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Issue 9-07

Reconstruction Project: Mess Upon Mess

The first time we had water damage in the basement was two years after we moved into the West Chicago house; the snowfall on January 13-14, 1979 totaled 18.8 inches and was so heavy that many roofs collapsed from the weight. Ours just leaked as the frost line backed up under the eaves, hit interior warm air, thawed in the attic, then dripped through the walls, staining and puddling on the newly finished basement. That was the year when everyone shoveled snow from their roofs. Our four kids, having finished clearing our roof beams from imminent danger, just jumped off into snow mounds rather than descending via the ladders.

The next damage was when the sump pumps went out leaving a water line marking the rough sawn cedar siding with a stain like a financial price chart zigzagging the rise and fall of a volatile stock market—except this chart stained the floorboards on three walls.

Somewhere in this chronicle of flooding, the washing machine “under-flowed,” water rushing out of its mechanical underbelly; on another occasion the utility sink became clogged and overflowed. Everything has to be moved when water seeps across a surface or mildew and mold will cohabit under furniture legs and creep beneath linoleum and tile. The temptation, to which I have succumbed more times than I can count, is to test dry surfaces and conclude that everything has dried, when in truth, it is only the top of things that is no longer sodden.

One of the children left a frozen faucet in the on-position. This unfroze one sunny Sunday morning, filling the sink, then seeped through the dining room ceiling, greeting us with a most unwelcome waterfall effect when we returned home from attending church in the city. The seep marks on the south side basement, two floors down, now matched the seep marks on the north side from our original “too-much-snow-on-the-roof” scenario.

A pipe froze in the furnace room when the electrician left the foundation window ajar to “draw the air through the house” so the erratic furnace would work better. (What was he thinking?) The financial graph water stain on the footboard now spread to the west side of the basement. Fans dried the carpeting—at least on top where the fingertip test could assess moisture. Who knows what was breeding beneath the carpet’s surface density?

We repaired one crack in the foundation, realized we could not let the drains ever (EVER) get clogged with leaves and twigs from our wooded property. A waterproofing subcontractor was contacted and two more cracks—one in the furnace room and one in the toy closet—were sealed.

Finally, we endured the coup de grace; a high wind storm tore through our little city several Septembers ago. The electricity was out for three days, rains continued, the sump pumps were decommissioned without power and water rushed through the window wells and up through the drains. Now we had major water damage. It was time to call the insurance company, wait for the adjustor to examine the damage and file a claim.

It has taken David and myself 2 1/2 years since to get up the energy (and the time) to haul stuff out of the basement, dump mildewed books and bookcases, stain the damaged cedar siding, pry up and replace the water-eroded footboards, scrape the walls where the texture paint was bubbled and yellowed and moldering, hire a painter to do the painting we couldn’t do, dab oatmeal-colored paint on the places in the ceiling tiles where water spots left stain circles, shop for and purchase carpets, seal cuts in the plasterboard where workmen had sawed triangles to get to water pipes and galvanized fireplace flues and haul away all that stuff that accumulates for the day when we will need it (but probably never will use).

With a ruthless organizing vengeance unusual to my personality, I scrubbed and spray-painted the metal shelves in the furnace room, organized all the storage tubs, moved my mother’s filing cabinet to a corner and set up the clip boards that recorded the last time the furnace filter was replaced and the water softener had been partially drained! I even replaced the overhead pull lamp (connecting two wires) that has been out for two years and for which I had bought a duplicate last summer. Voila!—light!

The new carpet was laid by Lowe’s team (for which I received a series of notifying phone calls making appointments, checking on the workmanship, and inquiring about my satisfaction level.) We hauled everything back into place, arranging the newly reupholstered furniture in its assigned positions. David contacted AT&T and had a DirecTV hook up installed (we haven’t had television for most of our married life). But it was lovely—lovely—sitting in the clean, no longer damp basement, our feet on cushy carpet with grandsons, sons, granddaughters and sons-and daughters-in-laws watching the Chicago Black Hawks win the second game against the Philadelphia Flyers for the Stanley Cup series—all of us munching on leftover Sunday dinner flan. (Oh, what are we missing here?—yes, it’s the faint mildew odor waving for my attention.)

Reconstruction is work. It occupies us. In other words, we are preoccupied with getting it finished, doing it right and completing the project. I am embarrassed to count the appointments I missed during these two months, the phone calls I forgot to make and the days and dates I mixed. (What? I haven’t sent out a Soulish Food for four weeks?) And inevitably, it is mess upon mess. There are moments when we think we can’t get out of the disorder, when everything we are doing will collapse around our ears, and the reconstruction will go on and on, and on and on.

These are the moments when I begin to forecast for myself an old age like that of “Big Edie” and “Little Edie,” the mother and daughter whose later lives were chronicled in the HBO television special, Grey Gardens. The women flee New York Society and live destitute in their crumbling East Hampton 14-room estate, along with an army of cats and vagabond raccoons. Aunt and first cousin to Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy, the women were rescued when she intervened to restore the mansion that was scheduled to be razed.

 I frankly have a terror of my material environment crashing out of control and smothering me, with no wealthy relative to come to the rescue.

Truthfully, many of our personal reconstruction projects are exactly like this. We face an addiction, or divorce recovery, or marriage restoration, or childhood abuse and we think, “This is never going to end. I am going from bad to worse. It is mess upon mess. I’m going to loose my mind (or my balance or my rationality). I’m acting so strange people are avoiding me. I can’t get to the end of the work. I handle one neglected memory, one character flaw and something else raises a leering head. The walls of my personality structure are crumbling—too much water damage. There are wild animals creeping around in the halls at night.”

Reconstruction projects I can’t complete fast enough evoke this raw, irrational fear in me.

I have been reading the prophet Jeremiah lately. This book in the Old Testament is a terrible lament over the willful straying of the Israelites from God’s paths. It is a record of prophecies concerning doom, destruction, devastation, starvation, conquering armies, slaughter and exile—all because Israel refused to undergo the reconstruction project upon which God insisted. There is a truth about reconstruction that needs to be heeded: If we don’t take care of what needs our care, the end result of purposeful neglect will be much worse than anything we have imagined. (Think Grey Gardens with two nearly insane women making their way through garbage, falling plaster, holes in the staircases, and a tribe of feral animals.)

The truth is: I love our clean basement, the carpeted floors, the newly refurbished furniture, the smell of fresh paint, an organized furnace room and bookcases. I love it that my whole family can gather and have room to sit and the little ones can play with toys from the toy cupboard or move miniature people in the doll house. I love it that the mold is off the walls, and the water stains are gone. Sure it was a headache of work and the new light fixtures still have to be hung and I need to tackle the laundry room next—but what joy! What pure delight to be on this side of reconstruction!

When it comes to personal reconstruction projects, we need to trust that the work God is doing in us, messy as it may be, unpleasant and interminable as it may seem, is a good work. A necessary remodeling. A healthy undertaking that will reap pleasant pleasures for us in the days ahead. A gift of love, not of destruction. The Lord speaks through his prophet during the days of exile, “For I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you and will bring you back from captivity.” Jeremiah 29:11-14 (NIV).

I invite you to face the project that you have been dreading doing. Face it now.

Karen Mains


3-Day Guided Retreat of Silence, Friday through Sunday, August 13-15, 2010

If In his book, The Naked Now, Richard Rohr writes about the cure for a compulsively busy mind. “The key to stopping this game is, quite simply, peace, silence, or stillness. This was always seen as God’s primary language, ‘with everything else being a very poor translation,’ as Thomas Keating wisely observes. I would even say that on the practical level, silence and God will be experienced simultaneously—and even as the same thing. And afterward, you will want to remain even more silent.”

Hungry Souls is offering a 3-Day Guided Retreat of Silence for those of you who may be emerging from a period of personal reconstruction or just entering into one. Six rooms have been reserved at St. Mary’s Monastery in Rock Island, Illinois. The price for couples is $295 (or for two solos rooming together). The price for solos with a private room is $225. Please make a check out for the full amount to Hungry Souls and mail it to Box 30, Wheaton, Illinois 60187 upon registration. All rooms have twin beds and private baths. This is a rare opportunity for spouses or for friends.

Reservations are only available until July 29, 2010.

The retreat leaders will be Gay and Tom Patton who made a midlife change from corporate life and took their degrees in psychology from Wheaton Graduate School with an emphasis on spiritual formation. The Pattons specialize in helping churches integrate spiritual formation principles into church life and they conduct an active practice.

We can’t think of a better way to re-group after summer activities and to prepare for fall schedules, then this time on the beautiful grounds of St. Mary’s. We observe 3 daily offices (services of Scripture and prayer) with the community of women who live here and who have dedicated their lives to the work of prayer and praise. The Pattons will lead you in group interaction, guard the architecture of silence and make themselves available for private sessions of spiritual direction.

If you wish to register, or have further questions, please e-mail us at or phone us at 630-293-4500. You may also phone or e-mail the Pattons: 309-269-7290 or or tom Follow this link to view the grounds of St. Mary’s or to pass a flyer along to a friend.

Great News! The Global Bag Project has a Sustainable Model in Kenya

In This last fiscal quarter, through Home Parties, Bag Parties in a Box (which arrive in the mail), and through the generous invitation of Heartland Church in Rockford, IL who invited us to be their “Cause of the Month” for all of May, Global Bag Project raised $17,000 in donations. We humbly praise God for this generosity.

Right now, 8 bag-producers and one Kenyan project manager, Mary Ogolo, are involved in our growing adventure. Whenever we sell a bag, we can truthfully say, “This helps to feed a child in Kenya.” Whenever Carla wires a check to our Global Bag Project bank account, we are well aware that carrying these reusable grocery bags in the States is not only good ecological practice, it is helping our African co-workers pay school fees ($300 per child per year), pay rent ($200 a month in the Kibera slums—truly a place you do not want to live), and pay for a sewing space for the sewing cooperatives that are forming ($50 per month). A small bag of sugar and corn meal and a small bottle of cooking oil costs about $8. These items are used to make ugali, the East African ‘bread” that is a staple at most every meal.

On average, an experienced sewer can earn $18-30 a day sewing GBP bags. That’s $600 a month or $7,200 per year. That is a FAIR (more than fair) wage!

This is thrilling to us! Here are some ways you can help, ways that have been tested by other GBP supporters:

l. Hold a bag party. We will ship a bag party in a box with host instructions. We have had sales from $400 to $1,500. These parties take about 1an hours and are a delightful event.

2. Purchase an industrial strength sewing machine. Some of the African-made sewing machines are breaking under constant use, so we are changing to sturdier models, which cost $350-$400 each. We will give you the name of the bag-maker along with her photo when she receives the sewing machine.

3. Hold an office party. Sell the bags at lunch, breaks or after work. If you can play our “Every Bag Has a Story” DVD, great! But the bags often walk off the coat racks or the tables on which they are displayed.

4. Make one of our first renewable micro-credit loans. Some donations have been given for our first capital investment toward establishing a sewing cooperative, but we are getting ready to set up small loans for those women who demonstrate entrepreneurial initiatives.

5. See if your church will take the Global Bag Project on as a "Cause of the Month."

To participate in any of these events, contact Carla Boelkens, Global Bag Project Director at


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Karen Mains

Karen Mains

"Reconstruction is work. It occupies us. In other words, we are preoccupied with getting it finished, doing it right and completing the project. And inevitably, it is mess upon mess."


By Aayan Hirsi Ali

From the back cover:

One of the most admired and controversial political figures, Aayan Hirsi Ali burst into international headlines following the murder of Theo van Gogh by an Islamist who threatened that she would be next. She made headlines again when she was stripped of her citizenship and resigned from the Dutch Parliament.

Infidel shows the coming of age of this distinguished political superstar and champion of free speech as well as the development of her beliefs, iron will, and extraordinary determination to fight injustice.

Karen says:

Our Read and Intercede Book Group just read the Infidel by Ayaan Hirsi Ali for this month’s book. (We still have room for several more couples and some solo men and women—e-mail Judy Duncan at A New York Times bestseller, it is an unflinchingly honest and courageous look at one woman’s journey out of the Muslim faith.

A Somalian refugee who sought asylum in the Netherlands, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, eventually became a member of the Dutch Parliament. Her name burst into international headlines following the assignation of Theo van Gogh, a filmmaker who collaborated with her on a short piece that raised issues of female subjugation under Islam. Her life was also threatened. According to the cover copy, “Infidel shows the coming of age of this distinguished political superstar and champion of free speech as well as the development of her beliefs, iron will, and extraordinary determination to fight injustice. Raised in a strict Muslim family, Hirsi Ali survived civil war, female mutilation, brutal beatings (one, by a ma’alim, a religious teacher, that crushed her skull and almost took her life), adolescence as a devout believer during the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood, and life in four troubled unstable countries ruled largely by despots.”

Hirsi Ali was named on of Time magazine’s 100 Most Influential People of 2005, one of the Glamour Heroes of 2005, and Reader Digest’s European of the year. This is a book you will want to discuss with other readers.

Buy From  



The Stoning of
Soraya M.

And as you are sensitizing yourself to the plight of women under restrictive religious systems, watch the film The Stoning of Soraya M., which make no bones in its narrative arc about being almost propaganda against the primitive act of stoning. The woman, Soraya, a wife and mother, innocent of the trumped-up charges brought against her, is bound, lowered into a pit, which is filled with dirt, so that only her upper body is exposed. She has no way to protect herself from the stones. The men of the village, including her father, her two sons, and her husband who has been the source of slander, of incriminating gossip as well as guilty of intimidating witnesses, throw stones until she is reduced to a bloody pulp. Since this is a practice all too often imposed upon women in too many parts of the world, it is important to realize what is going on.

Copyright 2006-2010 Mainstay Ministries. All rights reserved.

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