October 27, 2005

The Drama in a Downspout

1544 page23 cap once rented a quaint old house, loving its odd angles, mismatched moulding, and offbeat charm. But while I loved the mouldings of the upper floors, I hated the moldings of the basement.

The basement leaked. Badly. And increasingly often. The professionals came to explore, cleaned out the gutters, and for a while that seemed to help. But when the snow melted outdoors, the rain pooled indoors. With time, amorphous mushrooms grew up through the sodden carpet, and black-and-green mold slimed its way up the stairwell walls.

We tore out the carpet and its crop of homegrown fungi (a definite misnomer), washed down the floor, and moved things to higher ground. As time passed, the mold grew worse, and so did I. I searched the Internet, pondered possible diagnoses, and set up medical tests. In the meanwhile, I inhaled deeply before running down the stairs to toss in a load of laundry, challenging myself to get back to the landing on one good long breath. Unfortunately, I seemed to have fewer and fewer good long breaths in me. I'd been deceiving myself. Despite efforts to keep the basement closed off, my furnace and I carried spore-laden air from room to room and floor to floor. When we removed kitchen wallpaper, we found the same multihued molds stealthily flourishing beneath.

Finally, the professionals came back, discussing the expensive possibility of backhoeing and other serious foundation work. I made plans to move away from the beloved house that was slowly sickening me. As a last resort, the workers dismantled the drainpipe, and were amazed: tiny roots from a nearby maple packed the pipe full. Though fine as threads, they'd woven so tightly together that they formed an impenetrable plug. When the heavens opened, rainwater was unable to flow as it should, so it escaped where it could--through the walls of my home. In fact, these tiny rootlets were wedged so tightly and for so long that even when removed from the pipe, they still retained the J shape of the downspout.

1544 page23I find spiritual lessons in everyday stuff, even when they are shaped like the J of my downspout.

Each of us can recall moments when we sensed God's presence, felt ourselves growing--when the channel between us and heaven seemed wide open. In these moments faith flows, and we are at ease with our Father.

At other times it feels as though God is far away, our faith is stagnant, and the heavens soundly sealed. Disease sets in. It's usually not the monumental things that stand in the way. It's more often the gradual buildup of tiny resentments, minuscule omissions, and almost imperceptible steps away from our values. Unnoticed because of their seeming insignificance, they quietly set root in our lives, and together conspire to block our connection to Him. If they are unchecked, we'll eventually find that our foundations have suffered because of them.

Once our faith foundation is compromised, other areas of our lives will eventually be affected as well. However we dress up the other floors, an unhealthy spiritual condition seeps throughout, poisoning everything. Attitudes decay; joy declines; relationships suffer.

Looking back, I chide myself for not moving out sooner. Except for its basement, I was comfortable in that house, and most of it was attractive. Moving again sounded like hard work. And, of course, the sicker I got from living there, the harder it was to summon the energy required to move away.

Satan knows all this about our spiritual lives, too. We
can grow comfortable even in our sin-sickness. The thought of changing then seems overwhelming. Sins--large or small--destroy our motivation for godly change, blocking
all our good intentions. And with our connection to the Lord blocked, we draw ever less from His strength, feeling increasingly alone, overwhelmed, and immobilized.

I'm grateful that God is in the clean-up and restoration business. And that choked channels can be set right. But how much time and pain we could spare ourselves if we'd just maintain our soul's health, making certain that heavenly connections remain clear!

Valerie Phillips is the associate director of the women's residence hall at Andrews University, where she has ministered to collegiate women for 25 years.