It's the principle of the thing...

I remember growing up and hearing my parents use this phrase here and there whenever we'd want to skip "just one" practice, or stop just before finishing, or cut some sort of corner.  I remember thinking something was "no big deal" and inevitably the phrase would come forth from my mom or dad...

"Jason, it's the principle of the thing."

Whatever that meant.

But as I grew up and understood more, I came to understand that what my parents were saying was that life was about certain 'principles', certain standards of truth that guide you when you don't "feel like it".  And Lord knows that when you're young, if you waited for feeling like it before you would do what "should be done" or "needed to be done" precious little would get done.

From time to time I'll hear someone described as a "principled person".  It's always an affirmation of someone's dedication or devotion regardless of circumstance.  Their trustworthiness.  Their faithfulness.  Their intergrity to causal (not casual) commitments.

So this has been a part of my formation, my heritage.  I think for the most part I live out this value, but I would be lying if I told you there weren't breaches in wall here and there.  I would even say that as the years go on I find that I 'let things go' more thinking things like "this is critical" and "that isn't".  "This is crucial" and "that isn't".  My brain will justify the incompletion of a commitment or a goal as "no big deal" in comparison to more consequantial things.  Of course this does damage to your integrity...which is the intregal place within sometimes only known by God and the person themselves.  This dearth of integrity leads to a glut of insecurity I've come to learn.  When you don't follow through or follow up and you know you should, you begin to not trust yourself and in certain untraceable ways it bleeds into a lack of trust in others thinking they probably live similarly in secret.  All I'm saying is that when you're not "principled", you're only hurting yourself.

This brings me to last night.  It was the 31st of May.  The last day of the first month of my sabbatical.

I had set a goal.  My goal was to have all my wood cut, gathered, hauled, and split by the end of May.  I wanted to hold myself to that objective so that I lived a disciplined life guided by a forethought itinerary.  Anyone that knows me well knows that I like to "go with the flow" and though there are virtues to that way of life, there are some fatal flaws as well.  One of the flaws is kicking against the goads of discipline and principle.  It's more about emotion than devotion.  More about feeling than faithfulness.  I'm not proud to say it, but I think I let myself off the hook a lot in the name of passion or compassion.  I have clever justifications, but it's just laziness or procrastination or forgetfulness, plain and simple.  Again, it's not the big things's the little life decisions.  Decisions like getting all my wood done by the end of May...something that doesn't matter one bit and yet in other ways matters infinitely.

It's the principle of the thing.

So back to last night.  Heidi's parents came that morning and we'd had a great time talking with them and getting things done around the house in preparation for Kami's open house.  I had even gotten outside and mowed the lawn and cleaned up the last of the toys and trash that finds its way into the yard when you have 5 and 6 year old boys.  I even got in a 2 mile run while I was already sweaty so that when I took my second shower of the day it would be my last.

Kami and Aly were at youth group and we were sitting at the kitchen table watching the sun go down behind the backyard trees.  There was about 45 minutes of daylight left as the air began to cool and the mosquitos burst forth from the brush looking for blood.  Like a flashback, a thought exploded in my brain and wouldn't subside...

"You have that one pile of wood left to split and it's the last day of May.  YOU SAID you were GOING TO get it DONE by the end of this month."

I couldn't shake the thought no matter how hard I tried.  No excuses quieted the voice.  Every justification made it louder still.  And that's when I heard it...

"Jason, it's not about the wood.  It's the principle of the thing."

In a moment I spoke aloud in the kitchen for everyone to hear: "I have to get outside and get the rest of that wood split before this day is done.  I said I was going to finish it by the end of May and I know it sounds legalistic, but I have to do it or I won't be abe to live with myself."

Taylor piped up and said that she would help.  When she says help, she means that she will push and pull the level up and down on the splitter while I scramble around hoisting and heaving these massive chunks of oak that I had waited last to split because they were so mammoth.  Something in me knew that the last of the wood splitting would be the guantlet...the trail of tears so to speak.  I honestly didn't even know if I could manuever some of this wood without the help of another ruddy fella.  But I had to try...and not just try, but make it happen come hell or high water.

I grabbed our new LED flashlight so that when it got too dark to see I would point that baby toward the splitter so that we had slight illumination.  I went into the garage and got the gas can and my leather gloves and told Tay I'd meet her down by the wood pile.  She had started on this wood pile with me earlier in the week, so she knew exactly where I'd be and what we were in for.  Finishing the last of the wood would be an elephantine exploit accomplished through herculean effort. (Do you think I'm over-dramatizing this at all? I'm not.)

I fired up the splitter and moved as fast as I could to put a dent in the pile.  With every chunk I muscled over to the splitter, sweat just exploded out of every pore of my body.  In my mind I kept saying, "Just one more."  Every time I would get a piece split, I'd turn my body and look at all that was left and say it again: "Just one more."

Darkness fell on the land while Tay and I continued splitting in the dim glow of the flashlight.  She started saying, "Are we almost done?  Is this the last one?"  The reason she was asking is that our eyes were adjusting to the dark and you literally couldn't tell if there was more or not unless you walked over to the pile and gave it a look from 5 feet away.  I was squinting and moving my foot back and forth over the dirt to see if I could feel any more...I wasn't going to leave a single solitary log unsplit.  I couldn't bide the thought.

Funny thing is that I actually found a few more with my foot in the pitch black.  They weren't big, but they needed one split to be the size that fit into my wood stove.  Toward the end I felt like I was one of the dudes in the military scouring the surface of the earth for land mines.  After going back and forth, I found the last one.  I carried it to the splitter and told Tay, "This is it."  It was my way of saying, "Tetelestai"..."It is finished."  There's something about completing the mission.  I think Jesus felt that when he breathed his last.

I flipped the switch on the splitter and the woods filled with silence.  I gave Tay a fist bump and we grabbed the flashlight and gas can.  We made our way out of the woods into our backyard and eventually through the garage into the kitchen.  I wasn't aware how drenched in sweat I was until I came into the light.  My inlaws took a look at me and gasped at the unsightly man who stood before them, disheveled and spent.  I looked every bit as if I'd finished a game of rugby.  But I was done.

I had fought to good fight, I had finished the race, I had kept the faith.  I didn't talk myself out of it.  I didn't bend the rules.  I did what I said I was going to do.  I fought, kept, and finished.  These are powerful words.  These are virtuous ideas.  These are the characteristics I want to be known for.  I want to be a 'principled man'.

Believe me, I know that wood is no big deal compared to weightier matters in the world, but sometimes...

...It's the principle of the thing.


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