“Hey, Mom!” Came the worried voice of our 9-year-old, Leah, “When I was getting this string from the basement, I could hear the toilet running, and it smells horrible down there.”
SEWER WATER was gushing into our finished basement and storage areas from out of the basement toilet and bathtub. By the looks of it, this had been happening for hours and defiling everything in its path.
We tried all the things to stop it, but nothing worked. We called all the people, but no one answered!
Our youngest child, Annika, who is now seven, tells the events of the day this way,
“Yeah, Leah heard toilet water running and told us it smelled real bad. Mom ran downstairs and screamed, “Dirty water’s pouring out everywhere!” Then, Dad went down, and Mom tried to call all the workers. But nobody answered. We had to move stuff upstairs. Mom turned off all the water things, but the toilet kept on running. After a long, long time, Mom turned off some secret, secret thing to stop it.”
Although the “secret, secret” rescue part of Annika’s story isn’t accurate, it is understandable. You see, she’d been watching her Dad and me trying to rectify the problem from inside the house without any success for nearly two hours. That is until she heard me yell up from where I was alone in the basement, saying, “It just stopped!” Hence, I became the miracle worker having done some secret, secret thing.
It certainly wasn’t me who saved the day this past Saturday. I do, however, credit a measure of God’s savings to my 75-year old mother who chose the “ancient paths” that ultimately led to our rescue. Even though she couldn’t figure out how to get numbers from Siri or search the internet for possible solutions, her choice to pray continually and to do the old-fashioned thing of showing up in person at the municipal building is what closed the dung gate to our home. There, hung on the locked doors of the office building, Mom found a flyer with a hand-written note that read, “In case of emergency, call this number. She called. Thirty minutes later, the sewer water suddenly stopped flowing into our basement, without anyone having even come to our door.
A man representing the town’s waterworks finally came walking up the driveway. He explained how one of the sewage pumps in our neighborhood’s control center had stopped functioning and that somehow their office had missed the auto-alert. He explained how their employees are only working every second day due to the COVID situation. He was sheepish and visibly shaken, but he was also extremely apologetic and continued to say how very sorry he was.
He also explained that due to gravity, sewer water naturally flows downhill, which is why most of the system in our hilly neighborhood was able to work properly with the pump off, leaving the rest of the community homes unaffected. But because our home is the lowest-lying in the neighborhood, even lower than where the sewer line runs, the pump malfunctioning allowed the sewage to flow past the main sewer pipe into our home through our basement floor drains. Talk about feeling lower than dirt!
An adage from my grandfather came straight to mind. He’d often say, “Crap flows downhill!” He used the word beginning with “SH,” but you get the image happening here before our own eyes.
Those most affected by the happenings at the top, whether these are blessings or curses, are the ones stationed at the very bottom of any chain. This is particularly true when the systems we have long relied on to hold off the bad start to fail. I believe we are going to see much of this as a result of the current societal events when we are on the other side of this forced retreat. There will be many unforeseen casualties in marginalized populations.
Even in such a filthy, chaotic situation, God was still clearly speaking through this organic image to my soul. We are all affected by other people’s stuff, good and bad, especially by the people who live, work, and serve above us. These are the neighbors the Bible mentions. But just as this catastrophe was not intentional on anyone’s part, the fact remains, “Crap does flow downhill,” and those at the bottom of any refuse chain are the ones most vulnerable to becoming dumping grounds. Whatever bad comes into our homes, no matter how accidentally or carelessly it happened, it still has to be removed, so that our people don’t become diseased or our home structures don’t rot from within by what remains in the shadows. The soul work must be done to remove the decay and provide care for the innocent who’ve been negatively affected.
This downflowing sin-pattern can be seen everywhere in life and society. We are not only negatively affected by our sin, but by the sin of others, especially by those who wield the most power in our societal groups. I believe this is why God holds those in authority, whether based on power, fame, wealth, or leadership endowment, more responsible for the care of those who reside in lower positions. “To whom much has been given, much will be required; and to whom they entrusted much, of him, they will ask all the more.” Luke 12:48
Most of the time, people have no idea how much their sin is affecting others. We, humans, are naturally very self-focused. My mother often says, “If we had any idea how much our self-centeredness affected other people, we’d stop doing it.” But in our blindness, we unknowingly harm those down chain. It’s critical that when we, as believers, are in authority, we do what is necessary to consider the state of those entrusted to our care or management. Sins aren’t always the wrong we have committed, but often they are things we have omitted.
The leadership style of Abraham Lincoln was known as MBWA, which means to manage by walking around. As a leader, Lincoln was ever-descending to those on lower-lying lots to learn how his actions were affecting them. He paid attention to the cries and desires of the people he managed and made adjustments based on their inquiries. God calls His people to lead in this way, and it takes great humility to be open to this kind of critique and to learn how our actions and attitudes affect those under our care.
Sadly, the reality of dung and gravity reveals itself too often in the Hasenbalg household when we experience power failure in our ranks. If Scott is downcast, then I get anxious, and when I get anxious, I get short or absent-minded; and when I am short or absent-minded, the kids can feel it, especially when I’m homeschooling. Cole is most easily affected by my attitudes and actions. And when my attitude turns negative, Cole gets uptight; and then he, in turn, isolates himself and pulls away from the others, even from his 13-year old sister, Maya. Maya is quite sensitive to her older brother’s emotions, as he is her closest friend and role model; so, she often takes his social distancing personally. Her natural response is to lose her patience with her younger sister, Leah, who’s situated just below her in age. And of course, as the natural flow goes, if Leah feels dumped on, she’ll take it out on the next in line, Annika, the youngest and farthest down the family dung chain. Although Annika is by nature, our most easy-going family member, she has been known to lose her temper most loudly if dumped on too long. She’ll even start yelling just to stop the insanity. As parents, it’s our responsibility not to respond with some knee jerk reaction, by automatically scolding the young one who’s lost her cool and finally cried out about the pile-up. But instead, Scott and I need to understand our place at the top of our family authority structure and Annika’s weak position that often bears the greatest load of the downhill flow. As the youngest, she also has fewer life skills to deal with it all. Of course, even Annika has to own her piece concerning the unkind things she says. Still, God keeps making it clear how important it is for us to sit as a group and look at where this negative flow began and how long ago the confession and forgiveness pump stop working. Sometimes we all miss responding to the auto-alert. Which begs the questions, “When did we first lose our internal peace and began blaming someone else instead of turning to God for help?”
When it comes to the way of dung and gravity, all of us must own our part in the negative downward movement, to cry out to God’s for help in getting clean, so we can begin cycling again in grace.
Even though much of the evil we endure in this life often originates from the bad actions of those stationed above us, we still can cry out to God for his help, mercy, and protection. He will help us engage in the work of salvaging what can be saved, comforting those who’ve been traumatized and cleaning and disinfecting the remaining structures.
I want to close with the rest of little Annika’s recap of the story that we are calling, Live at the Dung Gate:
“Then, we had to clean it up. The sewer people came and told us there was a blinking light they didn’t see. They told us it was the sewer thingy’s fault. They said they were sorry. And saying sorry IS like the ultimate word! Then the cleaners came, and now the cleaners are fixing it. They threw away all our stuff because they wanted to lift the carpet. I think we saved all the important stuff. We lost a lot of money stuff, but I don’t feel that bad about losing my toys because it didn’t touch my most important stuff. The yucky water got on a few of my toys, like some Shopkins, but I saved most of my Shopkins. Me and Leah were mostly outside because we didn’t want to get destroyed and all covered in bad stuff. Mom told us to take a bath and go upstairs, and she even let us play video games while it got cleaned up. I think it was good for us to play games because me and Leah were dying to ‘make a house in the sky’ in creative mode. Anyhow, it’s all just about the gates, because that’s what mom was talking about it, and that’s how God’s giving her a sign to know this and write it down. But it’s the DUNG gate! That’s all I know. Me and Leah prayed outside and just kept praying and praying!”
Only one basement room was untouched by the catastrophe – the BECOMING room. And this is the room that holds all the ministry supplies and the paintings my Aunt Georgie did for the BECOMING project. In my Spirit, I could almost hear the Lord saying to the sewage water, “To here and no farther, you may come!” (Job 38:11)
Sometimes God makes it very clear at which of the Jerusalem gates we are currently stationed. Without a doubt, we are at the dung gate. But I am thrilled to report that the gates of Ghenna (which means Hell) did not prevail against us, at least in the most important senses. Sure, there’s a major heap of cleaning and sorting we have to do, and it’s going to take some time. But through this fiery trial, our little family of six pulled together with kindness and positive attitudes, each child having turned first to prayer and then to working efficiently through the crisis as a well-assembled team.