A Storm, a Kind Heart, and a Thermostat

While some of the Family Promise kids played around us, others of them were working on homework and one was changing a diaper of another sibling, the tired and cooped-up adults looked at me with utter bewilderment when I gathered them together and asked them to stop setting the temperature on the thermostat down somewhere well below 68.

Over the past week, this has been a long-running complaint from a family who was staying in one of the smaller rooms at the end of the hall.  Their children woke up each night cold, and while we gave them extra blankets and the overnight hosts pleaded with the other adults not to change the thermostat, every night the temperature in the Christian Education building continued to dip to a chilly climate.  Most mornings the thermostat returned to a comfy 74 degrees before the host could get into the room to check.

Six nights had passed and the mystery was still not solved, despite our efforts to make the stay as comfortable as possible for all the families staying with us. “Maybe it’s changing itself?” one of the parents suggested. It was clear that she had no idea what was causing the problem.

But the seventh night was different.

Rather than being the last night before everyone in the program traveled to their next temporary home, another church in the Family Promise network, it was the night before the first tropical-storm-strength winds from Irma were going to impact Gainesville and it had been decided that the families would stay with us to shelter during the storm.  We were also expecting up to fifteen more people to join us from the Presbyterian Disaster Assistance network, should they have difficulty getting gas and other necessities while traveling up through Florida from Tampa and elsewhere and got stuck part-way in Gainesville.

Only one woman ended up joining us that afternoon, Pauline, a tiny woman with expansive energy and an all-embracing heart.  My family made the choice to stay as well, so we were twenty in all.

I led Pauline to the room at the farthest end of the hall, beyond the family who had been cold. She spent time meeting the other temporary residents, charming young and old alike as she usually does, with her emphatic way of speaking and her gentle heart.  Finally, she settled into the room.

Three hours later she came back shivering, so I checked the main thermostat, and it was set below 68 again.

Which is why I stood there among the bewildered adults, asking again, why we were so cold.

And then I noticed the kids near us, several taking care of their younger friends or a sibling.  Mature kids with kind hearts… maybe?

Our ‘Spirit Room’ where kids and teens can hang out and play

So I rounded up the flock of kids, with the youngest toddler waddling behind, and walked them down to the open door of Pauline’s room.  I explained that the tiny, gentle woman who we all loved was cold. Really cold. And I was worried about her.

Would they all help me watch to find out how the temperature was getting set so low?  Maybe they could figure it out when I couldn’t.  I got some nodding heads and some thoughtful expressions, so I let the group of kids disperse and I went back to my office.

A couple of hours later, after dinner, I got another knock on the door.  “Pastor, Pastor, the temperature is wrong again.” I sighed.   “It’s cold again?”

“No Pastor, it’s too hot!”

I went out into the hallway and quickly noticed the temperature was now at the other extreme. I rapidly made my way to the thermostat and saw that it had been switched to heat, and the temperature set above 80 degrees.

Ha! Those kids must really be worried about Miss Pauline!

I adjusted the temperature, and then re-gathered my flock.  I explained to the kids that if they wanted to take care of Miss Pauline, they didn’t have to turn the heat up, just leave the temperature at its original setting.

We had one more minor incident with the thermostat after that, but for the most part we slept as comfortably as we could during the storm. The power had gone out before our worship service that morning, came back on Sunday night, and went out again on Monday. But the number set on the thermostat remained constant, and whenever the power was on and the air conditioner ran, it stayed at a comfortable temperature.

I wondered what I could learn from the experience with the thermostat. With twenty people living that closely together for several days, I had expected far more conflict then we experienced.  It was clear that, while several people were discomforted by the temperature changes, there was no ill-will in the heart of the one who was causing such mischief.  Maybe one of the children was too warm, so another with a kind heart set the temperature lower. When I mentioned that Miss Pauline was too cold, the natural, responsible, response would be to do the opposite, to move the temperature up. So rather than actions of hostility, these were ones of initiative, caring, and responsibility, though rather over-applied.  How many other conflicts are because well-intentioned people just do not understand the full impact of their words and actions?

When the power came back on and stayed on, several of us spontaneously danced together and shouted for joy. We had bonded. After another night together with the gentle sound of the air conditioner humming in our ears, everyone dispersed – the Family Promise families to their next temporary church home, and the rest of us to our usual beds.

But I will always remember the unknown child with a kind heart and the mystery of the thermostat.



The Whisper of Good News

Scruffy and Curious

When my family found ‘Pixel’, an abandoned cat, in our backyard, I rushed to tell the news; I took her picture and posted it around town. I texted friends for ideas and advice. My daughter posted the cat’s picture on her Facebook page. One of our friends posted on Gainesville Pet Finder for us.

When we found out that Pixel needed surgery, I again rushed to tell the news with pictures, texts, and stories. Messenger texts flew back and forth. I got a phone call from a relative that I didn’t think even knew what the Internet was, let alone have an account on Facebook, asking how the surgery went.When we found out that Pixel had picked up an odd maladaptive behavior, we posted about it and the advice poured in. We were thankful to get ideas, to hear stories of other cats’ successes, and to share pictures. It was as if we found a whole new community online, rallying around a small cat’s misfortune and hope for redemption.

And then… good things started happening. [Read more…]

The Gator and the Lamb

A friend of mine, a new Gainesville resident, was enjoying her early spring evening, when she opened a door and nearly walked into a gator wandering in the parking lot outside.  She tells me the whole event was captured on video.

On the video you can see her jolt of surprise, see her slam the door shut, and then slowly ease it open so she can lean her head out to take another look. The gator opened his mouth wide and hissed at her. She slammed the door shut, carefully eased her arm and her phone out so she could take a picture to send to animal control, then slammed it shut again. [Read more…]

Clean Bill of Health

PixelLast week the vet declared that Pixel, the stray cat we’ve been helping, had a ‘clean bill of health.’

It was a wonderful day; the morning dance of coffee, showers, and cat breakfast went smoothly. I dropped her off at the vet before starting work and was able to hear the good news when I picked her up during lunch and brought her home.

We had a couple of tentative offers from friends to adopt her and were looking forward to seeing how long her flea-damaged coat would grow, given time.

All was well… but it wouldn’t last.

[Read more…]

Feeding Time and Other Rituals

This morning I found myself half-awake, bumping into my daughter on the way to the kitchen. I was going to search for a small bowl to use for the stray cat Pixel’s breakfast. Pixel was pressing up against sliding glass door, meowing for breakfast. The night before, my son had washed all the dishes except the ones we were using for the cat. I could see why: they were quite small and seemed so relatively unimportant.

As I hand-washed a cat bowl I realized that, quite clearly, we haven’t yet figured out how to fit Pixel into our morning routine.

After so many years and so many mornings of living together, our family has our morning routines exactly timed. Each of us knows when to wake up, when to shower, when to get coffee or breakfast, weaving past each other with a head nod or a yawn, but never two people in the same spot at the same time. Now, with the addition of the cat, our careful routine has been disrupted.

[Read more…]

Good News in Calico

Pixel after her surgery

Pixel after her surgery

I first decided to get a Facebook account when I heard a preacher railing against it as a ‘terrible evil’ at a youth conference several years back. To my surprise, once I signed into Facebook, the majority of the posts I saw were primarily about…. (you guessed it) cats, cats and more cats.

In addition to cats, the posts I saw were about sunrises, particularly beautiful azalaes in grown in someone’s back yard, silly pet bloopers, and other passing moments of quiet joys and smiles that usually go forgotten. These weren’t the only posts I saw, but they represented a surprisingly large proportion.

What I saw posted were everyday moments of grace and joy.

[Read more…]

Compassion in Miniature

Found Kitty

Found Kitty

Just under a week ago,  a tiny friendly calico cat was waiting for me outside our sliding glass dour when I attempted to wonder into my backyard to do some chores.  She was so skinny I could see her hip bones under her fur, and she walked with an odd wobble.  Chores were forgotten when she ran figure eights around my legs purring like crazy and tried to insist- with every loop – on pushing me back inside.

After lapping up a full bowl of water, she seemed slightly steadier on her feet. A friend and I purchased some pet food and a disposable litter box. so she could spend the night in our solarium. [Read more…]