When the Lights Go Out

As of today, we have been without electricity for 6 days. 

It began last Tuesday around midnight. There was a loud banging noise, and then the lights flickered ominously once or twice, and then the silence desceneded. No gentle hum of the heater. No buzz of the refrigerator. It was dead quiet, except for the occasional crack of trees falling over, unable to withstand the weight of the snow or the plummeting temperatures. 

We awoke the next morning to 13 inches of snow, more snow than this neck of the woods has seen in over 50 years. The result? Hundreds of fallen trees, power lines, and communications lines wrapped up in their branches like ribbons flowing in the wind. Our mountain neighborhood looked like a tornado had swept through it. The poor trees, some over a one hundred years old, weakened by years of drought, just ‘fell’ over, one after another with thunderous cracks and thuds.

The tip of the iceberg…

The first day, we were snowed in on the top of the mountain. Between the downed power lines and trees blocking our path, and no chains for our tires, there was no way we’d ever make it down. On that first day, I was filled with that old feeling I used to get as a little girl when the power went off and I got to light my little 19th-century chamberstick (one of those copper handheld candle holders) and wander through the halls of the house by candlelight in my flannel pajamas. I lived in a dream world when I was nine… Anyways, back to the present. Here we are, I thought. No power. Lots of snow. And a giant pile of wood ready to be burned! Finally, I will get to live like a pioneer!

We huddled around the fire warming our hands and toes. We attempted to bake bread on its coals. We boiled water for tea on coals. We talked a lot about coals. We read all afternoon. We took walks in the snow. It was lovely. Cold… but lovely.

And at the end of the day, I came to the conclusion that the pioneers were unwashed and cold and they spent most of their time manning the fireplace because if it died… well, you did not want that fire to die!

Day two was nearly the same, except we were even more un-showered and we smelled like a campfire. 

By days three and four, some neighbors had chopped a path in the fallen trees and bravely tied back the frayed power lines so we could spend the afternoons in coffee shops to charge our computers and phones and then head to the gym to shower. (Or rather, wait in long lines to shower because half the city was still without power.)

In Trader Joes, amidst many other un-showered disheveled looking freezing people, we looked at one another and said that a power outage really is the great equalizer (unless you are blessed with a generator). We all commiserated about chilly nights and freezers full of thawing food. There was a sort of fun camaraderie about it all, a togetherness in the battle to keep the house warm and clean without a vacuum or dishwasher. 

But I am going to be honest: the lack of power totally threw me off. I didn’t see it coming. I hadn’t planned for it. I had two loads of laundry to do… I was running out of clean clothes. Then there was the issue of what to do with all those hours in the day without access to an outlet.

As a writer, I need the internet for research. I need power to keep my laptop charged for more than a couple of hours. All of sudden, God decided to shake things up. I could only work for a few hours max at a coffee shop a day. I had to prioritize the essentials on my to-do list. There are a lot of pots on the fire right now (no pun intended) and this was more difficult than it might seem. 

And then, there was the deeper work God was doing. Without power, I was left with… myself. For hours. No work to distract me from hard questions. No noise to drown out what I didn’t want to hear. 

As the novelty of quiet and fireplace cooking wore off, I became moody, listless, and edgy. I was sharp. Nervous. Uncomfortable. I felt useless… until it hit me that I felt useless because I wasn’t working all the time.

The revelation hit me like a load of bricks. I had no idea that my equilibrium was so tied up with my schedule. I am—and I know this in my head—much more than the sum of my work. But when faced with the reality of day after day of no real ability to concentrate or plow through like I usually do, I lost my compass. 

Here, God was giving me a much needed rest on a silver platter, and I was freaking out because I don’t know what to do with myself without a charged laptop battery.

In vain you rise early and stay up late, toiling for food to eat–for He grants sleep to those he loves.”

Psalm 127:2

Yesterday, I pulled up a sermon given by an old family friend, Rabbi Shawn Moir. He said that the Hebrew word for work, ‘avodah,’ is the same word for worship. This was news to me. I looked it up. It was true. One of the primary Hebrew words for worship was indeed the same word used to describe work.

I was instantly convicted that maybe, I had not been working in as worshipful of a spirit as I should be. If I had, would I be freaking out the way I was? A part of me wondered how much I’d been working in my own strength. What would happen if I replaced the word ‘worship’ for everything I call work? My outlook on life would change vastly. “I’m going to go worship now.” “I’m off to worship!” “I have to finish a little more worship first…”

It takes the pressure off somehow, doesn’t it? And at the same time, it inspires greater excellence and inspiration to finish the work at hand in a matter that befits the King of Glory.

Rabbi Shawn went on to say that when our schedules are interrupted; when things do not go as planned; when we do not get the things done we had planned to get done, God is making room for our souls to grow. He is, essentially, making room for Himself. Upset schedules become much more than mere character building opportunities when viewed in this light. They literally become moments to commune with our Heavenly Father.

“In their hearts humans plan their course, but the Lord establishes their steps.”

Proverbs 16:9

Yes, I knew this was true. 

Yes, I had learned this lesson once or twice before. 

But at this particular moment in time, it felt more poignant than ever. The Holy Spirit, the Ruach Hakodesh, was whispering to my heart that maybe working had become a crutch. That I had somehow, in the shuffle and busyness of everyday life lost the other side of the coin: worship. And now, with no power, I had an opportunity to turn the coin over and remember my first love. 

It’s easier now, on day 6, than it was on day 3. We bought the last table top butane stove at Ace Hardware. We can boil water all day to our hearts content without worrying about the ash getting everywhere. The gym has a hot tub and it seems the line for showers has gone down. The gas station down the hill got power last night which means that the little Mexican Dive next door is open and we can get take out from the owner who knows all of our orders by heart. 

And in the meantime, we on the mountain await the arrival of PG&E with welcome arms. 

And I will try to learn the lesson I thought I already knew. That my work and worship are one and the same. How does it glorify my Father in heaven if I am doubtful, afraid, and whiny? It doesn’t. Not one little bit. But if I seize the day, whatever it might bring, with a smile and a true pioneering spirit, the kind that refuses to give up, takes new territory, lives off the land and receives God’s provision with thankfulness, my soul will grow. I’ll step into the space God has prepared for me. I’ll get the vacation I really need, I’ll brush up on the ol’ guitar. I’ll worship in my heart and I’ll go back to work when the lights come back on without forgetting why and who I’m working for. 

*Since writing this earlier this morning, we drove into town to pick up more butane for our little stove. On our way back up the hill, much to our joy, were three PG&E trucks. 

20 minutes later, the lights came back on. 

Leave a Reply