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I raced to rinse the shampoo out of my hair, glaring at the shower head as it sent icy projectiles toward my body. I couldn’t pay the gas bill, which meant no heat, no hot water and no stove or oven.
Thankfully, it was still autumn, so my little trailer warmed up enough during the heat of the day, making it bearable without heat. But it still got a little chilly in the morning and evening. For little J., I microwaved water in my largest bowl and added it to his bathwater. As far as food preparation goes, any food that we cooked had to be made in the microwave or grilled.
Of course, I didn’t tell anyone. I was so ashamed that I couldn’t take care of J. and myself on my own. My plan was to become current on the gas bill over the summer and get my gas reconnected before winter so that we could heat our home. But now, it was September, and I had the money for the bill, but not for the restart fee.
I knelt beside my bed. “Lord,” I prayed, “You know what we have need of before we even ask. Please help me to take care of this gas bill before winter. Thank you for hearing my prayers. I ask in Jesus’ name. Amen.”
The phone rang. It was Steve. “Hi! How’s my favorite nanny today?”
“Oh, hi Steve. I’m fine. Did you need someone to watch the kids for you?” I guessed this because every time he called me a “nanny”, it was because he needed a babysitter. He seemed to be able to do what I was unable to do. He could ask for help. As a widower and a salesman, he needed childcare at the drop of a hat. I was sure that I was first on his list.
“Could you?” he answered, “I have a late appointment tonight. So I was hoping I could drop the kids off around six. Could the kids sleep over? I’ll pick them up from church tomorrow morning.”
“Sure! It will be fun!” I wondered what I would feed the children without a stove or oven.
I peered into my refrigerator. I had hamburger thawing, but what was I going to make in the microwave with hamburger?
There was a knock at the door.
“Hello, Vince!” Vince was the assistant to the association manager at the trailer park.
“Hi, Kim. I came here to give you this,” he paused. “I’m sorry.”
I looked at the bright yellow card. This card is to inform you that if your grass isn’t cut in the next two days you will be charged $40 for the park landscapers.
“My lawnmower is broken,” I sighed, “$40! But, my lot is the size of a postage stamp.”
“They try to make it expensive enough so that people won’t rely on the groundsmen mowing their lawn.”
“I see…well, thanks Vince.”
The screen door slammed between us. Overwhelmed, tears began to fill my eyes. I covered my face and took a deep breath.
J. looked up from his game of Mario Kart. “What’s wrong Mama?”
“It’s nothing. Mama’s being silly. God will take care of us. He always does. Your friends are coming over later!” I often tried to change the subject when I was caught in an emotional moment.
I went out to the shed and found the garden clippers. My yard is the size of a postage stamp when using an electric lawn mower, but it’s the size of Wrigley Field when trying to cut the lawn with garden clippers, I thought.
The late morning sun was already warmer than I’d expected, and I wanted to finish before Steve and the kids came over. Clip. Clip. Chop. After about an hour, the yard started resembling a child with a bad haircut. Tufts of long grass stood above parts that were hacked short to the ground. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t get it even. Open blisters began to form on my soft, unworked hands.
I saw my neighbor, Mrs. Olsen. Looking through her window while doing dishes, she dried her hands. I sighed. I knew that she was going to offer to help in some way, and I felt guilty. She was the elderly, widowed woman. I should be helping her.
“Dear! What are you doing?” she asked after opening her window.
Standing up from a crouch I answered, “Vince came by to let me know that if I let my grass get any longer that I was going to be charged $40 for maintenance to come and mow my lawn. My lawn mower is broken.”
“Why don’t you borrow mine? In fact, I have an old push mower you can have.”
“Oh, Mrs. Olsen, I couldn’t.”
“Why couldn’t you? I’m not using it.”
“Really?” My voice caught in my throat, “That would be so wonderful.”
“It’s too hard for me to push, and my son bought me one of those new fangled self-propelled mowers.”
“Thank you so much!” My hands and my back were relieved, but my soul was sick. I should be the one blessing Mrs. Olsen, not the other way around.
The new lawn mower was a little rusty and hard to push, but at least it cut evenly. I rushed to finish before Steve and the kids got to the house.
Sweat trickled down the back of my neck, and I remembered how cold the shower would be later. I took a break to start the grill. I only had three matches. Pouring the liquid starter on the coals, I struck the first of the three. The wind blew it out. I struck another. The coals did not catch. As I held the last match in my hand, Steve’s familiar mini-van pulled up.
The kids poured out of the car, one hugging each of my legs. Steve ambled to the grill.
“What have you been up to, today?” Steve had a knack for asking the one question that would irritate you most.
My throat was tight from the tears wanting to spill out as a flowing river. But I swallowed them away. “Just stuff around the house,” I said.
“Want me to start the coal for you?”
“Sure,” I was thankful to give the responsibility of that last match to someone else.
A breeze picked up, the match blew out.
“Can you get me some more matches? This one blew out.”
“Oh, dear. I think that was my last one,” I answered as casually as I could.
“No big deal. You have a gas stove, right?”
He bent down and picked up a stick. “I’ll start this stick on fire on your stove, and then start the coals.”
“No, that’s okay,” I practically panted. He can’t find out! “I need to get matches anyway. I’ll go to the store and get some. The coal can wait.”
“That’s silly! You don’t want to throw all of the kids in the car just to get some matches.” He was walking up the stairs. “I’ll just go in and start this stick on fire. I only hope I can keep it burning all the way to the grill.”
I was feeling panicky. How could I stop him? I didn’t want this truth exposed! I ran up the stairs past him.
“Maybe I have some matches somewhere else.” I started opening drawers everywhere, praying for a book of matches.
Steve walked up to the stove. He turned the dial. Nothing happened. He turned the dial again. I shut the drawer I was looking in, afraid to look up.
From the corner of my eye, I could see that Steve was facing me. Opening another drawer, I pretended to fiddle around. He came behind me and closed it.
“Your gas is shut off, isn’t it?” he whispered.
The stress of the day caught up with me, and I could only nod because of the tears spilling from my eyes. He reached over and held me, and I cried. I cried because of the months of cold showers. I cried because of the blisters on my hands. But mostly, I cried because I felt naked and exposed, and yet somehow relieved.
“How long has it been off?”
I was still in his arms, and it was beginning to feel a little awkward. I pried my sweaty, dirty self away and grabbed a napkin to blow my nose on. “It’s been a few months.”
“Why didn’t you tell anyone?” he asked.
“Because, I didn’t want to be a burden on anyone. I wanted to know that it was God who took care of it, not my whining.”
“Well, God is taking care of it. He’s taking care of it by using me. Here,” he grabbed a napkin, “You have charcoal on your face.” He was gently wiping my forehead. “I’ve got an idea. I think I’ll call my appointment to see if I can reschedule. Why don’t you clean up the best you can without any hot water, and I’ll take you and the kids out to eat?”
“I don’t know. You need to work, and….”
“And nothing,” he plopped down on my couch, “I’m not moving until you say yes.”
As I took that last freezing shower, I went over the events of the afternoon. I remembered the prayer on my knees that morning, and I was thankful for friends and neighbors who were willing to help. I was thankful to have shared my burden with such a kind heart. But most of all, I was grateful that God answered my need, in spite of the pride.
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