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What's That Stench?
by Vince Martella 
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What's That Stench?

Seventy six hundred dollars? This must be some kind of mistake.

My renter called me concerning a septic tank problem, so we promptly got a company to the property to pump it out. After doing so, the technician said it looked like we might have a problem with the outlet tee. After discussing what it would take to fix that, he offered that the system, being old, might require new field lines. He went on to speculate that there might not be room in the back yard, and he might have to install a pump and run them into the front yard. That’s when the dollar figure, stronger than the surrounding smell, almost knocked me down.

Well, being the entrepreneur that I am (read that too cheap), I decided that I could fix the union, and thus the problem myself. I bought a 4” union, 10’ of pipe, some pipe glue and some hydraulic cement.  I also brought along my Sawzall, shovels, a tarp, a crowbar, rope a mixing bucket and trowels.

Let me state, for the record, that I am not endorsing any homeowner to work on their system. Septic tanks are called septic for a good reason. They are toxic. They can make you sick. They can even kill you.

That stated, I and my renter, who had some experience with these things, and could not be persuaded that it was not his responsibility to help, began. After some digging, we very carefully removed the tank lid. Then the real digging began outside the tank.

Several hours later, we had a hole about 3 feet deep and 7 or 8 feet long. The pipe outside the tank was broken to the point of being virtually non-existent. Obviously, there was a lot of wet sludge that needed to be removed. I was ready to call in an excavation man to dig just before I found some existing pipe at the far end of the hole.  If you have ever had to dig something deep like this, you know what I’m talking about.

Back at home, my wife was calling around for backhoe operator prices. She called me just as I uncovered the solid pipe, and I relayed the good news. She said she just talked to a Christian excavator who lived right around the corner, and he offered to come take a look.

In a few minutes he arrived and surveyed the mess. He pointed to a spot about 10 feet away, and in the opposite direction. “Your other field line is going to be running right about through here.  I’ve done several of these older systems in this neighborhood, and I hate to say it but your field lines probably need to be replaced. If you dig down about 2 feet or so you should hit gravel. If you find water in the gravel, you might as well stop all that digging you’re doing. You’ll need new lines.”

I thanked him and he went on his way. I dug where he marked, and sure enough I soon hit gravel. He was spot on. And yes, it was wet. After the renters and I stared for awhile, we finally put the cover back on the tank. I gathered up my tools, put the material back on my truck, and after assuring them I would have someone out there first thing tomorrow, I left to return my material.

It wasn’t until I was back home in my shower that I began to process the events of the day.  Obviously, there was anxiety over who I would get to fix it and how I would pay for it. Let me say here that I believe it is always our right to pray and believe that God will deliver us from our trial. However, once denied, it is our privilege to believe God will deliver us through our trial. That, though, is another devotion.

The other thought that came to me was – the stench! All day long I smelled it. In the truck after the job I smelled it. In the store returning material I smelled it. And even after a hot shower, though only in my mind, I smelled it.

It made me wonder, “Do I ever smell this bad spiritually?” The Bible declares in 2 Cor. 2:15 that we are a fragrance to God and to those around us. If my association with my septic system for a day caused me to reek, how do my spiritual associations smell?  What habits and associations are affecting my fragrance? I know God can discern my fragrance when I walk out of line with scripture. I wonder if others around me can discern it too. I made a decision to take a hard look at my spiritual life and to guard my heart more closely in the future. I want to be a sweet smelling fragrance. I don't like to stink.

You’re probably wondering how the septic system turned out. Well, the end hasn’t been written yet. We will need new lines (about $4,000 - ouch!) But we have been faithful tithers and givers, so we know “he will open up the windows of heaven and pour us out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it.” (Mal. 3:10)

We serve a faithful God so I know one thing; whatever happens we’ll come out smelling like a rose.


*Thanks for reading. Any comments or crits would be greatly appreciated.


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Member Comments
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Shann Hall-LochmannVanBennekom  09 Jan 2013
I really enjoyed this. I found myself cringing at spots and am positive once or twice I could even get a whiff of your septic problems. That's a sign of good writing. (I tend to be quite descriptive when I write about bodily functions and know I've done my job when people say eewww) Just a couple of tiny thoughts. These come from a place of love and a desire to help you become the best writer possible. First thing I noticed you "broke" one of the writing rules--never start off with a number. Now you can write it out: Seven thousand, six hundred dollars? He has to be joking. Notice I used the word he instead of you. This is nitpicking but since you, in this case refers to the reader--me--I would change it to he instead. You may also want to do some showing to help pull your reader in and paint a picture. For example something like this: I blinked my eyes as I stared at the estimate. Shaking my head, I looked again to see if perhaps my blurry vision could be cleared up. Hmm one, two, three, four. Four zeros, I guess the problem wasn't with my eyes at all. Maybe the repairman had a tic and wrote an extra zero. Hmm nope his handwriting looks quite neat. Now I went on quite a bit but I wanted to show you want I mean by showing. This also added some humor to it and I have a feeling that you like to add a bit of humor to your pieces. You are quite good, especially with the tongue in cheek kind. You may want to consider this: instead of listing you may want to leave out the part where you list all the tools and supplies you gathered, as well as the work you did. Some of that was foreign to me and might be to others too. You did a grand job of showing a real life experience. I think that makes a huge difference in devotions. It helps the reader relate to the MC. You just may not want to go so far into the details because if the reader finds it over her head then she may skip over it and miss your message. But leave the humor in, as that will entertain the reader and give them a glimpse into the MC's mood and personality. I laughed at the part about being too cheap and could totally relate to it. (Note that you have cheep which is a sound a bird makes instead of cheap meaning related to money.) Another bit of red ink would be I and my renter. I'm delighted that you used the correct pronoun (I vs me is one of my goals--to teach the world to use them correctly) but it should be My renter and I. The next part where you describe all the digging and the Christian worker giving advice and digging again, is a part you may want to condense into a sentence or two. The transition from back yard to the Bible is a great one. I could so totally relate to the stench. Sometimes when working with something that reeks for a long time it almost feels like the foul odor has infiltrated every pore on the body and taken up residence in the nose. Your transition t to the Bible was outstanding! Make sure when quoting a scripture, you list the translation you used. It is a powerful message and you picked the perfect verse to go along with it. I really enjoy this and I gave a slightly longer and more in depth feedback than I normally would because of your comment on the boards about wanting feedback. I think you have a great start here. I'm not sure if you ever hope to submit this to a devotional magazine (I'd recommend the Upper Room) but I think with some polishing it has a chance of being selected. Each publication has its own guidelines. I know many prefer short devotions of 250 to 500 words. Also you may want to include a prayer, as not everyone who reads it knows how to pray. Again I want to stress that I did truly enjoy this and your last sentence really packs a punch and shows God's love for us. Keep writing, I can feel your passion in your words and your desire to get God's word out to as many people as possible. He has given you a gift for sure. :) Thank you for sharing it with me.


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