Thursday, 10 January 2013

Stress in the Mess

It didn’t seem like such a big deal to take down the original acoustic ceiling tiles in the basement ceiling and hire electricians to replace our bungalow’s knob and tube wiring according to current (!) standards. When we began the preparation, I was amused by my costume of a dust mask, goggles and ball cap (don’t scare the horses). It was fun ripping out dozens of nails with a crowbar, pretending I was young and strong…until I moaned, “Okay. I’m done” and left my husband to do more than his share of the labour.

We collected estimates (web-search, emails, appointments made, cancelled and re-booked) and settled on a company owned by a good-natured young Master Electrician. Although the trappings of Christmas hadn’t even been packed away, the work began shortly after New Year’s Day.

As everyone knows, once you start even the smallest of house renovations, a troop of problems…I mean "possibilities"… pops up. We couldn’t leave the work site for long because, especially with an old house, frequent decisions have to be made on the spur of the moment. 
Wasn’t that supposed to be a dimmer switch? Is that outlet plate crooked? Are we planning to drywall there? Should this ceiling fixture be replaced? How little electricity do we need for surviving overnight? Wait – the bathroom has no lights –catch the truck before they leave!

By the third day, there were six young men hard at work throughout the house, clomping around in work boots and tool belts. The way their clothes and hands shed dirt reminds me of PigPen in Peanuts. 

Furniture, from a baby grand piano to wastebaskets had to be piled in the centre of each room so that wall outlets were accessible. Drop-cloths covering the floors were soon littered with bits of wallboard, screws and sawdust. 
I kept flinging bed sheets over bookshelves and dressers, fearing a nightmare of dusting and damp-wiping our forty years worth of vases, candle-holders and books. Before I could get to a room, favourite art pieces got shoved into corners, or single switches were installed where two were supposed to go. 
The air filled with clouds of dust and the buzz of electric drills as we stepped over gigantic spools of wire and connected our own extension cords so that we could make tea or use our desktop computer. 
At one point there was exactly one useable chair in the building. There I sat, trying to read Lauren Winner’s new book while I waited for the next consultation and counted the minutes until the gang would leave for the day.


My husband and I both have noticed unusual fatigue and tension in our bodies. Our minds spin with aspects of the project and new questions we need to ask. We have little energy for any optional errands or events. We’re feeling the effects of stress.

For once we’d had the sense to think ahead about the personal/spiritual challenges of starting the construction project. We knew we’d better find the kind of light that doesn’t depend on electricity. As the days went by, we talked to each other and we talked to God. We prayed for patience and self-control in our interaction with our workers. We asked for a kind and compassionate attitude as well as the strength and wisdom to stand firm for fair business practice. 
We relieved some of our stress by going out for yummy food, taking a brisk walk in the winter sun, and watching DVD’s on the laptop instead of our disconnected TV. 
We reminded ourselves that only the wealthy in this world have the luxury of renovation frustration like ours. We listed some of the many reasons we have to be thankful and thought about what really matters in life. 

Despite the feelings of stress, so far we haven’t said anything we regret, and have had cheerful conversations with the electrical crew. No panic at miscommunications; no breakdowns over the chaos and dirt (well, hardly any). We wish we were spiritual superstars, filled with a peace that leaves no room for negative stress, but…

If, on occasion, you feel as wimpy as we do when it comes to ordinary stressors like home improvement, we recommend turning toward the light. 
Christ's promise applies to things minor and major:
I am the light of the world. 
Anyone who follows me 
will never walk in the darkness
but will have the light of life.