I used to have a really clean house. On Saturday mornings, I would put my podcast-filled MP3 player on the speakers and set to work vacuuming, dusting, mopping, wiping, and spinning the washing machine. It was hard to get the whole place spotless, but it usually did shine by Saturday night.
Then, Hurricane Isaac blew through town, along with a labrador-Eskimo-collie. My house will rarely be as clean as it used to be--especially the red couch.
The red couch is my favorite piece of furniture that I got as a graduate student. It survived theological studies, a move to the Mississippi River, and this recent trek to the delta. When I once talked about parting with it, some of my friends looked at me as if I were giving away one of their right arms. Its seats are well-worn, but the brightness has not faded.
Now, it has become a white-speckled couch.
My two-legged friends are not the only protectors of the red couch. Isaac has made himself chief protector, and his love for it is obvious to the eye. When he sheds, his short white hairs stick all over the fabric. At first, I had it all under control. Of course I would keep my house as clean as it was pre-Isaac. I would keep the red couch hair-free by covering it with blankets and sheets. The sheets would catch his hair and keep it from sticking in the cushions.
I was right for 12 hours--the time that it took for Isaac to figure out how to remove the sheets, throw them on the floor, and snuggle into the red cushion.
Of course, I still had it under control with a plan B. I would clean the couch every night with a lint brush. Twenty sheets of sticky paper later, the couch seemed to have no less white than before. My arms were sore from rolling the lint brush back and forth and back and forth.
But I still had it under control! Wal-Mart had a sale on handheld vacuums with a rechargeable battery. After one cushion, I was leaping for joy. It was hair free and bright red again! Then, halfway through the second cushion, it puttered to silence. There had been so much hair on the first cushion that the battery power was already out.
Did I really have the white hair under control? Well, yes, and how could anyone think otherwise? I bought a special comb, made especially for getting pet hair off of furniture. I would comb and comb and the white hair into piles, then run the handheld vacuum quickly, before the battery ran out.
Then, the comb fell apart.
Okay. Maybe, just maybe, I admitted that I was powerless over the shedding of Isaac's white hair on the red couch, and my life had become unmanageable.
Insights from Isaac, and all of God's creatures, usually arise when I finally practice acceptance. That's when I can finally hear God saying what He was probably trying to say back when I put the sheets on the couch.
A broken "couch comb" in my hand and a dead vacuum in my lap, I sunk into the familiar red cushion and sighed. Isaac jumped next to me and shook his whole body in joy before lying next to me. Hair spun like snow off of him and settled on me, the couch, the vacuum, and the comb. And for the first time, it was okay with me.
Pet hair on a piece of furniture or a corner of the room tells us that our furry friends have been present. Even when I don't see Isaac lying on the red couch, his white hairs are a sign that he had been there. Even when he is absent from the cushions, he is present in the snowy trail he left behind.
During Advent, we wait for God to be with us. We do not see with our eyes the face that Mary saw in the manger. We do not hear the same angel's voice that the shepherds heard. We do not smell the honey-coated locusts of John the Baptist (unless you're whipping up some unusual recipes for Christmas gifts). Yet, we are surrounded by signs of God's presence -- indicators that he has come and is coming again. Think of the songs we sing each Advent and Christmas. Think of the faces of children when the lights on a tree are turned on. Think of the brush of your arm against another's as you hand them a gift, perhaps the only one they will receive this Christmas. God is with us in the trail of white-haired love, joy, and peace that we find in each other--and in worshipping him.
In John 14:9, Jesus says to his confused friend, Phillip, "Anyone who has seen Me has seen the Father." When we see signs of Jesus in one another, we see Emmanuel. When we see Emmanuel, we see our Heavenly Father with us. When we stop to see the white hairs, we see that they are signs of love that come from God. May the remaining week of Advent bring us such signs, and may we stop to see and hear and taste and feel and smell those signs. May we savor them. May we be covered in them.
all good things to each of you, Pastor Darian & and Paw-stor Isaac
Addendum: I received a remarkable vacuum cleaner for my birthday that actually does make the red couch red again with little effort. I use it weekly. Otherwise, I take time to enjoy the white hairs.
Read more from Darian Duckworth at her blog.