Old Mother Hubbard

by Joanie Butman

Freed from the routine of the school year, every day becomes an adventure during the summer. You never know when a 10-minute errand will turn into a 2-hour escapade. I promise this will be my last dump article, though I could write an entire book regaling decades of “Tales from the Transfer Station,” most notable being the time I was put on probation for not recycling after an extended family reunion weekend. A house full of relatives generates too much garbage to sift through – in more ways than one.

It was really just a verbal warning, but the threat of losing my dump privileges was made abundantly clear. I’ve been on my best behavior since – for the most part. I’ve always joked that you could cut up a body, stick it in a green bag and as long as it was deposited in the proper receptacle, no one would say a thing. But sneak a piece of cardboard into the general trash bin, and they’re all over you.

A few weeks ago I made a new friend on a dump run who unintentionally reminded me of some important truths:

  1. One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.
  2. Happiness is all about perspective.
  3. Burdens are lighter when shared.

It all began when I agreed to drive my sister to the transfer station to drop off some old dressers. The best feature of the dump is the Swap Shop, where people discard unwanted but still useable or fixable items. My family and I have unearthed many a treasure there. After we dropped off the first load, I assured her it would be gone by the time we got back. Sure enough, five minutes later upon our return, it was nowhere in sight. As we carried out the second bureau, a woman jumped out of her car exclaiming, “It’s perfect! Just what I’m looking for. Today’s my lucky day!”

We carried it to her car where we discovered her trunk full with some of our earlier cast-offs. “Where do you live?” I inquired. “Why don’t we just bring it to your house?” Astonished, she replied “You would do that for me? This IS my lucky day!” My sister and I packed up the dresser and followed her home. We unloaded both cars while listening to her story. It was a lo-o-o-ong narrative and she insisted on giving us a tour of her entire house as she spoke. We learned that she was moving her husband into hospice after a lengthy journey with Alzheimer’s. All his ‘toys’ (lego-type projects) littered the kitchen table and living room because she didn’t have the heart to dismantle them. 

Following the tour, she moved onto her photo albums, and we were given a pictorial of her life beginning with the wedding. Fast forward 90 minutes and she finally (but reluctantly) escorted us to my car, clearly eager for us to linger. She reiterated her original assessment that this was a great day, and how fortunate she was to run into us with exactly the items she needed for her husband’s new abode. Before I left I asked her name and she replied “Old Mother Hubbard.” I laughed, but she assured me she was serious. “It’s Norma Hubbard, but everyone knows me as Old Mother Hubbard.” You just never know who you’re going to meet. Her house may not have resembled a shoe, but it was quirky and unique in its own right.

As my sister and I left, she teased, “What is it with you? Every time we're together something like this happens.” We discussed Norma and agreed that it’s all about perspective. This woman’s life was disintegrating around her, but she felt like the luckiest woman in the world because she rescued someone else’s discarded junk, and managed to rope in a couple of visitors in the process! Whatever issues were on my mind paled in comparison to Old Mother Hubbard’s problems. Her circumstances were less than ideal, yet in our trash she chose to perceive a blessing. An excellent lesson for an innocent trip to the dump. I don’t believe in coincidence, so I knew that God was reminding me of a key Christian principle:

Our circumstances don’t dictate our joy.

I also think He knew Norma needed some companionship, no matter how brief.

That encounter also highlighted another aspect of Christianity – the importance of fellowship. Sharing each other’s burdens (or trash) always helps put your own in perspective. When you see what others have to deal with, you tend to feel better about your own life. That’s one of the reasons I enjoy Bible study so much. It keeps me grounded by helping me view my own concerns in the proper perspective.

I’ve met so many entertaining and interesting people at the dump. It's quite the social scene. It doesn’t matter who you are, what you do, or where you’re from—the common denominator is our junk. The same can be said about life. We’re all connected by our own humanity and have to deal with the same garbage that life dishes out in abundance. Your rubbish might be health issues, relational issues, work issues, addiction issues – the list is endless. Humans have been recycling the same stinky messes since Eve ate that apple, and our probation lasted until Christ came to bail us out. (She probably didn’t put the core in the compost pile!)

There is no doubt that our load is definitely lighter when shared with others, which is why I wouldn’t recommend trying to hide things or sneak it into the wrong container. But even if you are so inclined, and we all are at some point, God will never revoke your dump privileges. The fastest way to deal with emotional or spiritual refuse is to bring it into the light and presence of the only receptacle waiting, willing and able to relieve you of whatever it is you’ve been carting around – not with condemnation or probation, but with love. Recycling may be good for the environment but not for your soul. You definitely don’t want to keep recycling the same old stuff. Choose to acknowledge it, confess it, hand it over to God and be done with it.

Christ is the ultimate alchemist. He can take anything you surrender to Him, transform it into something precious and beautiful, then use it for good – a sort of Divine Swap Shop. You’ll be amazed at the treasures you’ll discover there.