Disconcerting is the only word for it.
This past Sunday was a fine, relaxing, normal day out here in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains. Well, not exactly normal. My wife, Marilyn, was away up north visiting the grandkids, so I was alone taking care of the cats, chickens, birds, raccoons, squirrels, and deer. When I sloughed out of bed, made coffee, and glanced out the window, I saw a herd of white tail deer feeding in our front yard. The leader of the herd lifted its head and our eyes met. With a nod, she said they’d allow me one more day in their domicile.
After more than enough coffee, my morning devotions, and the usual rituals, I dressed and went off to Mass at St. Ann’s Parish. A fine, reverent, and respectful Norvus Ordo, followed by an intimate visit with our Eucharistic Lord.
It was such a nice, chilly, but clear Winter’s day, I decided, after some fellowship with our fine friends at our small country parish, to take a drive out through the country. In town, I stopped at a deli, bought some cold cuts and cheese, and then took a round-about route home through our beautiful countryside. I’m constantly amazed how generous our Lord was to let us live here—and also grateful that God has given us the grace to appreciate what so many others just bellyache about. “Eye of the beholder” and all that, what?
Once home, I made myself lunch, and then wasted the next hour in front of what my baby-boomer generation called the “boob tube”.
After nodding off a few times, I figured I’d wasted enough of a beautiful day, so I forced myself up out of the grips of my Lazy-boy. I’d been loaning a car to my youngest son, but, for a number of reasons, it had been left here at our house. So, I decided to drive it to where they were staying, and then get some exercise walking home.
But when I started backing the car out, I noticed the left front tire was low. So, I thought it only fatherly of me to fix this before returning it. I got the air compressor out, and with a long extension cord, plugged it into an external receptacle and then stretched the hose to the vehicle. After topping off the one low tire, I moved the compressor back onto the wooden deck, and drove on over to Richard’s.
He, Katie, and I had a nice Sunday afternoon catching up—we never seem to make the time—and then I returned their afternoon to them by leaving for home. Again, what a great day! So, I made some detours through the woods and fields of our property, passing a fallen tree I need to cut up, a culvert I need to repair, and a potential path I hope to cut through a dense woods for the benefit of our grandkids.
Arriving home, after more than sufficient exercise, I prepared a snack, and planted myself in front of one of my favorite murder mystery series.
All of a sudden, after ten minutes into the plot, a loud rumbling noise shook the house! It woke me straight up out of a snooze! I jumped up wondering what the h____! But before I could identify what it was, it quit! My first guess was that it had something to do with the new gas furnace. We’d had problems with it recently, but a repairman had come and gone, fixed it, telling me how to analyze and fix the problem next time by myself. But now that the sound had ceased, I returned half awake to the murder mystery.
Fifteen minutes later, the rumbling returned, seemingly louder, causing me to jump even higher out of my snooze! I started for the stairs to the basement, but again it quit. “Dang! It has to be that lousy furnace,” I grumbled to myself as I descended the stairs. “This new one has given me more problems than that old one ever did! Or was it that d___ repairman? They never know what they’re doing!”
I removed the furnace cover, and checked the two colored lights that were to tell me, by the Key Codes, what was wrong with the furnace. But both the green and the red lights were on, which indicated the furnace was working fine! “Dang! What’s going on?” I replaced the furnace cover, and waited. Sure enough, the furnace cycled on without a problem. “Oh, well,” I reassured myself, “whatever was wrong is OK now.” I returned upstairs.
Then fifteen minutes later it did it again, on for a few seconds and then off. Was it the dishwasher? Don’t think so. The refrigerator? No. What was it?! The herd of deer reminding me this was their home by running across the porch?!
And then Marilyn called to catch up. She’d been enjoying the afternoon with two of our granddaughters, and was filling me in on their antics.
It was still such a nice afternoon, I decided to walk outside onto the upper deck to stroll as we talked. I casually descended down the deck steps to the ground floor deck, listening as Marilyn described how she and the girls were enjoying the many dolls my mother had left them, when all of a sudden the rumbling returned, even louder, shaking the entire house! To top it off, this was accentuated by one of our cats jumping about seven feet into the air! I turned toward the sound, and instantly, knew what it was—what it had been all along.
It wasn’t the furnace; it wasn’t any shoddy workmanship by the more than capable furnace repairman; or the dishwasher or refrigerator, or a herd of deer gone berzerk; it was the air compressor. I had left it plugged in, and periodically it had turned itself back on to repressurize itself. This was no surprise to me; this happens every time I use this old compressor. I just had forgotten that I’d left it plugged it. The problem wasn’t the furnace, the furnace repairman, or the air compressor. The problem was me.
You ever done this? Think something was stollen, and ready to blame some phantom thief, or worse, one of your grandchildren, only to discover the item was right where you’d left it? Or find something broken, and ready to blame anyone else but yourself, only to be reminded that you had forgotten that you had broken it yourself? Or in the present case, think something was horrendously wrong, ready to blame anything or anyone else, only to discover it was wrong through your own stupidity?
Well, maybe you’ve never done this, but I have. And it’s not so much that I’m always ready to blame someone else, or that I’m always resistant to accepting blame. Rather, I’ve learned to recognize these incidents as moments of grace—when God in His loving mercy, and humor, has decided it was time to give me another needed dose of humility.
As I watched that air compressor rumbling away, startling our unsuspecting cat, and remembered how oblivious I was to causing it myself, I laughed at myself, grateful that God is so mercifully loving to care enough to play this trick on me—to remind me that a moment doesn’t go by when our lives aren’t somehow in His constant providential care.
And that, even as I enjoyed all the blessings of the day—of being able to go to Mass and visit with our friends, to drive though the countryside and stop by a deli for food, to drive over to visit my youngest son and his recent bride, to walk through our woods and verdant fields, to look eye to eye with that beautiful white-tailed doe, and for Marilyn to have time and opportunity to visit with our grandchildren—all of this that we too often take for granted, that so many other people in this world wish they, too, could experience, all of this is a gift of God’s merciful grace.
What does it take to startle you out of your daily complacency to remember how much you owe to your loving Creator’s mercy and love? Sadly, more often than not, when most people have something like this happen to them, they just cast it aside, ignoring the message, missing the beckoning call of God. Or when something goes unexpectedly well, they write it off as coincidence or luck or their own amazing wisdom or skill, missing the true source of God’s merciful, loving, forgiving generosity.
In his classic book, Introduction to the Spiritual Life, St. Francis de Sales wrote about recognizing these kinds of inspirations:
By inspirations we mean all those interior attractions, movements of the heart, pangs of conscience, and illuminations of the mind by which God, in his fatherly love and care, prevents our hearts with his blessings, to awaken, stir, urge, and attract us to virtue, charity and good resolutions, in fact to everything that serves our eternal good. … As it is a good and healthy sign if we take pleasure in listening to the word of God, so it is a good thing and pleasing to God if we take delight in his interior inspirations” (II, 18).
Oh, I’m not going to be so presumptuous to declare definitively that my absent-minded incident with the compressor was an inspiration of God comparable to God’s “still small voice” to Elijah, or through the voice of an ass to Balaam, or the voice of Jesus that knocked Paul off his horse—well, for me, possibly closer to Balaam’s ass. But yet, I know—as do most of you—from years of experience, that when we’re listening, God does speak, even when He has to use the voice of a compressor to awaken dense souls like me.
So, what has God used recently to get your attention?