Friday, August 21, 2009

My name is Beth Malena, and I have bed bugs.

At least my house does. Or did, hopefully.

It does feel like an admission, or a confession. I half expect people to take a step back when I say it. When Cara (an unlucky friend who is subletting at our place) was at a coffee shop, chatting on the phone with her mom about the bed bugs, two nearby strangers picked up their drinks and moved to a farther table.

And though I think they are overreacting, I don't really blame them. Having been through this awful experience, I would not wish it on anyone. I am trying to remind myself that it could have been much worse. For instance, I haven't had to get rid of furniture, like some of my friends who have been through this. Also, I haven't been bitten. Danice, Cara and I have not had bites - either we don't react to bed bug bites, or we have been avoiding them by sleeping on the porch futon. It was Lindsey who got attacked by the bugs, and possibly Lynn. Both of them are out of town now - how convenient! :)

After finding Lindsey's bites, we looked up bed bug pictures on the internet and performed our own search. We found nothing. Last Monday, we got a pest control guy to do an inspection. All he found was one bed bug shell, on Lindsey's bed. Because she had been traveling, he thought she had brought one or two in with her, but it was nothing serious - he recommended we just vacuum the room really well and wash her clothes. The next morning, I was laying my mattress back down on the bed post-inspection, and I found three live bed bugs crawling on it. I'm not going to lie: I cried. Danice calmed me down a bit, but we both knew this meant a lot of work and worry in the weeks to come.

If you've had bed bugs, you know the pre-extermination drill. Every scrap of fabric in the house (clothes, curtains, bedding, bags) must be washed in hot water and dried in a hot dryer for about an hour, then sealed in garbage bags. Everything else in the house, with the exception of things in the kitchen and bathroom, must be shaken over a bucket (to eliminate any hiding bugs or eggs), then sealed in garbage bags. All furniture is moved 6 inches from the wall, and the whole room must be vacuumed extremely well, including the mattresses.

Danice, Cara and I braced ourselves to tackle the belongings of five women. We decided not to wash Lynn and Lindsey's things, but we still had to bag everything up and get it out of their rooms. We started Thursday after work, at 5:00 pm. Almost 80 extra-large garbage bags (piled on two porches) and ten hours later (!), at 3:00 am, we finally had the house ready for the exterminator.

The most unexpected and difficult aspect of those ten hours was the constant mental battle. We had only seen a couple live bugs, but we knew bed bugs could hide almost anywhere, so we knew we had to follow the exterminator's instructions. But it's hard to keep shaking item after item into that bucket, and not see any bugs or eggs fall out. You wonder about the chances of them being in the item you're holding. You wonder about the chances of them hiding in things you've already bagged, things you perhaps didn't shake well enough. You recall stories of people who never succeeded in getting rid of them, after multiple extermination attempts, and you wonder if any of this will be worth it. You wonder if it would be simpler for humans and bed bugs to just learn to coexist. You wonder if that little brown thing over there is a bed bug - no, it's just a piece of lint. You wonder if they were just a figment of your imagination the whole time. And then you see a huge live bed bug saunter across your bed, flaunting its existence in your house, and your skin crawls and you feel like they're all over you. You don't want to be in your house one more second. Then, at 3:00, you go to bed exhausted and all you can dream about is... searching for bed bugs and putting things in garbage bags. Or, if you're Danice, you dream about a human-sized bed bug ringing the doorbell and moving into our house.

The pest control guy sprayed yesterday. I arrived home after the appropriate amount of time, smelled the spray, and wondered how those chemicals could be less harmful to my health than a few bed bugs. Our landlords (who are so understanding and wonderful!) let us hang out in their suite while our floor aired out. We're still running loads through the laundry. We're still sleeping on the porch. We're still living out of garbage bags, and will be doing so until the re-inspection in two weeks.

One of my coping mechanisms during the ten hours of cleaning was to force myself to find the positive. I thought of four benefits of this whole ordeal.

1. Our house is likely cleaner than it was when we moved in. I don't think we would have ever done such a thorough cleaning otherwise.

2. I've always thought I lived fairly simply, without too many possessions or clothes, but as we cleaned, I purged a lot of stuff, and plan to get rid of more when we un-bag. I hope my roommates also discover this urge to purge. :) Hooray for bed bugs for providing impetus toward simple living.

3. I can now sympathize with my friends who have felt stigmatized, contaminated, or unclean because of bed bugs. I felt dirty and ashamed even though I read that they have nothing to do with cleanliness - they are a big problem in the Downtown Eastside, but also in the high-end apartments in Yaletown, and many fancy hotels. I was amazed how much sympathy, advice and prayer I received from friends at church and at Jacob's Well.

4. I developed a new appreciation for my roommates, who kept me sane (Cara and Danice, I'm glad we all "hit walls" at different times, and I'm grateful for our fits of laughter!), and my landlords, for caring and footing the bill!

Well, my confession is over, and so is this experience, I hope.

Gotta go change the laundry!

Saturday, August 01, 2009

Generally overwhelmed

I want to write so many blogs right now but I don't know where to start. My head is full of half-formed thoughts, things that still need to be discussed, read-up on, challenged, refined, and put into sentences and paragraphs. This overwhelms me, especially because I have a couple of chances to teach in the near future, and I kind of want to know what I think before I teach other people! I am humbled by my own confusion, and my sense of the complexity of things.

In addition to my favorite topics of the year so far (eg. homosexuality and faith), my work this summer has opened up whole new doors in my mind. My first learn-to-pastor job is in a brand new church in the Downtown Eastside/Strathcona area of Vancouver, a church geared toward families, a church that meets outside in a park, a small church with no name and no money, but a lot of vision and a lot of love. Although I've worked in the neighborhood for several years with Jacob's Well (and continue to work there), the last couple of months have stretched me in very new ways. I've been through a cycle of intense emotions, which I try not to take out on my roommates. I fluctuate between intense despair in the "impossible" situation of the neighborhood and many people I know there, and crazy hope in the already-coming Kingdom of God. I've been hanging out with a lot of kids and learning from them. I've been trying to figure out what God is up to with this whole "church" idea in general, and more specifically in this neighborhood. I've been reading and thinking about so many issues: colonization and the past/present situation of First Nations people, dependency, generational cycles, trans-cultural church communities, the God who suffers, addiction and harm reduction, systemic evil, incarnational ministry, poverty and homelessness, worship with the least of these, and how mercy interacts with justice.

How do I as a white person pastor a church of primarily First Nations people when the white church has done so much injustice and caused so much suffering among First Nations people? How do I pastor in ways that give power away and break cycles of dependency and pain? Should I move into the neighborhood (right now I live 10 min. away), or would that be too much for me right now? Where is the Kingdom breaking through in the neighborhood? What does worship look like here? How do I best use my twenty hours a week? Is this the kind of place where I'm meant to serve long-term? These are only a few of the questions I've been asking. Maybe I'll blog about some of them once I get my head around them.

For now, you can read about our little church at this blog, which I will be contributing to regularly. Also, if you're interested in committing to pray regularly for me in this church-planting thing, and getting on a prayer e-mail list, please let me know.

Today for the Kingdom.