It could happen to anyone. At least that’s what I tell myself sometimes when things unravel. I think it might be true, even if the circumstances differ.
Monday morning, I knocked a jar of banana peppers off an eye-level shelf in my basement. It landed just left of my foot, peppers in a neat little pile, vinegar splashed across the floor, glass exploded into smithereens that embedded in my foot and flip-flops. It was not how I wanted to start my morning. I hadn’t yet made coffee or eaten breakfast. I was trying to get a jump on the day and create some order that would help me get ahead (who am I kidding? I’m so far behind, I’m just trying to catch up with the tailgate!). This little incident was not helping matters.
Tuesday morning, I discovered a package of meat between two freezers in my basement. I can’t tell you how long it had been there, but it was smelly and crawling. It was not how I wanted to start my morning. I hadn’t yet had coffee or eaten breakfast. I was all about efficiency when I set foot in the basement – in and out. This big incident was not helping matters.
I had left the safe space of my bedroom feeling pretty optimistic about the day ahead. I’d had sweet fellowship with the Lord, had a mental list going and few obstacles in the way of accomplishing that list. Monday morning left me thinking that making coffee would be a great way to start Tuesday morning; but when I noticed the empty dishwasher, I decided to put a hold on coffee until I got my canning jars loaded in to sterilize while the coffee brewed and I ate my breakfast. It seemed both smart and efficient.
Taped to the basement door was the reminder of broken glass and the need for shoes. So I stopped to get the vacuum. At this point, the vinegar would be all dry and any last glass dust easy to vacuum up. It was, but the basement was so dimly lit that even the extra lantern I’d brought to illuminate my canned goods closet was insufficient. I felt the need to explore the cause. A light bulb had been loosened in its socket, so I tightened it up, and suddenly all was exposed. The spider webs in the corners and crevices, the rotting meat between the freezers…
Let me tell you something about my basement. It isn’t really a basement. It’s more like a cellar, built out of large field rock, over 100 years ago. The rain and snow-melt run through the cracks and would fill it up if not for the sump-pump built into the low spot. The essentials are housed on concrete platforms — freezer, furnace, hot water heater, well tank. We run a dehumidifier all summer to keep the humidity down. Still, all that wet earth in the corners every time it rains can make it a little smelly at times.
This summer was hot and humid. The basement odors were unpleasant. My husband noticed, checked the dehumidifier, looked around, but couldn’t find any explanation for the scent other than wet, earthy basement. When I came home from weeks of summer travel, I found the smell offensive and did my own search, knowing that if the source didn’t easily reveal itself, I would need to find time for a thorough cleaning of the cellar. Until Tuesday morning, I had been unable to find the source of that awful smell that I’d been trying to keep hidden by a closed basement door.
I donned rubber gloves. I found heavy duty plastic sacks to scoop the mess into. I armed myself with a large putty knife. I….was unprepared for what lurked beneath the package. I will leave that image up to your imagination. I want you to keep reading. You will undoubtedly be done if I paint that picture for you.
I scrambled for the Lysol. Bleach was out of the question because we’d used the last drop two days ago. Lysol was ineffective. I ran through the rain to the barn to find any kind of bug killers my husband had stashed there. They, too, were ineffective against the moving mass on the floor. I needed to scoop it all up, but couldn’t get the right angle with the second freezer in the way. I needed help. Kids to the rescue. Thankfully, my kids are all big now and the three still at home are used to coming to my rescue when big stuff goes down.
When the oldest came on the scene, we decided that bleach would definitely be necessary at some point. But first, we needed to shove that freezer out of the way. We two puny ladies couldn’t make it go. She woke her brother and told him to bring his muscles. I said I would pick up bleach while we waited for the muscles to fully wake, but under no circumstances should she try to clean up that mess. No way was I taking the easy job of running an errand and making someone else clean up the nasty. I said it again on my way out the door, “Do NOT try to clean that up! I’m not making anyone touch that. I’ll do it when I get back. Just spray it with more bug killer occasionally if you do anything.”
I grabbed a hat and keys and off I went. The fact that I had tackled this without ever getting to the coffee hit me as I got behind the wheel, and my neighborhood, drive-thru coffee shop jumped to mind. I was going to buy us each a specialty drink because there had to be some reward for doing a job like this one. I was off without getting properly dressed, washing my face or brushing my teeth. But I was only headed to Dollar General for one thing and would keep my head down. I figured the drive thru didn’t pose a threat, either, windows between us for the short bit of contact that would be had. I pulled in just after another car, stopped a good distance back and put my car in park.
I looked up just as the car in front of me went into reverse and started backing towards me. I tried to get mine in reverse and move, but was too slow so I just yelled “NO!” at the top of my lungs. That didn’t help. The thought of honking came after the fact. By God’s grace, there was no damage done worth caring about. But when all was said and done, I ended up inside that coffee shop in my unwashed state with 4 other ladies, wishing I could crawl under the freezer in my basement. I probably smelled bad enough to belong there.
Here is where the story takes a turn and really gets good. So don’t stop reading yet.
When I arrived home with bleach and coffees, I was greeted by 3 cheerful young adults with gloved hands who had moved that freezer, cleaned up every last bit of nastiness, and the young man with the muscles was burning the remnants. He had proved unnecessary in moving the freezer because the one puny lady did better than we two. All that was left for me was the bleaching and rinsing. Bleach and rinse I did, with a hose that sprung a leak and rinsed the upstairs as I rinsed below, completely unawares. The youngest prevented disaster and left me none the wiser till I finished.
When it was all put back together (which turned out to be no small feat, requiring four of us and a good bit of leveling), and the basement light turned off, the three laughing young adults, my children, who were gathered around my kitchen island asked if we could pray together before we moved on. As we reached for each others’ hands, one remembered a song they used to sing every morning at a camp they’d attended. So we stood in a circle and they taught me a fun version of “Bind Us Together, Lord,” complete with clapping and hugs. And then…we prayed.
All before we’d even finished our morning coffee.
Tuesday morning did not go according to plan. I thought by noon I’d be well into making pickles, if not close to done. I’d have eaten breakfast and finished my coffee and had my day in hand. But it was never my day to begin with, and the Lord had something to show me. In my quiet time during the early hours, I had been reading the opening pages of a book by Jen Wilkin where she makes the case that for the believer who wants to know God’s will for their life, instead of asking “What should I do?” we should first ask, “Who should I be?”
My prayer for my children has long been, and especially this last year, that they would be filled with the Holy Spirit, exhibit His fruit and display the character of Christ. Tuesday morning, I saw it on full display, within their home, where it is often the hardest to do, and under unpleasant circumstances. I don’t know how to answer all their questions about what they should do at any given moment, but I know who they should be, and by God’s grace they are (Romans 12:2). They are not merely rule followers who are well-behaved lovers of self, but followers of Jesus whose love has filled them to overflowing, transformed by the Holy Spirit to show the character of the God who made and loves them (1 Peter 1:14-16).
It could happen to anyone – a morning like mine. Thankfully, it doesn’t happen that way every day. But the unplanned, unexpected, and ugly sometimes pile on. As to the rest of it? The joy, the self-sacrifice, the love, and unity – those can happen to anyone, too.
They can happen to anyone, or rather within the heart of anyone, who truly knows Jesus.
©Erika Rice 2018