list the lessons I learned from you in one measly letter. Thank you for going to lunch with me and going shopping with me and convincing me to serve on the board of Big Brothers Big Sisters with you (not to mention the countless other non-profit service projects we tag-teamed on together!). It was refreshing to share my passion for non-profit fundraising and development with someone who approached volunteerism and fundraising from a business perspective. You helped me grow and develop my personal interests, weed out some of my potential career paths, and hone in on my real passion: writing, reading, and teaching these two things to others. 189672_502826380602_5699_n

I know that we don’t make or find time to talk over the phone or face to face now (shame on us!), and we live two hours away from one another, but I hope you know that you made a significant impact on my life. You helped shape me into who I am today.

Did you know that I actually LIKE who I am today, thanks to people like you? Did you know that I have direction in my life now, and that I absolutely love waking up every single day with the people in my house and going to work every day, thanks to people like you who chose to invest in my life? It’s true.

If it hadn’t been for people like you, Rhonda, I might still be floundering and trying to find my way. Thankfully, you cared enough to share your experience with me. You cared enough to share yourself with me; you shared your time with me, and that is a gift I will keep giving back to those I mentor and teach for the rest of my life.

Thank you, my friend.

I love you. Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family.

Bethany

Dear Heather

*Today’s letter is written by my wonderful friend Betty Gail Jones, who has impacted countless children, teenagers, and college students over the years through her work in children’s ministry, collegiate ministry, mission work, and church planting. She is a fireball and someone God has certainly used in my life.*

Dear Heather,

BG blogI am calling you out!  There is no doubt that you deserve it!  Get ready for the truth!  I want you to know how what you have done has impacted me!

At a time in my life when I felt isolated and desperate, I found you though Facebook, of all places.  At times there seems to be an insurmountable barrier – namely the ocean – to knowing my grandchildren who live on the other side of the world.  You helped change some of that ever-present anxiety.  Yes, you stepped in when I needed you.  And as I get to know more about you, I find your availability to others to be significant, too.

Life gets busy no matter where one lives in the world.  If I could see pictures every day of my grandchildren who live overseas, I would be happy.  Yet, that is not to be, nor would it be a wise use of their parent’s time.  One day, as I were publicly pleading for more pictures on social media, you piped up and commented to me offering to accept my friendship if I requested.  You further explained that you often take pictures of Ajay, and sometimes Ari gets in the pictures, too.  As the local Kids Kamp teacher, you have access like no other to my grandchildren.  I realized that this was my opportunity for a view of their world that I had not had before, so I immediately went to your page and clicked out a request to be your “friend”.

BG blog 1What I found on your page was eye-opening.  I loved seeing the place where socialization and learning was taking place, not only for my grandchild, but also for the other children who are living overseas.  I recognized what a wonderful unique blessing your ministry is as I scrolled through the pictures and saw the wonder and joy on faces of such a diverse group of third culture kids.

Soon, your posts began showing up on my news feed.  Whether they were about everyday “mommy moments”, personal reflections, prayer requests for your kids, or funny quotes by those living in your home or attending your school, I enjoyed them all.  I even loved following your personal journey of the joys and challenges of your stateside visit.  I learned from each one.

bg blog 3One Sunday morning I stepped into my church and a friend looked at me with eyes of concern and said, “What about the landslide near Kathmandu?”  My heart sank into my stomach because I hadn’t heard of the tragedy and didn’t have any information.  My son-in-law and a friend were trekking at that moment, and I didn’t actually know where.  It was early in the morning on our side of the world and night where you live.  I knew I didn’t have access to my own children who aren’t as media driven as some, but I realized that you monitored Facebook more frequently and guessed that I could message you and would get an answer quickly.  Within a few minutes, I received a message back from you assuring me that everything was all right.  I was so grateful for your friendship, though we’ve never met, at that moment.

Through Facebook, I have learned of your own ministry to the nationals whom you call your “kids”, watched as you care for them and love them deeply, and joined you to pray for their needs.  I have grieved your losses with you as you have shared heartache, and I have rejoiced with you in victories.

bg blog 2At this time, I am enjoying the presence of my grandchildren for a season, but I know the impact you have had even now.  Ajay talks about his home and friends that he misses.  As I was listening in on a conversation between him and his cousin, Ajay told his older cousin about his school and how he misses it.

What a tremendous blessing you are to those young mothers who live in your country.  I would have never dreamed that these parents would have an opportunity to send their little ones to a pre-school situation where they are learning and playing in a social setting and their moms would have some time for other important things (and even a break from the constant responsibility of raising children without extended family or trusted friends’ help).

You do all of this with an attitude of joy.  You are a servant to others.  This, Heather, is why I am calling you out – to say thank you from the bottom of my heart.  I thank God for you and your family.

See you on Facebook!

Love,

Betty Gail Jones, aka Nanna

New experiences

*Thanks to my friend Debra Dickey for serving as today’s guest contributor.*

If it hadn’t been for my kids, little people in my life, and even my pets, I would have missed out on an incredible amount of remarkable experiences in my life!  If you recall my previous posts, I have already mentioned that I am not a very adventurous soul, so to say that I am ‘new experiences’ challenged would be, hmmm, an understatement! 

Mt. LandI’ve always wanted to pretend to myself that maybe there was a bit of the wandering pioneer spirit in me, but I will tell you truthfully, that wherever I wandered, I mostly desired the comfort of being able to see my house from wherever I was standing!   But for a time, my world opened up –  often spit in my eye –  and my courage took wings . . . albeit at times, forcefully.

Initial lessons for getting me out of my comfort zones, were learned of course, with and for my children.  We have laughed and had the best times and the most fun just doing things together.  Some of those events were planned, others weren’t as much, and often, we were invited to create the experience for ourselves.  There have also been struggles, rough times, trials by fire, disappointments, and monumental obstacles which have required me to develop strengths that I never imagined I could possess, and doggedly test my resolve; but together, we somehow managed (and continue to manage) those ‘new experiences’ and challenges as well.  My kids have taught me so much, and continue to share so many insights, and such wisdom, strength, knowledge, joy and courage with me, that I cannot begin to imagine a life without the richness and depth which only they could have made possible — treasured experiences memorably shared, an endowment sweetly gained from these two remarkable people.

My most recent opportunity with new ventures has been my privilege and delight to spend time with my 8 year-old niece, who brings her own special brand of prospective, fun and laughter, and genuinely blesses my life with such a myriad of enjoyable hours.

All these experiences serve as an abiding reminder of what is really important, as well as help explain the reason and purpose for my existence, and my presence in the exact right spot at those exact right moments.

MeadowBut only by regular reminders, voluntarily or involuntarily, to make those conscious choices that will, time and again, propel me to step out of my comfort zones, have I been given the incredible opportunities to visit new places, see new sights, hear new music, experience new concepts, value new ideas, appreciate new cultures, share silly laughs, and regard, encounter, and enjoy the world through the eyes of my wise, courageous, and discerning companions.  What wonderful adventures for a homebody like me!  These days, even walks with my dog have prodded me to stray from my typical paths and discover fun tramps through the woods, which often call forward a bit of that wandering spirit.  And at this point in my life, I’ll say, that’s good enough for me.

To my stepdaughter

*Big thanks to a friend of mine who gave me permission to post this letter he wrote to his stepdaughter recently. Thank God for  step parents who do engage and don’t choose apathy.*

Kylie,

This is long. You will find it annoying and will likely skip entire paragraphs the first time you read it.  I ask that you please do me one favor: keep it, and revisit it again sometime in the future.

The truth can often be awkward, uncomfortable and even painful.  Life in the absence of truth often seems easier.  A little white lie, a misleading statement, an exaggeration or invented story, an ignored phone call, or simply failing to reveal what should be revealed all serve to selfishly better our positions in whatever circumstances that each moment presents us.  We are all guilty, each and every one of us.

Most people speak of the importance of the truth with the idea that a lack of truth will compound upon itself and create burdens and ever-increasing problems that ultimately collapses under its own weight.  This thinking is, for the most part, true.  However, examples of a lack of truth personally benefiting an individual and having no long-term negative results are also plentiful (politics is rife with examples).  Children, like politicians and everyone else, do not live a life guided entirely by truth.  The reason, despite what people claim, is simply because it is an effective strategy.  Dishonesty sometimes works out just fine.  It seems logical that if no benefit were to ever come from dishonesty, then dishonesty would slowly disappear.  That is not what I see.  I see a world that puts the truth on a pedestal, as if it is truly special and to be cherished.  This implies that genuine truth is more rare than dishonesty.  The problem, as I see it, is this: to not speak the truth is to stop genuine conversation, to have such little respect for another that you deny them the fundamental right to know, be it a good or bad truth.  A lack of truth is usually no more than a display of loving oneself more than another.

Without question, words can hurt.  Words are often designed specifically to hurt.  The words I spoke to you the other night were an example of exactly the kind of language that is designed and used to hurt another person; for that, I am truly sorry.  I am sorry that they came out of my mouth aimed at the young girl I try so hard to make feel exceptional.  It is the hurtful wording that I regret.  As for the message behind that wording – the simple truth is – I do not genuinely feel sorry.

I asked your Mother that night, “Why the hell would the guy that spoils her say that to her?”  She didn’t have an answer, and neither did I.  I have thought a lot about that question I asked your Mother, and I want to take a moment to explain what I believe is the answer.

Despite my questionable choice of words, my timing, and my tone of voice, I spoke the truth at that moment.  That doesn’t mean that you are forever labeled in my head as that person.  It simply means that in describing your treatment of your Mother at that very moment, I spoke with honesty.  What I said has come up a couple of times since, which tells me that you have thought about it.  You likely disagree, but it affected you enough to dwell a bit on it.  You likely called me a few choice names to your friends.  You probably got angry, maybe sad; the point is that you reacted with emotion just as I reacted with emotion.  Reacting with emotion is the opposite of not reacting at all, or apathy.  At the risk of sounding like a Hallmark card, apathy is essentially the opposite of love, which oddly puts love and anger on the same team and apathy on the opposing.  A child with a parent who truly doesn’t care about her actions is one of the saddest things.  It is a sin against that child, and against humanity.  You may know of such a child.  A child with apathetic parents can hide among their peers as a child with relaxed, or easy parents.  But they often feel unloved and unwanted, and sadly, to varying degrees, they are.

Our simplest, most basic of all desires is safety.  True safety is felt in a loving, respectful home.  It may not make sense right now, but reasonable expectations, discipline and punishment are critical in establishing a sense of safety.  Behavioral boundaries are set, children (specifically ages 2 and 13) consistently test those boundaries, and good parents consistently reinforce them.  Failure to establish and consistently reinforce behavioral boundaries results in chaos.  Inconsistent, unpredictable parenting makes for ill-behaved children. A parent who simply doesn’t care causes exceedingly more damage.  It is said that overly harsh disciplinarian style parents create children who need therapy, but apathetic parents create adults who need therapy.

The truth is subjective, meaning that the same event described by two witnesses may differ, not due to dishonesty but to individual differences.  In your world, in your subjective opinion, is the disrespectful attitude shown to your family any different from the way any other 13 year-old treats theirs with?  The answer is… I don’t have any idea.  Nor did it occur to me to even consider how other children speak to their mothers.

I have felt bad after our conversation, but not for you or my son or myself. I feel bad for your brother.  He seemed to listen intently when we sat down and spoke.  He seemed concerned, not about being grounded, but about his mother.  I was shocked.  I expected the disrespectful disobedience that I have come to expect since meeting him.  He is older, not around much, and we never formed any sort of bond, but he cared.  I felt like he wanted me to be as upset with him as I was with you.  I really don’t know.  I have always thought I was doing everyone a favor by treating him as an adult.

I don’t know how this ends, or where things go from here.  Just know that it was anger and love that guided my words the other night, just as it was anger and love that guided my hand into your door.  People can question how that anger and love were displayed, but they cannot question their existence.  I’ll never lay an angry hand on any child, but where there is love and disappointment, there will be anger.  To not be angry at disrespect, to not be let down at finding an inappropriate video of you online, is fundamentally the same as not smiling at your dance moves, or feeling pride in your accomplishments.  Likewise, to provide for you and make no demands of your treatment of others is not only unjust to others but also to you.  There are only two ways that a stepparent cannot have the same expectations and make the same demands of their stepchild as they do their biological child…  apathy towards that child or ignorance of raising children in general (sadly, not uncommon).  This may sound harsh, but it is reality.

The truth is not in what’s said, but can be seen in the actions (or inactions) of many.  The idea that “She isn’t really mine, so how she ends up isn’t my problem” is sadly more common than not. You may even prefer that I feel that way.  If I could somehow care just enough about you to provide for you a good quality-of-life but refrain from caring enough to discipline you, you would have a great few years.  But the long-term consequences that your lack of discipline and lack of respect combined with receiving -without effort- the things you wish would be very damaging and very real.  You likely do not feel that way (neither does anyone else at 13), but I assure you, eventually you will.

In short, it is only my apathy, my ignorance, or your compliance to reasonable expectations that will ensure that the poorly worded sentence that came out of my mouth the other night will never come out again.  I care very much about you and about what and who you become.  Regardless of right or wrong, regardless of your own wishes, it is too late for apathy and ignorance.  I am not making an apathetic suggestion; I am making a demand, guided by love, that you change your current treatment of people in my home, or you will find yourself not welcome in it.

To demand any less from you is to not love you.

With much thought and love,

Your stepdad

Day 24–Platitudes

*Special thanks to my friend Emily Baker for writing today’s post and also for writing inspiring music.*

I write songs sometimes.  Usually they take a long time to germinate, but this one came quickly over the course of a low-lit afternoon in my old, airy living room in Mississippi.

 

love’s a gentle wind that draws me home

love’s a gentle wind that draws me home

love is a gentle wind; it draws me home again

 

free is what I feel when I’m with you

free is what I feel when I’m with you

freedom is what I feel; when I’m with you I can just sit still

 

the mountains and the seas will pass away

mountains and the sees will pass away

mountains, seas will pass away; one thing true is here to stay

 

love’s a gentle wind that draws me home

love’s a gentle wind that draws me home

love is a gentle wind; it draws me home again

 

I considered throwing it out.

It was too easy, too simple.  It didn’t come from any kind of current urgency or gut feeling.  If anything at that point in life, I was dealing with a keener heartbreak than I had ever felt before.  I didn’t really know what “home” meant to me anymore, and I wasn’t feeling particularly drawn anywhere.  But as they do sometimes, the song persisted.  I decided to keep it, but I’d add my twinge of sarcasm by calling it “Platitudes.”

platitude –a trite, meaningless, biased, or prosaic statement, often presented as if it were significant and original

Ooooo, burn!  Take that, my own subconscious, from which this song sprang!  Take that, everyone who thinks I’m a simple-minded girl singing a sweet little song about love.  I will show you that nothing is so simple.  That you all just enjoy being manipulated into feeling something.  That these words are meaningless.

But no one really ever got the sarcasm.  They took the song seriously.  They were moved.  I started to realize that I couldn’t really tell them that their honest reactions were meaningless.  The song resonated with people because it recalled in them something that was very real.  Something in them I’d never really have access to was being touched through the combination of words and sound.

And as time went on, I noticed that the song was gaining meaning for me too.  I sang it in my grandmother’s hospital room when we thought she might not make it much longer.  I sang it for my parents and friends just before I moved to the other side of the world.  I sent a recording of it too a guy I’d cared about, after things between us didn’t work out.  I sang it to my own melancholy heart, when I was alone with a weight of sadness.  It was like the song absorbed the significance of the moments, and it became more than a few words in a melody.

I’ve always had a bit of disdain for things I saw as inauthentic or cheap gestures—the platitudes in verbal or physical form, like the little grocery store boxes of candy that people give on Valentine’s Day—things that seem to be beneath the significance they try to carry.  But I’m learning to appreciate the little gestures and to be open to all the forms that love might take.

 

All Is Full of Love –Bjork

True Love Will Find You in the End –Daniel Johnston

Love’s a Gentle Wind –me

 

Day 8–A family in the making

*Thanks to Michelle Young for serving as today’s guest contributor. Check out her artwork on her Facebook Page MY Moments.*

 

IMG_8168In November 2005, Jerry and Nancy Young opened up their home to two little boys named Kolby and Kaleb. It was the week of Thanksgiving when Joe and I met these boys for the very first time. Kolby had just turned two, and Kaleb was soon to be one year old. Throughout the following months, Joe and I saw Kolby and Kaleb often and spent a lot of time with them. They quickly became very special to us.

On March 13, 2006, as Joe and I were driving home from Jerry and Nancy’s house, I noticed that Joe was being exceptionally quiet. As we lay in bed that night, I asked if he had been deep in thought about something. He simply said “Yes.” So I probed further and asked what it was about. He said, “You probably don’t want to know… What would you think about trying to get custody of Kolby and Kaleb?”

My heart fluttered as I told Joe that I had already been thinking about it, but just hadn’t said anything yet. I also admitted that the idea of it all scared me. Joe had become concerned about his parents trying to raise these two small children at their ages, especially since it was beginning to look as if it might turn into a long-term, if not permanent, situation. That night, we discussed the possibilities of getting Kolby and Kaleb into our home and the ways in which our lives would be changed if it actually happened. We also discussed the reality of maybe only having the boys in our home temporarily while their birth mom met all of her requirements to get them back. This was going to be a huge decision and we knew that if we got involved, we would have to be prepared emotionally in the case that they be returned to Brittney later on down the road. No decision was made that night. After much discussion, we went to sleep.

The next day at lunch, Joe asked if I had enough time to make a decision about getting involved and offering to let Kolby and Kaleb come live with us. I told him that if we were to get the boys, I would be in it wholeheartedly. Joe said that was all he needed to know. We would make our decision known to Jerry and Nancy later that night. The rest of my work day was consumed with thoughts of our decision and the possibility of Joe and me going from no kids to two kids. I was overwhelmed with emotions. I was scared, nervous, anxious, and yet excited all at the same time. I called and asked my mom to meet with me. I explained to her the entire situation and that Joe and I were planning to try to get custody of Kolby and Kaleb. She was surprised, but supportive of our decision. She said she was proud of us for stepping up and offering to take these boys in. She also told me that she had tried not to be selfish in her prayers for us and our desire to be pregnant. She had simply prayed that God would allow Joe and me the opportunity to share the love in our home with others.

Well, that opportunity had arrived! I told her that God never ceased to amaze me and that I am often reminded that my plans are not always God’s plans. Joe and I had been trying to have a child of our own for about seven months, but it hadn’t happened. All of a sudden, unexpectedly, we had been presented with a completely different plan. Looking back now, I can clearly see God’s amazing hands at work in our lives. I believe that I did not get pregnant during that time because God knew all along of two small boys who would be in need of a good, loving home. I honestly cannot say that we would have made the decision that we did had we already had a child of our own. That evening, Joe and I sat down with Nancy and told her of our recent decision to offer to get custody of Kolby and Kaleb. She said it sounded like a good plan to her. She thanked us and said that it was a relief to know that there was at least another option out there. She admitted that taking care of the boys 24/7 was really taking its toll on her. She assured us that she loved the boys and would continue to take care of them as long as she needed to, but of the two options, she felt that Joe and I getting custody of the boys would be the better scenario.

I have an entire journal of all that we went through once our decision was made public. The boys remained with Jerry and Nancy while all of the phone calls, paperwork, and court hearings were being handled from county to county. There were doubts. There were tears. There was bad news. There was good news. It was an emotional roller coaster to say the least! Finally, on July 26, 2006, the boys were moved into our home as foster kids. This began a whole new chapter for Joe and me as well as for Kolby and Kaleb. More doubts. More tears. More bad news. More good news. Another emotional roller coaster.

IMG_5274On February 21, 2007, Joe and I went to court in Little Rock where both birth parents signed the consent to waive parental rights. This began the actual adoption process. It was a very happy time for our family. And then one month later, God revealed another surprise…I was pregnant. Wow! At this point, we had been trying to get pregnant for a year and a half. Joe and I were now in the situation of going from no kids to THREE kids all in one year! Glory was born on November 17, 2007. She was 5 months old when we FINALLY went before the judge in Little Rock on April 28, 2008, and legally became Kolby and Kaleb’s permanent family. Despite the long, difficult, emotional journey, I am thankful for my family and for our story. God has truly blessed us!

The bigger picture

Special thanks to guest writer and lifelong friend, Mark Egan, for today’s post.

I’ve driven to St. Mary’s, Kansas, and found a diner by the name of “Froggy’s.” It came highly recommended by the young lady at the gas station next door. I’d somehow driven past it looking for a restroom and some food.

It’s an uncomfortable feeling being the guy that doesn’t seem to fit, being a stranger among friends, but it is peaceful here. I’m sitting in a booth with a north-facing window. It’s beautiful out. Nothing is green yet, but the weather feels like everything should be. The leafless trees out the window and across the street reveal large five-story stone buildings. The stone and architecture predate 1900. There are hints of Catholicism both on the buildings and on a few front porches on Main Street as I pass through town.

The waitress is stunning. Her make-up and hair look like they may have taken longer to prepare than it took me to drive here. She is young. Her earrings at a glance seem too big and dangle to her shoulders; another glance, and they kind of resemble the leaves that are missing from the trees. At the risk of getting caught staring, I look again and it’s clear–they are angel’s wings.

I’d love to make a sarcastic comment or two about this little town in the middle of nowhere, but the environment simply makes it impossible to do anything other than take turns staring first at the old stone Catholic-inspired buildings and then at the angelic face of my waitress framed appropriately in wings. She smiles at me, probably because I stick out like an anomaly in an environment that knows only consistency.

I’m here because I have time. I have time because an older man and his wife asked me to look at their home for them. I agreed to do so before learning of their remote location. I came here rather than calling and giving them the bad news that to perform any sort of work this far away stretches the limit on the accuracy of my verbal estimate. The cost incurred in lost productivity and the value of the traditional margin of profit that is mentally allocated to cover future warranty issues isn’t sufficient. In short; from a purely business standpoint, I need to pass on even the opportunity to earn his business.

So against better judgment, I honor my word and drive out. It takes nearly three hours. The pavement turns into gravel, my navigation still adamant that I have another 10 minutes of drive time. Driving a rattling Ford Focus down a path better suited for tractors is my reality today.

I arrive to see a fairly nice farm home and a few barns and sheds scattered around in no particular order. The memories of our conversation come rushing back as soon as he greets me and exposes his teeth. He has unmistakable gold fillings and a matching gold cap on one of his front teeth, not at all in an offensive way, just memorable. I remember his wife’s excitement at the idea of having the home’s drainage and water problems addressed.

Today that excitement is gone. His body language isn’t speaking so much as it is yelling. He walks with intent and stands rigid in defiance. This is the same man, but not at all the gracious individual seeking knowledge and help who I met two short weeks ago. He seems nervous under a thick skin of “Kansas farmer toughness.”

“Lets take a look,” I say out of habit, still soaking in his stiffness.

“All I want to know is how much?” he replies curtly.

I know this environment, I know why it took just a little too long for someone to greet me, and I know why she stayed inside. I know why he is nervous, and more importantly, I know that I just wasted a beautiful morning.

In my mind, the phrase “no good deed goes unpunished” wants to come pouring out of my mouth. I could have slept in. I could have read. I could have done anything, or nothing, but here I am.

Normally I would try to earn his respect, then his trust, and ultimately his business. In this case, I would be faced with an uphill battle, and in the slim chance that he wanted to hire me, I’d still have the future burden of potential gasoline consuming warranty issues and unexpected problems coupled with a margin too thin to assume the risk.

“It’s going to run you $15 to $17 per foot, same as I told you before I made this drive,” I reply, obviously irritated.

“That’s too much,” he says, stuffing his hands in his pockets to solidify his point.

“Than why are we standing here? It’s beautiful out; your time is valuable, as is mine,” I respond without much thought.

I was about to tell him that it is okay to tell someone like me that you don’t want them to drive out to your home because (I assure you) he doesn’t want to if there is nothing to be gained by it. This is a job and not a normal job–not a normal job that pays hourly, but a job that pays only if the customers decide to hire you. I choose not to say anything, though, and just extend my hand toward his and wish him well.

He asks me if we could do regular seamless guttering, and if so, how much. His barn to the left of the driveway had new guttering installed recently, he points out, an obvious attempt at proving his point. If I am higher than the other guy who hung his guttering, then clearly that is evidence that in the free market economy, I cannot compete in any other function. So I lie. I tell him it was $3.50 per foot rather than the $5.50 it would actually cost, knowing that I couldn’t possibly come out here and hang guttering. Oddly his point was still relevant. He had paid another man $2.00 per foot. The old cliche “you get what you pay for” bounces around with my other thoughts of general irritation.

As nicely as possible, I tell him that he got a great deal and to give that guy a call in the future if he needs any help. He responds victoriously, “Same guy did the house a few years back.”

I nod in an attempt to send some signal of agreement in hopes this can all just end. I turn from the porch and head to the car. I look up at the guttering out of habit as I walk by. It was probably one of the most poorly installed guttering systems I’d ever seen. I’ll spare you the details, but his house is being destroyed behind a very deceptive layer of vinyl that will hide the destruction until his problems will carry a financial burden that will make him want to drive his John Deere off a bridge.

I smile to myself with some sort of evil satisfaction. It’s actually difficult to accept that I truly gain a fair amount of pleasure from this man’s not yet materialized but inevitable misery. I want to turn around. I want to yell, “Look! Look at what you are doing to your home that you are so proud of–you’re right! Someone somewhere will do exactly what you ask of them, and they’ll do it cheaply, but you have no idea what to do and neither does whomever you’re convincing to do the work. Your frugality is only exceeded by your ignorance!”

But I don’t turn around. I don’t say another word. There is nothing to be gained. I drive off, taking a left out of his driveway, choosing a different path to the paved street, hoping for a less destructive and more comfortable drive. It was worse.

That is how I have arrived here. I’m frustrated, and my mind is full of 15 years’ worth of decisions that led me here. I think about the financial and housing boom that propped me up from relative poverty to a life I dreamed of but didn’t dare expect. The stress, the risks, and the countless hours were all somehow justified as a fair trade for this life. The memories are all cut short and replaced with the next, like skipping through songs without the patience to let one finish. My cell phone beeps at me, reminding me of my next appointment. For some reason, it also reminds me of a message I regularly received a few short years ago—“Your pool is good,” it said. I don’t remember the man’s name or the company. He was always a gentlemen. I fear that maybe I never really knew his name at all.

My mind is treating it all like a child’s dot-to-dot game. Each dot by itself has no value, but a line drawn to connect them all in the right order reveals a clear picture. My stubborn golden-toothed Kansas farmer, my peaceful and reverent view, my nearly inexplicable past, and of course, my angel, are today’s dots.

The picture my environment draws is one of compassion. It is through much gain followed by loss that I have, for the first time in my life, an understanding of what surrounds me. My life is no longer one of a parasite, existing lavishly on the backs of others. Instead, I am reminded who I once was, and that human nature left unguided will lure me down a similar path again. So what guides human nature? Nothing more than the environment you place yourself in. Today my environment is one of goodness, and my expectations of myself are equally such. I picture the old farmer, and in this moment, I see him as I see my father–hard-working, exceptional, and rightly skeptical about trusting me.

I’ll mail him a few notes on the problems he is having and how to correct them before they worsen. I can’t imagine I’ll ever return to this spot, but if I do, I’ll take the time to walk around and appreciate those old buildings. and maybe I’ll tell her she is beautiful rather than “thanks for the sandwich.”

-Mark Egan