I stood by my kitchen window, watching the giant steel mouth bite through the roof of the house next door, a tape measure still clasped in my hand from my last activity. I realized I may never again watch a house outside my kitchen window being eaten like a lunch of roadkill, so I stopped what I was doing and leaned against the sink, as the massive jaws closed, ripped, and opened again.
I think the house has been abandoned ever since I moved to Elkhart four and a half years ago. In the last few years though, it grew uglier and uglier. Window glass cracked. Plywood appeared beside the ugly green siding.
A “For Sale” sign appeared on the house, promising ridiculously low payments. But when I called the number, the total purchase price was an exorbitant number for the situation.
Once when we were standing in the back of the house, I looked up at the green house, to see a cat sunning itself on the window sill of a broken upstairs window. I have no doubt that raccoons lived there as well, possibly building nests in the bedrooms and using the kitchen for late night parties.
It must have been about last spring that a few shady characters showed up one day and began going in and out of the house. Soon the poster board sign appeared: with a black marker, someone had written “No trespassing”.
I had been wishing the house would be taken down, so it was disappointing to think someone had bought it, and they didn’t exactly look like neighbors who would move in with a toddler bed and cookie sheets, or for that matter, even linen.
But soon it seemed to be abandoned again. Perhaps it would be taken down.
One summer week, an overpowering odor of death hit my front porch. I finally determined it was coming from the house next door. I left (probably to see Marnell, I can’t remember), and when I returned at 10pm, the smell was still so strong that I called the police on the non-emergency number. I told them about the smell, the appearance of the house, and the shady characters, and they agreed that they should pay the house a visit. They arrived in minutes, and told me to return to my porch, while they forced entry, calling out “Police!” Soon they reappeared.
“Dead cat in the basement!”
Then, to my relief, a demolition order appeared in the window sometime this fall. Utilities personnel arrived and spray painted the location of gas and electric lines, and I thought, “Great! It’s going to be gone before winter!”
Instead, about once a month it seemed, the utilities people came back and repainted their encryptions on the sidewalk or on top of the snow. Each time I thought, “Now!”
The house stayed.
The asbestos crew arrived. I can’t remember if it was right before our wedding or after. They fenced the house with yellow tape and cleaned out all the harmful chemicals inside. I’ve lived in “the hole” long enough to know the routine a bit, and this time I was sure the house would soon be gone.
But the house stayed.
We got a notice on our front door that the house would be taken down by December 30.
Finally, I thought, we are getting rid of this eyesore. But the New Year passed, and the ugly house stayed.
Then one morning I was almost done washing dishes when I happened to glance out my kitchen window and I think I may have actually jumped in surprise.
A large piece of yellow machinery was sitting behind the house next door, nearly under my nose. The ugly outbuildings and fences that had been in the back were already gone, apparently taken away while I had been at work the day before. We arrived home in the dark, and never noticed that the process had begun. I began working around the house, and soon I heard noises, which led me to my kitchen window, tape measure still in hand.
The jaws closed again, ripping into the the kitchen. I caught a glimpse of spindle trim work neatly lining the tops of the kitchen cabinets. Snow and dust mingled in a cloud around the insides I had never seen, like the plundered vital organs of an animal. I saw patches of brightly colored walls, and a piece of checkerboard that looked like linoleum.
The operator was not on his first day. Less than ten feet from where I stood, his jaws chewed the outside walls then released their burden into the center. The entire house shook as the jaws worried the skeleton. Rumbling and ripping followed me through my house even after I left the window.
Have you ever had something ugly in your heart or life? Something you hoped would go, thought might go, and then despaired would always be there? I’ve had sections of my heart uglier than the raccoon-infested house giving asylum to dead cats.
I think often God wants us to grapple with things, to learn by waiting, to struggle well. My battle with over-eating has been a little like that. There were times I was sure the struggle would finally be done, but then I wake up and the ugliness is still there. I think it is perfectly possible that God could heal me from those temptations in a moment, but I think it’s also possible that he wants me to continue to struggle with it as a reminder of my fallibility and reliance on him. Maybe God needs us to understand how weak we are so we can fully appreciate His effortless power.
But. There are times…
There are days when God reaches into our lives, just like this excavator reached into our neighborhood. It’s as if God says, “That’s it. You will never struggle with this again. It’s going, it’s going, it’s gone.”
I know, because it has happened to me. Once that finger of God touches something we thought was impossible to erase, we are never the same. When Satan comes at us again, we can say, “Yes, I’m weak, thank you very much, but do you happen to remember what God did in my life that time? Do you remember that death-smelling house on that street in my heart? It’s gone. If He can do that, why would I listen to you?”
The house fell into the basement, and metal was picked out of the rubble and thrown on a pile. When the back hoe was done, a bulldozer pushed fresh dirt over the jagged hole. All that remains of the house are a few cement steps leading up from the sidewalk to an empty lot.
He even saved my tree! Technically I doubt it’s mine, but I’m so glad he left it.
Finally, the operator of the machinery downsized to a small green tool filled with grass seed. He walked back and forth across the smooth lot, turning the handle to spread seed evenly over the new dirt.
Seed. Space. Light!
“The bathroom!” I told Marnell. “It’s so bright!”
From my kitchen window, where before I could see only bleak green siding, I can now see sky and trees. I can see both the alley behind our house and Brady Street as it makes its turn right before our house. We now need to find a curtain for our stairway window. The next house is a place where people live and cook dinner and water their flowers.
Our Operator is like that. He brings back sky. He plants grass. Light, seed, space, hope, where once was death and destruction. Praise God!!