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Issue 8-09

Why Didn't I Do That Sooner?

“Why didn’t I do that sooner?”

Have you ever asked yourself this question? I usually slip into a state of bemused amazement when a task I’ve been putting off for months (or years) takes all of ten minutes (or an hour, or half a day) to complete. Suddenly, the onerous chore, the very thought of which filled me with dread, is done. I am overwhelmed with the warmth of job-well-done satisfaction.

This summer I’ve been forced to face a character flaw, something off-kilter in my basic makeup. I put off for months (years, sometimes!) household tasks I don’t want to undertake. This tendency has been counterbalanced by one son, who shames me into finishing hated projects.

“You know, Mom, this looks awful out here!” Joel Mains commented one summer about the weed garden at our front door. He was right—it did look awful. I had hauled paving bricks from the city when we moved to the West Chicago house in 1977. Some had been laid for the front walk, but 22 years later the rest were still hunkering up against the west side of the house. The plan for a front-door patio garden was hidden in my head.

At my not-too-gentle instigation, David laid out the bricks for a patio (with Joel lending a hand at crucial paving moments). I hacked out the invasive ground cover the former owners had planted, and pulled up the black plastic, which had been laid everywhere around the house foundation as a plant block. Then, monitoring sun patterns, I amended the clay soil, moved in the bulbs and shrubs and daylilies and flowering plants so I would have the gardener’s coveted “continuous bloom” from spring through fall.

I love my front patio garden. The bush I planted at the corner has now grown and hides me from the street when I have coffee outside in the morning and do the “Quick Cross” puzzle in my USA Today newspaper. And the trellis I hauled from the Kane County Flea Market is now twined with Dutchman's Pipe Vine, Aristolochia macrophyllai, covered in the spring with little green hanging pipes. It too gives me anonymity from joggers and strollers and dog-walkers and makes an inviting entrance to the secret place where I sit unnoticed, resting from the day’s tasks.

“Did you just plant all that?” asks a Covenant Group member who has been coming to my house for some 13 years. (The garden appears to be a really secret one!)

I love it out on my front patio garden. Why in the world didn’t we finish this sooner?

“Mom!” Joel again, recently. “If you get your garage cleaned out, you’ll be able to put the cars inside.” Well, we only have one car now since I totaled the station wagon, so we ought to be able to manage that. Our adult children pitched into a fund to pay for a few things we needed—a worktable, some new pegboard. (And in the winter, snowplowing for our circle driveway. Our daughter watched her dad slip on the ice and fall on his back, and our adult kids felt we needed to keep that from happening again.) Then, they each donated a couple of garage-intensive labor hours. But the major chore was up to me—organizing 46 years of accumulated Christmas boxes (and spring and fall and summer boxes and canning equipment—my boxes and my canning equipment) so we could move everything to the attic and clear the garage floor. That took me a month of concentrated “an hour a day, every day” discipline.

In the midst of cleaning what was left in the garage after the seasonal decorative boxes were moved, I found a door weathering strip. It was tucked into a corner, and I vaguely remembered buying it to put on the back door—another decades-old purchase! Why hadn’t I replaced the yucky, cruddy, back-door weathering strip before?

Holding it against the back door, I suddenly remembered. The replacement weathering strip was about three inches too long! I had simply stuck it in the garage corner and forgotten about it.

But I’m a different woman than I was decades ago. Now, I have an adult son who cares enough about me to shame me into action! I also know that any metal can be cut, drilled, hacked or blowtorched if you have the right tool. And I now own various metal dividers. And what’s more, I know where all the metal haws, snips, hacks and files are stored!

In a couple minutes, I crowbarred off the old strip, scrubbed the wood beneath it, measured the new metal length, clipped off three inches and pounded nails through the manufacturer-provided holes.

Why hadn’t I done this before?

Very simple. I didn’t know how. I wasn’t aware that metal could be cut. I didn’t have a son pushing me to do things I don’t like to do (I like them done, but I don’t like to do them to done). I didn’t understand the lore of clipping, snipping and chiseling. I didn’t have any metal-cutting tools. And I had totally forgotten about this little project.

I did take some basic electrical training in a required home-economics class in high school. With a little further oversight from my dad, and under his cautious scrutiny, I performed some early electrical work (hanging chandeliers). In the last year I’ve installed dimmers, repaired the switch on two living-room lamps and rewired matching Chinese-style bedside lamps for my daughter. We found them for $3 at a Goodwill store, and the parts probably cost me about $20. I HIGHLY recommend Black & Decker Wiring 101: 25 Projects You Really Can Do Yourself. Check out “Replacing a Broken Plug,” “Fixing a Pull-Chain Switch” or “Installing a Programmable Thermostat,” The first project I do all the time, particularly on vacuum cleaners; the last two projects I have on my list.

If you buy the book, I strongly advise you begin with the section “Turning Off the Power.”

This spring I rewired the two chandeliers that hang over my dining room table on a track so I can adjust them when the table is extended to full length. Had some trouble with this. Rewired the first chandelier a little wrong, but when I took the second one apart, I used it as a model to redo the first one again. Once up on the track lighting, one dining-room dimmer turned on both lights—there are two dimmers, one for each chandelier. Back to the drawing board; the next try was another malfunction, but the third try was the charm. Each chandelier responds to the appropriate dimmer; the right dimmer makes the right light grow brighter, and the left dimmer controls the left light. See! This is how it’s supposed to work. I will say that I do stick with a job until it is done right.

So. I can do fix-it-up stuff when just a few elements come together. Someone to prod me. Someone to introduce me to the discipline. A few successful attempts. Someone to call on when things go wrong. A template to study. A 101 manual. Oh, and yes, I shamelessly watch the tradesmen who fix things when I find the money to hire one. I ask them how to use certain tools. “Lady,” said the last professional, “you can fix that pull-chain light yourself. There are only two wires to attach.” Consequently, a place on the to-do list.

All this brings me to the thoughts I’ve been working with through this spring—Why don’t we have deeper spiritual growth when we in the Western church have so many spiritual resources?

•  Why haven’t I read through the Bible before?
•  Why don’t I give God quality time in my schedule?
•  Why have I put off doing the things I believe God created me to do?
•  Why am I still suffering from that signature sin that has marked my life way too long?
•  Why does my life seem spiritually insignificant or dysfunctional?

Why haven’t we gotten to all the spiritual things that we know need doing sooner?

Ah, well, it’s all there in my little metal back-door weather-stripping metaphor.

•  Sometimes, we just don’t know how.
•  Sometimes, we don’t have the right tools.
•  Sometimes, we can’t find anyone who will share their expertise.
•  Sometimes, we just forget we wanted to do this spiritual project.
•  Sometimes, we don’t have a human nag who says, “And why haven’t you gotten around to this?”

So. When was the last time you asked yourself, Why didn’t I do this before?Why didn’t I do this sooner—look at the joy I’ve missed—? or What keeps me from pulling it all together? or What is really wrong with me?

I asked all these questions of myself multiple times this summer. Because the irony here is this: I love order. I love a clean attic. I love it when I know where to find tools, foodstuffs, notes from friends, certain books. I love that my cupboard shelves are marked with organizing labels from my Brother “P-touch” label-maker. It is really, really neat to be able to get the car in the garage. I am rapturous when the garden is weeded, the plants are watered, when a canopy of green shelters the yard, when the smell of newly cut grass perfumes the early evening. I love it when the path of river stones wends its way through the new peony garden (something I’ve seen in my mind’s eye for years—why haven’t I done this before?). I am happy—happy, happy, happy—with all this progress. So what is it—in me—that has made me neglectful, wasteful, slothful and forgetful regarding the materiality of my own life?

And (chillingly) how much of this is an outward symbol that exposes a corresponding inward spiritual reality—a neglectful, slothful, wasteful, forgetful quality in my relationship with God?

So?—why haven’t you done it (whatever “it” is) sooner?

Karen Mains


If you are looking for a spiritual companion, director, soul mentor — someone who is trained to walk the spiritual way with you and if you are in the Chicago area, please contact us at . AND — if you are trained as a spiritual companion, director, soul mentor and have room in your schedule for another mentoree, please contact us at . We’ll try to expedite spiritual matchmaking here in the office.

Exciting News!

We are so pleased to announce that Carla Boelkens has agreed to become the Director of the Global Bag Project. Carla, who has been ministering internationally for years, traveled with Karen Mains to Africa in March of 2008 and has been a partner in developing this microcredit outreach in the year since. Starting in July, Carla will ease into this position by keeping her part-time job and working one day a week, then increase her hours as the Global Bag Project grows. A small office adjoining our Mainstay Ministries suite has been made available to us by our building manager for a most reasonable fee of $150 a month. We will need, however, to furnish it. A computer desk, a relatively new computer, furniture to set up a shipping and mailing center, and storage units are essential. If you are downsizing, or know of some offices that no longer need these items, please let us know.

Even starting up a small office (and starting cautiously) means there will be expenses, so any donations to support the Global Bag Project office would be greatly appreciated. Checks can be made out to Hungry Souls, marked for the Global Bag Project and mailed to Hungry Souls, Box 30, Wheaton, IL, 60187.


The Soulish Food e-mails are being posted biweekly on the Hungry Souls Web site. Newcomers can look that over and decide if they want to register on the Web site to receive the biweekly newsletter. You might want to recommend this to friends also. They can go to

Karen Mains

Karen Mains

"All this brings me to the thoughts I’ve been working with through this spring—
'Why don’t we have deeper spiritual growth when we in the Western church have so many spiritual resources?'"

Book Corner


"Black & Decker Wiring 101:
25 Projects You Really Can Do Yourself"

By Jodie Carter

Excerpt from page 5:


The first two pages of each project give you the background information and any technical understanding that will be helpful to understanding what you're about to do. You'll learn about the skills required, get an idea of how long the project might take, and see all the tools and materials you'll need to gather to do a project.

Then, turn the page and begin. Virtually every step is photographed so you'll see exactly how to do the work, and along the way you'll find helpful sidebars that show you what to do if something unexpected happens, tips for using tools correctly, safety recommendations, and more. Before you know it, you'll notch up another home-repair success.

It's that easy. Really.

Buy from

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