Tuesday, March 27, 2001

"Taking Care of Business"

We were poor college students who possessed the finer skills of frugality. Tony Blumenberg, my roommate, and I had learned well important tricks to staying alive. Back in those dark ages we didn't have a refrigerator and, because of our work schedules, we did’nt purchase the evening meal ticket at the college cafeteria. To save money we generally ate in our room, but we had to be careful of the types of food we purchased. Canned stuff was good if you ate it in a short period of time. Anything that needed cool or cold was out of the question. Snacks were appropriate if placed in airtight containers to keep the varmints out, of which there were many in Houston, Texas. Hiding places were a necessity because some of the varmints were other guys who shared our common living area. Oh, the good old days – prepared me for parenthood!

So it was in the spring of 1978 that we bought some groceries, including a gallon jar of apple juice that we projected we could finish off before it turned bad. We polished 2/3 of it off quickly but then set it aside and was forgotten. We rediscovered it a few days later. Being poor, frugal students there is no way we were going to throw it away without checking on it. We put it through the poor, frugal college student tests: look, smell, test, evaluate. Look: is anything growing in it or on it? Smell: can you get it past your nose to your mouth? Test: can all or any of this be salvaged? Evaluate: will this kill us if we eat it?

I opened the lid, which was bulging just a bit, to hear a slight "pfssss." "Don't remember hearing that before," we wondered. We tentatively smelled the mouth of the jar. "Don't remember it having that vinegar kind of smell," we thought. I looked inside. "Wonder how fuzz got inside of the jar with the lid on," said I as I shoved it toward Tony. "That's not fuzz," said my incredibly perceptive roommate. "Then how did a bug get in there?" "That's not a bug, either," said Tony as he turned up his nose. "That’s mold. Didn't you learn anything in biology?" He didn't have to be mean. It did look like something from science class. With disappointment, we realized this apple juice was not going to pass the tests.

Then we hit on an idea. If it looked liked something from science class, let's treat as such. And that was how the jar was transformed from a drink to THE EXPERIMENT!! Instead of throwing it away, we set it on a shelf and watched it grow. Most of the time we ignored it, but every once in a while someone would come to our room, look up on the shelf and exclaim, "WHAT IS THAT?" "It’s the experiment," we would reply calmly and introduce the two. As the weeks rolled on it grew tentacles and expanded in size. It was pretty interesting. Completely useless. But interesting.

A month before the end of the school year, I moved out of the dorm and into an apartment. I wanted to get things ready to bring Sheila home as my wife a month after final exams. Tony, Steve, Marvin and Sheila helped me move. All my earthly possessions fit in the back of a pickup. And I brought with me the experiment. Sheila had never seen it. She didn’t want to see it now. Especially in the apartment she was scheming to claim as her own in a couple months. I insisted that I keep it because it was my apartment. She relented (mostly because she knew it was only a matter of time). THE EXPERIMENT continued to grow, the cap bulged and I did not dare even bump the lid.
A few weeks after carrying my bride across the threshold, I came home from work and opened the cabinet that held THE EXPERIMENT. I wasn't looking for it, I just happened to notice it was no longer on the laboratory shelf. I knew what had happened before I even asked. "I threw it away," Sheila stated matter of factly. "It was useless, ugly, disgusting and taking up space." And that was that. THE EXPERIMENT was over. I sure hope the garbage man did not accidentally smash that jar. Who knows what plagues would have been released. On the other hand, it may have held the cure to something. Not marital disagreements, but maybe something useful.

It wasn't really much of an experiment because Tony and I didn't put any effort into it. It was, however, a prime example of the results of neglect. Things happen when we practice neglect. Very few of them are good. It didn’t take any effort at all to ruin the apple juice, just apathetic neglect. Lose it under a jacket carelessly tossed on the floor, and voila’ – garbage! If we want good things in our lives, we have to take care of business. If we want healthy bodies, we have to make the effort to eat right, sleep right and exercise right. If we want our possessions to last and function properly, we have to make the effort to maintain them. If we want to stay employed, we must fulfill our responsibilities. If we want good relationships, we must make the effort to nurture those relationships. Only bad things happen when we neglect what is important.

When I was young, food appeared on the table at meal times, clean clothes appeared in my dresser drawers, my room was cleaned, my yard was mowed, my needs were met. As I grew up I realized that my parents were doing all those things. Good things were happening in my life because my folks were taking care of business. Those things became my responsibility as I grew into manhood. If I neglect them, bad things happen. If I take care of business, good things happen.

Of all the business we must take care of, relationships are the most important and require the most care. Only bad things happen when we neglect people. Anger, hurt, distance, jealousy, acting out, searching other places for love and care, regrets, and eventually lost relationships. But if we take care of business with people that we care about good things happen. Love, friendship, care, fulfillment, shared memories, mutual encouragement and satisfaction at the end of our lives.

Worse things happen when we neglect our relationship with God. Inner turmoil, no joy, lack of meaning and fulfillment, hurtfulness toward others, searching in places that only result in guilt, and eternity separated from God and everything good. But if we take care of business in our relationship with God we discover the meaning of life, love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control, and a Heavenly Dad that pulls us up on His lap. Best of all, an eternity in His Presence.

What once was a life supporting, nutritious drink became a useless nuisance. Even worse, had I drank the liquid formerly known as apple juice, it would have made me terribly sick. Might have even killed me. Not because of what we did, but because of what we didn’t do, all because of neglect.

Anything important being neglected in your life? Look around. A little bit of action goes a long way in taking care of business.

"Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God." Hebrews 13:16 (NRSV)

"Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification." Romans 14:19 (NIV)

"Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord." Hebrews 12:14 (NIV)

"And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him." Hebrews 11:6 (NIV)

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