It was summer and very, very hot and smelly in that little house, and I felt like I couldn’t stand it anymore. I lay down on the bed in the little upstairs room that was really an attic, where the roof slanted down to the wall so that you could only stand up in the middle of the room, right next to the window overlooking the creek. The kids were down there, playing along the muddy banks, jabbering and swishing big sticks and looking for treasures.
I was six months pregnant with our fourth child, and we were living in this rat-infested place while remodeling the old farmhouse just up the lane. The rats had taken over before we moved in, and after watching them dart under the furniture every time we entered a room we finally put out some poison. That was a bad idea; they all died in the walls, and the stench was impossible to bear. You couldn’t eat your corn flakes in there, it was so nauseating, but had to step outside on the porch. The only place worth being was next to this window, and that was little comfort.
Just a week before, the stereo blew up right before my eyes while the kids were listening to their story records – the smoke puffed out and the thing rattled and hissed so that I thought maybe it would burst into flame. But it didn’t, and although I sent the kids outside just in case, all it did was ruin the stereo. Completely.
The thing about this house was that it was full of surprises. Sometimes you’d turn on the water in the bathroom and get shocked – because somehow the electrical lines and the water lines overlapped. Before we put out the poison, baby mice crawled out of rotten holes right there on the windowsill next to the table, and the kids fed them little pieces of chicken or whatever we were having for dinner. At one point one of the new calves got swept downstream and died right behind the house, swelling up like a balloon in the summer sun, but we didn’t even know for several days because the stench was no different than the stench from the dead rats.
Once I heard my oldest son crying downstairs while I lay next to the upstairs window. I vividly remember wearing an old turquoise bathrobe that was loose enough for my growing stomach to be comfortable and also big enough to cover everything. I hurried downstairs to find blood all over the floor; he’d cut his bare foot open on an old can along the road. I threw on some real clothes, scooped up the other kids and threw them in the car, and rushed to the hospital where he asked for a mirror to watch the stitching process on the bottom of his own foot. I felt sick to my stomach the whole time.
I couldn’t do laundry in this house, but had to walk it up to the “big house” that was being remodeled and use the washer and dryer in the basement. We generated plenty of laundry that summer, complete with bed sheets and blankets that got soiled every night by the youngest.
One day I decided to drown my sorrows in a batch of freshly baked peanut butter cookies. I ate probably half of them, a couple of dozen, and felt awful enough that I couldn’t cook dinner that night. I couldn’t do anything but lay on the couch and cry to myself out of exhaustion and frustration with the whole mess, and vow that we’d be out of there before the baby came. Somehow. Everyone else went to town to McDonald’s for dinner, which sounded horrible to me, so I just laid there with my legs draped over pillows on the couch feeling my big stomach and crying softly at the cracked and dirty living room windows that wouldn’t even let me look outside.
This was what it was like to be trapped. The volunteer firemen burned the place down the following summer as a practice house. I felt sorry for it at the time, as if it had no fault but just needed someone to love and restore it.
Sometimes I wonder if those I love the most feel smothered by my own inner woundedness and neediness…by fear and anger and self-centeredness? Gratefully, such holes can be patched as my heart is remodeled by the ongoing touch of The Carpenter’s hand. Praise God that He is faithful to complete what He has begun in me!
copyright 2005 Beth Muehlhausen
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