Gwen Bristow’s 1970 novel, Calico Palace, has immersed me in the early days of California and the gold rush era. The novel is not new to me. We have had it on our bookshelves since not long after it was first published, but I enjoy diversity in my reading. I nearly always have a novel going at the same time I am reading something a bit meatier.
I pulled this one off the shelf recalling we kept it because my husband and I had both read it and I thought I might want to read it again some day. I knew it would take me a few pages to get settled into the story that wends its way through nearly 600 pages.
During the timeline of the book, San Francisco was a tawdry little town filled with men looking for a future on the other side of “the States” without any awareness gold was about to be discovered. Before long men who were eager to get rich were filling up the town on their way to creeks and hills where they hoped to find gold.
The town (if you want to call it that) grew up around those arriving initially by ship after a perilous journey around the Horn of South America or by traveling across the Isthmus of Panama in frightful conditions. No one was interested in creating a town, but there was a need to get supplies and information to get started on their adventures.
The “buildings” were largely thrown together out of cloth, sticks, and whatever could be found. There was little question it was primitive and conditions didn’t improve as men filled up the place. There was no governing body so garbage was thrown wherever one would please and rats were in abundance. Fresh food was in short supply and heavy rain would turn the area into a sea of mud. Some grew tired of the search for gold.
But people kept coming and buildings got thrown together in days where men slept on the floor in places no bigger than a closet and took their leisure in gambling houses that sprouted up. The conditions were ripe for any number of disasters and one of the biggest was fire.
Men gave little concern to ashes from cigars despite the flimsy construction of the buildings and other men looked at fire as a means of opportunity to get rich through looting if their own dreams of gold had faded.
Fires tore through the town repeatedly before a fire brigade developed and over and over again those trying to live or do business in the town lost everything.
One piece of advice offered by a main character in the story after multiple fires was this: “…the way to live is, get ready for the maybe. Then forget it.”
The statement left me puzzling and wondering how one gets ready for the maybe, the uncertain something that might happen, but I realized most all of us do that in one way or another.
When we buy insurance to cover our homes or cars, we’re preparing for the maybe. Depending on our mindset, some of us do it in other purchases and how we live our lives.
The word “prepare” in Hebrew connotes things like readiness, foundation, and equipment, to get ready beforehand. Though we may try to prepare for some eventualities, how well do we prepare for the “maybe” and what we need spiritually?
How often do we prepare for the unknown of what each day may bring so we will stand in the midst of difficulty? Do we consider preparation for the “maybe” of the Lord’s return or do we only manage to look to the moment?
Paul writes a powerful admonition about being prepared to the church at Ephesus that we would do well to take for ourselves.
“Be prepared. You’re up against far more than you can handle on your own. Take all the help you can get, every weapon God has issued, so that when it’s all over but the shouting you’ll still be on your feet. Truth, righteousness, peace, faith, and salvation are more than words. Learn how to apply them. You’ll need them throughout your life. God’s Word is an indispensable weapon. In the same way, prayer is essential in this ongoing warfare. Pray hard and long. Pray for your brothers and sisters. Keep your eyes open. Keep each other’s spirits up so that no one falls behind or drops out.”
Ephesians 6:13-18 (MSG)
That’s good stuff, but the key is to pause at the first two words. The admonition assumes we recognize that we must be doing this before a threat comes or we need the tools Paul writes about. We prepare when the weather is perfect, we are healthy, and there is no hint of any kind of threat to our safety.
There’s the rub. When all is well with us, it can be easy to forget we need to prepare for the maybe. But prepare and get ready we must and it cannot wait till we are in the midst of a hard challenge, a disaster, a dashed hope, or the sound of a trumpet.
Jesus reminds us of that clearly in Matthew 25 in the parable of the wise and foolish virgins. You may recall the story of five who were prepared with fresh oil in their lamps and five who had allowed their oil to run out and not taken any more to be ready. The peril of the foolish virgins is clear:
“In the middle of the night someone yelled out, ‘He’s here! The bridegroom’s here! Go out and greet him!’
“The ten virgins got up and got their lamps ready. The silly virgins said to the smart ones, ‘Our lamps are going out; lend us some of your oil.’
Matthew 25: 6-8 (MSG)
One thing is sure: uncertainty is the norm. We will face it many times in our lives. We cannot know or fully prepare for the unknown, but we can prepare for what will sustain us when it happens.
In the novel, Kendra reminds us from her own early experience with a wise grandmother:
“When I would run in, all upset about something that might happen next week, she used to say to me, ‘Little girl, the way to live is get ready for the maybe. Then forget it.”