Friday, August 21, 2009

Solace in Mundane Tasks

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I washed, dried and folded my guestroom bed sheets. After that, I ironed and starched and lavender scented the pillow cases. We had overnight guests and we’re expecting more, and I like to have a fresh set of sheets in case we have pop-in family who need a place to rest for a night. With just a little tidying, putting away clutter, and shaking out the welcome mat we’re ready for company.

Ironing pillowcases is one of those household tasks that don’t seem like a chore to me. When I mentioned that among a group of women, one other woman agreed that plunging her arms into sudsy water to hand wash dishes is her oasis of calm. Several of the housework skeptics said, “You’re both crazy.”

When linens need pressing, I’m eager to fold down my hide-away ironing board and with a hot iron push wrinkles aside. Maybe that lets you in on my personality. I like to fix things for people, make it better, or kiss away the hurt. I want to smooth out the rough spots, but we all know that’s not always possible.

That knowledge reigned again this week—not being able to fix some of the broken places in life. We lost a dear friend, Lee Roy, of 25 years. Within five minutes he was gone. After we heard the news, we drove several hours to see his wife, Paula. Lee Roy was her best friend and the love of her life. Those who knew them saw a couple devoted to each other. In times past, we met Lee Roy and Paula every few months for dinner, usually halfway between our homes in the Bay Area and Montgomery, Texas.

Because we are in the same business, our husbands spoke almost every day by cell phone. The four of us have a lot in common. We know the names of each other’s grandchildren and pets, and we’ve shared our families’ worries and needs. And now I want to fix things for Paula but I cannot.

At times like these, most of us have experienced the inadequacy of words. I like words and sometimes even get to trade them in for a paycheck. But I’ve found that spoken words or even purchased words in sympathy cards cannot properly convey the weight and density of sorrow.

The real desire of our friend’s heart cannot be fixed. Death is what it is and now she travels a road not by choice but one delivered to her doorsteps way too early. Her gut-wrenching loss made me cherish the daily handholding with my husband. Our goodbye kisses became sweeter just because we had the privilege. The solemn morning after our friend’s death, there was an extra long hug between David and me as we parted for the day.

After David left that morning, I went into my utility room, I needed to iron. I needed to press the wrinkles out of something. One of the things I like about ironing is that it’s routine work that allows my mind to stay or travel a long distance from the ironing board. Also, it’s a great time to pray. For my friend this has been my plea, “I lift up my voice to the LORD for mercy. I pour out my complaint before him; before him I tell my trouble. When my spirit grows faint within me, it is you who know my way” (Psalm 132:1-3).

Off and on throughout this week, I’ve done laundry and I’ve had more of my husband’s shirts to iron than in a long time. I steamed the collars, smoothed the yokes, and pressed the wrinkles out of sleeves, treasuring the work.

My main prayer request for our friend is for comfort and deep strength. I know she loves to mow her yard and I hope when she gets to trimming the hedges again that she can find solace in the task and the quiet time.

And she’ll be in my thoughts as I iron, smooth out what I can, and pray.

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