Down in the Pits?

I’m a contractor. That is to say, over the last 20 years of my life, one of the main ways I have financially provided for my family has been via construction jobs. I started out as a framer/roofer, then started laying tile, became a journeyman bricklayer, got into all other types of floor covering, then got into small scale general contracting work. It has been a nice trade to have when I’m in the middle of life transitions, as I am now. It also serves as a great platform for life lessons.

A couple of weeks ago, my brother-in-law approached me about a plumbing issue he had with his main sewer line. It had been backing up and overflowing into the shower/bath tub… shit doesn’t always flow downhill, especially when underground pipes disintegrate. This was their problem. They had a plumbing locator come out with a digital “snake” that could go down in the main plumbing drain with a camera to see what the problem was.

Years ago, plumbers replaced an old 4″ drain with new ABS pipe. The problem was, they stopped 4′ short of the city main, thinking the old pipe was good enough since it still looked like it was in good shape. Well, years later, the downhill ascent of the messiness of our lives came to an end at this residence. The locator marked the ground where the pipe was, and gave us a depth of 6.5 – 7 feet, and a range of a few feet wide of where it “could” be.

The answer: hand dig over 6 feet down, find the pipe where the new meets up with the old, and then chase the disintegrated pipe to the city main and replace it with new ABS pipe. It’s a crap shoot (pun intended). I agreed to help out my brother-in-law since he was having a hard time getting a plumber to commit to remedying the problem, even though I was totally nervous about accomplishing this feat in a days work. I headed out there with a helper named Red. He’s a little younger than I am, and was eager to get after it for the day, but I didn’t tell him that this was going to nearly take our lives today… I wanted to keep his spirits up!

So we got to the job and stuck our shovels in the dirt and went for it. Hour after hour, we would dig, then widen the hole and create steps so we could actually dig, shovel the dirt out, and climb in and out of the hole. The deeper we got the narrower the pit got, and the more the oxygen around us seemed to absorb into the walls of dirt around us, instead of our lungs receiving the refreshment. It got to the point where we would switch digging every 10 minutes. I never told Red, but I was discouraged when we got to the 6.5′ mark and couldn’t find the pipe.

Eventually after digging around we found the new pipe fitting at the very corner of our hole. If we didn’t widen the original hole by 6″ at the beginning, we would’ve missed it altogether, because the old pipe had disintegrated and we could not see where it was. At this point, we new roughly where the city main was, so now we had to tunnel our hole toward the alley, and pray that we would hit the main. Now I am thinking this one day job is going to turn into two days or more, and we will possibly have to get a permit to dig in the alley and rent a back hoe, etc… this was not going to save my brother-in-law money like I wanted to.

There Red and I were, tunneling a dirt hole that had turned mildly muddy from the “watered-down toilet papery poopy” water coming out of the main sewer line. We were in the “shit pit!” Literally! This was one of the hardest days of work I’ve had, and I’ve had some hard days. The physical pain of digging, the psychological battle of trying to decide if we dig 6″ more to the left or go 6″ more to the right was wearing me down, and Red wasn’t as excited about getting after it anymore at this point. Finally, I was in the pit and started yelling out, “Mercy, mercy, mercy!” Red looked into the pit and was wondering what in the world was going on. I finally broke. I told him, “I’m done… I don’t think we’re going to find this stupid pipe.”

So I got out of the pit and he started digging, crying out for mercy too, in his own way. It seems that this is all we can do sometimes when we get into the pit, and we come to the end of what we have brought to the table. Two grown men, begging for mercy, weary and feeling a sense of powerlessness to change our situation. Pathetic, I know! This is typical to how life gets sometimes though, when we are worn down with nothing left to give. Crying out for help never seems to be a good answer until you’re at the bottom of the “shit pit,” then, that’s all you got.

So we kept taking turns digging. Finally after a few hours of tunneling, I was in the muddy pit, crying like a poor school boy, complaining about everything under the sun, and then I heard a high pitched “DING!” That was it. I hit the main! I busted out in an old hymn, “All creatures of our God and king, Lift up your voice and with us sing…” Red was laughing at me, and my sister-in-law was in her house and heard me singing and then came out on the patio and joined in with me and started singing… “Alleluia! Alleluia!…O praise Him! O praise Him! Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!”

We hit the main! We can fix it. We can make the smell stop and flow get back to the way it’s supposed to be. Mercy showed up and offered relief, and Red and I knew, we couldn’t have done this alone. We needed each other, the breaks, the mental and verbal encouragement, the knowledge that someone else is there and they care about this problem too. Oh how we need this type of lesson to speak to us in the midst of the craziness and relentlessness of life.

If you’re down in the pits, cry out for mercy! It’s okay to cry out, even as adults. Sometimes we find ourselves in the pit, and need others to be in it with us, to cry our for mercy with us, to share the load with us, to sing with us when relief comes. This is a picture of why we need one another in life. Don’t go at it alone. Invite others into your journey. Be vulnerable. Be available. Don’t be afraid to get messy. Cry out when you’re in the pit of despair. And if you’re sitting with others in the pit, cry out on their behalf. We need each other.

Weekly @Switchfoot Song: Home

Home. I’m currently reading a book called Beyond Homelessness: Christian Faith in a Culture of Displacement, and it is bringing out so much more from this song than it used. This is song # 5 on Switchfoot’s first album (The Legend of Chin) which talks about longing for home, a place to belong. Here’s the lyrics:

It’s a long way from Miami to LA
It’s a longer way from yesterday
To where I am today

It’s a long way from my thoughts
To what I’ll say
It’s a long, long way from paradise
To where I am today

All that’s in my head
Is in Your hands

It’s a long way from
The moon up to the sun
It’s a longer road ahead of me
The road that I’ve begun

Stop to think of all the
Time I’ve lost
Start to think of all the
Bridges that I’ve burned
That must be crossed

Over, over, over
Take me over

I’ve been poison
I’ve been rain
I’ve been fooled again

I’ve seen ashes
Shine like chrome
Someday I’ll see home

Home, home

I can see the stars
From way down here
But I can’t fall asleep
Behind the wheel

It’s a long way from the
Shadows in my cave
Up to Your reality to
Watch the sunlight taking over

Over, over, over
Take me over

I’ve been poison
I’ve been rain
I’ve been fooled again

I’ve seen ashes
Shine like chrome
Someday I’ll see home

This is a “gut” honest song. Confession you can call it, or maybe transparency, or both. “I’ve been poison, I’ve been rain…” Feelings of despair creep in so fast sometimes in life, especially when we make stupid decisions and get “fooled again” with the lust of this world, and the fraudulent beauty that lures us all in to destruction. Many times in life, I’ve felt a long way from home (physically and emotionally). I’ve felt displaced often. I am in a season of displacement (or one could call it homelessness). Things have been uprooted and what was home, familiar, safe… has changed. But it’s often in these season of life when we notice the “stars” from the bottom of our “caves” that we’ve been locked in (or that we’ve locked ourselves in). It’s in the darkness of the cave where we cling to the only thing we can… HOPE.

Hope. Home. As long as we have breath, we have the hope of going home. And in this sense, I mean home with God. To the “place” we’ve always longed for, where our deepest desires are met in one person, one being. Home is where you aren’t supposed to be fooled anymore. Home is the place you aren’t supposed to be worried about being accepted. Home is supposed to be a safe place. It’s a place where the vision of ashes can be seen as chrome (a metaphor for beauty). It’s a place where our sin can be forgiven. It’s a place where rivers of life and peace rush back into our souls.

This is the home I long for, and it’s the kind of home I long to offer (at least in glimpses) to my wife and kids and friends and family. A taste of home happens on this earth when we start being honest about where we are at, what we have done, and ask for help. It’s at this place where we will experience home; grace, forgiveness, mercy, peace. Home can be seen as a house, a neighborhood, a church, as family members, a city, or a country; but all these things have one thing in common… they can be taken from us, and when that happens, we become displaced, homeless, and we are found in a dark cave, longing once a gain for the hope of true reality with God. Home.