A Tale of Two Mowers
Today God taught me a lesson using two lawn mowers.
It’s been a kind of crazy year for me. It’s had ups and downs and a whole lot of in-betweens. This past fall, I applied to as many doctoral programs as I could afford (which was only 7, by the way–those application fees add up fast!), in the hopes of jumping straight from my undergrad to the big leagues in the most time and money efficient way possible. I knew I was shooting for the moon, but I knew I would regret not going for it if I didn’t at least try. The months between submitting my applications and waiting for the decisions were filled with fear, excitement, and anticipation. The world was about to open up before me.
Except it didn’t. I heard back from school after school thanking me for my application and reassuring me that they received so many highly qualified applicants that they just couldn’t take them all–you know, the stuff they tell you to make you feel better. But it doesn’t work. It sucked. Suddenly the world that was opening up in front of me had slammed closed again. There was no time to apply for master’s programs, since all of the deadlines were back when I was spending all my money applying to the doctoral programs that had just rejected me. I did get considered for the University of Chicago’s one year intensive MA program, as a consolation prize for not making the Ph.D program. This would have been better news if the MA program was funded like the Ph.D program. It wasn’t. I got in, but the scholarship they offered me was small potatoes compared to the enormous price tag of not only tuition, but also moving to and living in Chicago. I was back to square one, and I was graduating in a little over a month.
Graduation came and went, but I was still unsure about what the plan was supposed to be now. I had been planning to work for a few months and go to graduate school, but now I had to wait until the fall to even start applying again. My wife and I talked it over, and decided that in the mean time, I should look for work that would be good experience for my resume and future career goals, rather than taking the first job I could find. She makes enough now for us to get by and save a little, so it seemed like the most logical thing to do. I set about looking for jobs in editing and proofreading to put my English major and eye for detail to good work. I also looked for tutoring jobs to build some teaching experience. That was when I ran into two fairly significant obstacles.
First, all the editing and proofreading jobs want several years of experience to even consider an application. This makes sense, on one level, since you don’t want just anyone editing your company’s documents. But on another level, it was extremely frustrating. Since I couldn’t afford to take an unpaid internship during school, needing to work in order to make ends meet, I didn’t have any experience or any obvious way to have obtained any at this point. If there were no jobs that were willing to take on a newcomer to the field, how could a newcomer like myself even get in?
The second obstacle was less of a roadblock and more of detour. It should be fairly obvious, but the American school calendar being what it is, there is not much call for tutors or substitute teachers in the summer. No problem, I reasoned, I will just focus on the editing side of things for the summer. See obstacle number one. So here I was, eager to get experience, but unsure of how to go about obtaining it. I have a bachelor’s degree now, so you would think that would count for something right? Or not. That was when I decided to turn my efforts to the world of freelance work.
I am currently in the process of figuring out how freelancing works when it comes to editing and proofreading, and I have a few leads to pursue in that area, so I may have some good news on that front soon, but for the most part it is slow going. The thing about freelancing is that you are largely on your own. No one is going to hold your hand and explain it to you, and if you don’t have any credibility built up within the publishing world, it is an uphill battle to get someone to hire you and trust you with their project over someone who has been doing things for far longer. I’m slowly making connections, and I have met some cool people, but there are days that are much more frustrating than promising.
In all of this, I have been trying to trust God and see what he has in store for us in the future, but it can be hard when day after day, week after week, month after month, the plan you thought you were supposed to follow is continually deferred, altered, or obstructed. I am a fairly patient person most of the time, but everyone has their limits. I was getting sick of waiting. When would God show me what the next step was? When would all my hard work start paying off? Why wasn’t He answering me when I prayed for guidance and finding work that would prepare me for the future?
You’re probably wondering when I’m going to talk about the lawn mowers. We’re getting there. Just a few more things first.
We’ve been living with my wife’s grandma for a couple months now. She’s the only grandparent either of us has left, so I claim her too. When we were trying to figure out where we would be in the fall, back when my applications were still pending a decision, we had to make the decision of whether or not to renew our lease for another year. If we did and then had to move in the fall, it would be a steep penalty for early cancellation, but if we didn’t, then we weren’t sure where we would go and for how long. Grandma, upon hearing about the decision we were trying to make, immediately offered for us to live with her until we figured out where we were going to be more long-term. My wife had lived with Grandma and Grandpa before we were married, and Grandma is really easy-going, so it was a pretty easy decision and a wonderful answer to prayer.
It’s a pretty good arrangement for all of us, since Grandma gets to have company more often, and we get a place to stay for a much more reasonable rate than we would have had in our apartment. In addition, we can help with things around the house that she would otherwise have to pay someone to do or call one of her kids and wait until they could come around to do it. We handle all kinds of random stuff, like opening the garage door manually when the button doesn’t work, pouring baking soda and vinegar on the ant hills in the yard, moving furniture for various reasons, and mowing the lawn.
We’re almost to the lawn mowers, I promise.
This past spring, Grandma got new windows installed in the whole house. We moved the furniture so the window guys could get to all the windows, and then we put it back again when they were done. No big deal. But the window frames needed to be stained and sealed still. Grandma has been having a family friend do odd jobs around the house to help him out since he’s a self-employed handyman, and she asked him to stain the windows. Now, this guy is very sweet and does good work, but he is not the greatest at time management. He has been in and out of the house off and on working on the windows for over a month now, and because he isn’t able to schedule an entire day at a time out here between his other jobs, the house is often in various states of project for days at a time, with furniture moved out so he can get to the windows. For the first week, this was simply a mild inconvenience, but as the weeks dragged on, my patience with the ongoing window project was wearing thin. I just wanted the windows to be done so we could put the house back in order once and for all.
Now it’s time to talk about the mowers.
So I mentioned that we mow the lawn. When we first got out the ride-on mower for the summer, it made it for about ten minutes and promptly died. Kaput. Doneski. No problem, I’m a pretty resourceful guy, and there just happened to be a push mower in the garage. I tuned it up with a new spark plug and air filter and got to work. It ran wonderfully for two and a half mows. Today was the half. For no apparent reason, the mower decided to give up the ghost and refused to start back up. I practically ripped my arm out of its socket yanking on the start cord, but to no avail. I checked everything I could check, but nothing seemed amiss.
It was about this time that the family friend handyman arrived for another round of the window project. He offered to help me figure out what was wrong with the mower, but only ended up checking all the things I had already checked all over again. At this point, my patience for the whole situation was just about shot, but I did some research and discovered that the carburetor may have been causing the problem if it needed to be cleaned out. I went and got the parts and supplies I needed and cleaned the crap out of that carburetor, then I went to start the mower and finish the lawn. Nothing. No change. Zip. Zilch. Nada.
Well, I told you this was a tale of two mowers, and the dead ride-on doesn’t count. The family friend handyman just so happened to have his own mower in the bed of his pickup, and he offered to let me use it to finish the yard. Grateful, I immediately accepted and got to work, feeling bad that I had been annoyed and frustrated with him earlier over both the window project and the redundant troubleshooting for the dead mower. But that was just the beginning of the lesson. No sooner had I gotten back into the swing of mowing than God started to convict me about me attitude, specifically my lack of patience and the speed at which I became frustrated. He brought Philippians 2:14-16 to my mind, followed by I Corinthians 13:4-7, Matthew 6:31-33, Isaiah 55:8-9, 2 Peter 3:9, and Galatians 6:9. The conversation in my head went something like this:
God- “Do all things without grumbling or disputing, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain.”
Me- “Yeah, I already feel bad about that, but–”
G- “Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”
M- “But it seems like all I do is wait, and none of the plans I think are from you seem to be leading anywhere. What am I supposed to do?!”
G- “Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”
M- “But what is your plan? I know you have it under control, but I don’t understand it at all.”
G- “For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.”
M- “That’s all well and good, but how much longer to I have to be patient for?”
G- “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.”
M- “That’s not really a definite answer. Besides, being patient is really hard sometimes!”
G- “And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.”
M- “You’re right, as always. I really need to be more humble, huh?”
G- “Yes, yes you do. We’ll work on that.”
God used a mower to humble me and show me that 1. I’m not all that, 2. I need to be more patient, and 3. He’s in control, so I need to stop worrying, trust him, and seek to be the man he has called me to be. He used the kindness of the very person I had failed to be patient with to show me that he doesn’t work on my time table. If the window project had been finished when I wanted it to be, I would have been left with a half-mowed lawn and no recourse. It may not have been how I would have planned things, but after all, Proverbs 16:9 says, “The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps.”
I’ve heard it said that when you ask God to make you patient, he doesn’t flip a switch inside of you, he gives you opportunities to become more patient. Waiting is never easy or fun, but running ahead, thinking that we know what’s best for ourselves or raging in frustration is not the solution. We may think we know better than God, but Proverbs 14:12 reminds us that “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death.” Rather than chafe at the times God tells us to be patient, we need to listen to David in Psalm 37:3-7:
Trust in the Lord, and do good;
dwell in the land and befriend faithfulness.
Delight yourself in the Lord,
and he will give you the desires of your heart.
Commit your way to the Lord;
trust in him, and he will act.
He will bring forth your righteousness as the light,
and your justice as the noonday.
Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him;
fret not yourself over the one who prospers in his way,
over the man who carries out evil devices!
God taught me a lesson today using two lawn mowers. The future is still just as uncertain. My job search and freelancing endeavors are still just as frustrating, and while there has been significant progress on the window project, it still isn’t finished. But that’s ok. God is infinitely patient with me, and he’s called me to be like him. Here’s to becoming more patient.