For the last two years, I have lived in a cute little duplex on a quiet side street off a major Atlanta road. Set on a large lawn next to a peaceful creek and surrounded by massive pine trees and blooming hydrangeas, the house has perfect for two graduate students stumbling through their studies. The house is so quaint and the space so verdant that my dad even nicknamed it “the Shire” after the hobbits’ home in Lord of the Rings. And the name fits. The house is small, but cozy; tucked away, but not isolated; wild, but well kept…
… and very, very quirky.
I know that every house—even the suburban cookie-cutter variety—has its quirks, but I’m afraid mine has more than its fair share. And during the last two years, my roommate Maria and I had our share of fun discovering them.
The first was the “fog horn”, as we semi-affectionately called it. It began as a faint sound in the pipes, and it would last for a second or two after we used the bathroom sink. But over the next few days, it began to grow louder and louder. While we fiddled with the faucet as best we could, discovering ways to make the sound temporarily quieter, the noise continued. Over the next week or so, the fog horn became louder and more frequent, now happening whenever we turned on the shower, used the kitchen sink, and flushed the toilet. After it became clear that the problem was getting worse, we told our landlady (who lives in the adjoining duplex unit), and she promised to call a plumber. By the time he arrived, the fog horn had become its own veritable amplifier, vibrating the floorboards in Maria’s room and growing so loud that even our landlady could hear it. After three separate visits, the plumber finally managed to eradicate the fog horn, at least temporarily. He also did messed up our hot water, so for a few days our showers were not very warm. Before his next visit, we left him the note below, and he fixed it:
The washer-dryer unit provided the next quirk. Because of my chronic fear of shrinking my clothes, I don’t use the dryer very often. I do, however, dry all of my whites (because, let’s be honest, air-dried socks simply aren’t very fluffy). After washing and drying my sheets for the first time, I noticed something strange: my otherwise white pillow case had sprouted what looked like a tan-colored mustache. On further examination, I discovered similar mustaches on my fitted sheets and several of my wife-beaters. Puzzled by these facial-hair-shaped tattoos, I continued to study my laundry, looking for an explanation. Eventually I found it: the dryer had burned the corners of the tags on the sheets, which had then tattooed my laundry. Having solved the mystery, I cut off the tags and called it good.
And everything was good, until one fateful day in January my roommate and I smelled something burning. Concerned that our duplex was on fire, we rushed to the kitchen only to discover that, though our house was okay, our washing machine was not. The smell was coming from the agitator’s engine, which had decided to give up the ghost. For the next few days, we crossed our fingers and hoped it would revive itself, but our positive vibes were futile. The washer-dryer unit was toast. And thanks to our reluctance to tell our landlady—and an unexpected Georgia snow storm—we didn’t get a replacement for a couple more weeks. Which meant that our dirty laundry piles soon looked like this:
There have been several other strange quirks (like the time we thought our heater was broken, but we had actually just been paying someone else’s gas bill for the past 6 months. Whoops.), and I can’t go into detail about all of them here. However, there is one more that I’d like to mention before calling it a day:
As I’ve learned over the last three years, bugs are a natural part of life in Georgia. In the summer, there are tons of mosquitos, and in the winter, I shouldn’t be surprised by the occasional spider or cockroach (although I absolutely hate the latter and selfishly asked Maria to kill them on more than one occasion). But these bug sightings are usually so rare that they don’t cause a significant problem. However, this spring our quirky little house became home to a different sort of six-legged critter, and before we knew it, we were hosts to an ant infestation.
I usually don’t mind ants. They work hard, are super strong, and generally mind their own business. And when I saw the first few ants in our kitchen, I didn’t really care. After all, how much harm can a few ants do? But then one morning as I was eating a bowl of non-cornflakes cereal, I discovered an ant that had drowned in the milk. I then grabbed the cereal box, and to my horror, I saw dozens of ants crawling around inside, contaminating my precious, gluten-free sugared cereal. This had officially gone TOO far, and now the ants had to go.
And so, my roommate and I purchased ant traps—lots of them—and stuck them all over our kitchen, in our cabinets, and especially next to anything containing food. The solution worked for a little while (hiding my cereal in the refrigerator may also have helped), and the mini ants disappeared. But as soon as I put my cereal back in the cabinet, I realized that, though they’d gone, a family of bigger and uglier ants had moved in. And to make matters worse, these ants were apparently invincible. They wouldn’t die even though I watched them eat the ant poison. AHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!
And to make matters even worse, I am 99.9% sure that I could have prevented this entire ant-invasion. A few days before the first cereal catastrophe, I watched a solitary ant crawl across the kitchen countertop. My first thought was, “Oh, that’s probably the scout ant, finding a route for his buddies.” My mind jumped back to last spring when a similar thing had happened; I killed the initial ant and no more had come. But instead of acting on my impulse to get rid of the ant, I simply left the kitchen and returned to my homework. And then, almost on cue, our house was soon overrun by ants.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about this ant-infestation, wondering what it may be able to teach me (besides not to buy sugary cereal), and finally it hit me: I oftentimes react to sin like I did to the ants. Whether it’s worry, laziness, selfishness, bitterness or anything else that’s less-than-godly, I usually have a moment when I see the problem coming—the initial ant, if you will—and I think to myself, “Gee, I should probably deal with this before it gets worse.” But more often than not, I just continue on my merry way and try to ignore it, hoping it will go away on its own. Then before I know it, my mind and life are overrun with emotional ants. What might have easily been stamped out with a few moments alone or a simple prayer of confession has suddenly mushroomed out of my control. Yes, God is faithful and He can help me through it; however, the mess could have likely been avoided in the first place if I had simply paid attention to my gut instincts—and the Holy Spirit’s prodding—and acted accordingly. Maybe that’s what Paul means when he says not to “give the devil a foothold.” If we give him or our own sinful tendencies an inch, chances are they’ll take a mile.
God is merciful, and when we mess up, He provides us with the grace and forgiveness we need to make things right. However, through His Holy Spirit, He also gives us the ability to recognize many issues before they happen—and the strength to avoid them. Certainly, it’s not always that simple, and sometimes problems truly do sneak up on us. But, if I’m honest with myself, I can usually look back and pinpoint the “scout ant” that indicated what was coming. And I pray that, as I grow closer to Christ, He would help me recognize my sin and give me the grace take it out–before it takes me over.
Alright, that’s enough for today. It’s time for lunch. Maybe I’ll eat some cereal… 😉