Some Assembly Required

“I’m not even a functioning adult” I yelled as I threw some screws to the ground. My husband, who had come into the back yard to see what all the fuss was about, said, “I don’t think this is a matter of your functioning as a person.”

 “Oh yes it is,” I snarked back. “How did I get to be this old and not be able to put some patio furniture together? It said, ‘some assembly required.’ Yeah right. How about no assembly possible.”

My sweet husband paused, “Do you want help?”

“No!” I barked back.

“Should I leave you alone?”

“Yes, that’s probably best,” I sighed, as I watched my very patient husband walk away leaving me to my own devices.

I’d been raging at patio furniture for a good week or more. It started when our picnic table warped and cracked. I relish having an outdoor space for family meals, so I set to work. I researched and shopped, but it soon became a chore. First, I couldn’t find what I wanted. When I did, it was either too expensive or not in stock. All I wanted was a sturdy table with an umbrella. It didn’t seem like a hard ask. After weeks of research and frustration, I settled on a cozy patio set, which could combine dining and relaxation. 5-star reviews. Easy assembly. Cozy chairs. Functional table. Sturdy construction. Additional umbrella. Sale price. Perfect.

The patio set was delivered early in 3 boxes with clear instructions. I got to work, thinking a good physical job could help me work through some stress. But just 1 chair in, and I lost all sense of reason. Nothing fit. The screws did not fit into the holes. Even when they did, it was impossible to turn them. Not one reviewer mentioned the screws not lining up properly. Clearly, I thought, it must be me. Clearly, I’m a complete life failure.

I laid down in the grass, beside the half-built chair and contemplated my life.

That’s when a memory floated into my head. The week before, on that same grass, I had blown up my children’s new inflatable dinosaur pool. I thought it was super fun – dinosaur, volcano slide, waterfall, palm tree that squirts water – does it get any better? My daughter did not think so. In fact, she was scared of it. She sat down on the other side of the yard, far away from that scary palm tree squirting water in her face. I stood in the palm tree spray, showing her it was safe and fun. After a long time of sitting with her head in her hands, she got up, determined. She march across the yard. “Susannahs never give up,” she declared, jumping into the pool.

Susannahs never give up, she had said. I needed some of that gumption.

So I declared: Elizas never give up.

As I lay on the grass, I thought of all the times I had wanted to give up in the last year or so. I reminded myself: as of this very moment, you have not yet given up. I didn’t give up when everything shut down, or when we had to find new ways to buy essentials like food, toilet paper, and diapers. I didn’t give up when we moved all our worship and ministry online in a matter of days. I didn’t give up when we were separated from family and friends for months. I didn’t give up through those months of no childcare, or sleep regressions, or late-night feedings, or all through the poop pandemic. I didn’t give up through a concussion, or a bloody accident, or surgery, or therapy. I didn’t give up when I couldn’t use my hand to change my son’s diaper, or carry my daughter, or type a sermon. I didn’t give up through my son’s 1st COVID test, or his 2nd COVID test, or his 6th COVID test. I didn’t give up through that 1st quarantine, or the 2nd, and not even the 3rd. I didn’t give up during that 1st quarantine when I had to pray over the phone for God to take the soul of a beloved into heaven. I didn’t give up when beloveds poured out their grief onto me. I didn’t give up when I poured out my grief. I didn’t give up for those long months when I preached to an empty sanctuary. I didn’t give up when my computer lost a sermon, or the video camera didn’t record worship, or when a light suddenly turned on during recording session in an empty sanctuary at 10pm. I didn’t give up every time the CDC or Governor announced a new mandate, changing how we live, work and worship. I didn’t give up every single time I threatened to give up.

I thought of all of this as I lay on the grass with screws, washers, and furniture parts scattered around me.

Elizas never give up. Elizas never. give. up.

I stood up. I pulled all the pieces out of the boxes and neatly laid them out. I opened the instruction booklet again. I had in fact followed the instructions perfectly. So, what was wrong? I reassessed. I looked at tool included in the box. A blasted Allen wrench. Why does everything come with an Allen wrench? Who is Allen any way, and why did he impart this ridiculous tool upon the world? I turned over the tool in my hand. How in the world was I supposed to put sturdy furniture together with this weak little thing?

The truth was: I wasn’t. I went inside and got the tool box. I pulled out the drill. I matched up the correct bit. I felt it’s power. Bzzzzzzzzzzzzz. I started again.  

It turns out, the instructions were right, but the tools were wrong. They had given me an Allen wrench for the job of a drill.

Life feels this way lately for so many of us. We’ve been given an Allen wrench for the job of a drill. We have no more power – no more energy left. Our parts are disassembled all over the yard. Our brain over there. A tired limb over there. A hand flaying busily over that way. A foot trying to walk in another direction. A still beating heart at the center, trying to pull all the parts together. Our very selves pulled in all the directions. Those screws in our head are scattered. Our bolts don’t hold us together anymore.

There is no instruction booklet for this. We are all – from the WHO to the CDC to people raging at patio furniture – figuring this out as we go. We are all flipping through our life’s instruction booklet, analyzing what no longer works, re-organizing the disassembled parts, and trying to piece them together. We don’t have the right tools for this, because the tools keep changing. When the COVID-19 crisis hit, we were told our best tool was hand washing. Then we discovered that masks were more efficient. Now our scientific community has worked together to create the new tool: the vaccine. In every sector, we’ve found new tools to accomplish the work that needed to be done: zooms, google-hangouts, livestreams, masks, shields, and on and on.

Our tools have changed, but our parts have remained the same. Since we’ve needed to adapt and change, we’ve been disassembled and re-assembled. We’ve reassessed. We’ve found new tools for this new life. In many way, our re-assembled selves might look forever different. In truth, though, we’ve always been works in progress. We have always been “some assembly required” creatures.

Which is why we must always remember that we are not the great assembler, the ultimate builder. We are the ones who require the re-assembly from our great God, who continues to push us, stretch us, and re-build us. For, we have a God, who replaces our weak Allen wrench bodies with a power drill soul. We have a God who lays down on the grass with us in despair, who weeps with us when we weep, who picks us up when we cannot do it ourselves. We have a God, who never gives up on us.

On that day in my backyard, drill in hand, I assembled 2 chairs, 1 couch, 1 table, and 2 stools in the time I had spent putting 2 screws in with an Allen-wrench. Bzzzzzzz. Bzzzzzzz. The parts came together, fitting perfectly in place after much much ado.

When I finished assembling, my daughter, who had been watching from the kitchen window, ran into the yard. “Oh Mommy!” she declared, “You did it! It’s beautiful.” Then she nudged me, “Hey mommy, guess what?”

“What’s that sweetie?” I asked hugging her.

“Mommies never give up either.”

You, my friend, haven’t given up either. Through it all, the God who never gives up on you has been re-assembling your parts, giving you the power to get through each and every day.

You know what? <Insert Your name>s Never Give Up.

3 thoughts on “Some Assembly Required

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