I grew up a Good Little Baptist Girl. We didn’t know what Lent was. But we certainly celebrated Easter with a bang. I mean, it was a biggie. It was in the Top Tier of spiritual holidays. We embraced the festivities: The new, poofy, springtime-exploded-all-over-my-body dresses, the plasticky woven baskets overflowing with pastel-foiled chocolate candy (or carob when my mom was on a health food kick. Blech. Bless her well-intentioned heart.) We had the 12 Easter services: Sunrise, late-rise, accomodate-the-once-a-year-church-rise. We gorged ourselves on the glazed ham and the cholesterol-laden macaroni and cheese for Easter dinner. But we avoided Lent. Because Lent was one of those Catholic things.
It wasn’t until the past few years that I baby-stepped into what Lent was, how it was a moment, a pause, a reflection, a stop and a breath and a reminder of our own mortality before the tiptoe began into the season of hope and spring and new life.
So I embraced it. I gave up the wine, the sugar, the unnecessary spending. I was going to do this Lent thing right. I would be an A-Plus Lent Overachiever. But this year, it was suddenly Ash Wednesday, and I realized I hadn’t put any thought into what I should give up, what thing I was leaning on a little too heavily. I’d think about it at some point. When I’d had coffee. Which, obviously, was NOT the thing I’d be giving up. Let’s not get radical here, people.
One morning, post-coffee, I reached out to turn on my faucet, the little thing that brought water into my house without me even once considering how it did such a task, how marvelously convenient it was to have water at my fingertips, on demand. But this time, water did not come out. Now, I lived in Guatemala for four years. Water not coming out happened with regular irregularity. “Hey, the water’s out. Again,” was a constant refrain in our house there. I’ve lived in a rural area for the past three years. When the power goes out, so goes the water. So this did not make me overly concerned. What DID cause me to maybe let out a very……censored shriek was the fact that huge, thick globs of muddy rivers were plopping out at quite the impressive rate. From every sink. Every tub. Every place. The toilets looked like something a toilet should never look like unless your entire house has been struck with The Dysentery of Death.
Texts and phone calls began to fly back and forth and, by the end of the day, we had secured a little cottage down the road that we could borrow, just for a few days.
Except that the few days turned into weeks. The highlights of those weeks involved toting supplies back and forth to the house so that some school could be accomplished there while others of us spent our days at the cottage. I may be a homeschooler, but a literal, actual one-room schoolhouse is completely outside of my skill set. Kudos to Laura Ingalls. Dirty dishes came one way so clean ones could go back. Five people learned how to schedule around one bathroom. When days turned into more than just a few days, bags and baskets of clothes and food went here and there more times than I even attempted to count.
The coldest weather in years and power outages and heavy snowfall and wells needing to be dug and redug and pipes freezing and being flushed clean of their muddy refuse meant we were three weeks in the little home away from home.
There were many moments that nerves were stretched as thin as guitar strings ready to pop, while the three kiddos all piled onto air mattresses in one room, and while the mom continually shushed her people so that the office sharing the cottage building could function in relative quiet all day long.
And then the big day came: The water was working! The mud from now-thawing pipes went spraying all over bathroom walls and floors. But it was working! The only small, minor, tiiiny little detail left to do was to make sure the water was drinkable. Until the lab results told us that, absolutely, certainly it was not. No. Not at all. No way.
Back and forth went water jugs, filled from the clean faucets of our friends and family. Until the driveway, one day, became a giant slip and slide of mud and there would be no driving down it to retrieve water. Let me pause here to mention that our driveway is a quarter mile long. Well. That wouldn’t deter us. We had seen enough movies to know how to arrange clandestine drug…er…water deals. Our action sequence looked something like this: Me, shuffling down the driveway being simulaneously stabbed by ice pellets and jumped on from behind by our neighbor’s very energetic puppy, bag full of empty jugs slung over my shoulder to be left at the base of the oak tree at the end of our driveway. DID I MENTION THAT OUR DRIVEWAY IS A QUARTER MILE LONG? My sister, upon receiving the bat signal, retrieving the package and returning it full of fresh water, so back down the driveway I could go to get it, this time accompanied by my own personal sherpa…also known as my eldest child. He might have been less excited than if I’d asked him to actually sherpa me up Everest.
Sometime during this slippery, icy, muddy trek (and just to be clear…the length of my driveway? Yes? Ok.) the thought flew into my growing-more-negative-by-the-step brain that I couldn’t believe my life had come to THIS! Toting potable water to my house. In the slush and muck and goo. This was not acceptable.
Except…and really, this was incredibly inconvenient timing…I couldn’t stop thinking about the particular river that ran near my house in Guatemala. My friends and I had nicknamed it “The River of Life.” You smelled it well before you actually glimpsed it…a river that stank with human and animal feces and was filled with the flotsam and jetsam of trash. A river which people used for their water. To drink. DRINK.
I couldn’t stop thinking about my friend Audrey and her description of the weeks she had spent in a poverty-ridden community with tiny kids who walked miles back and forth for water. And that was every single day of their little lives. That was their normal.
I couldn’t stop thinking about the people living down the road and around the corner from me who didn’t have the luxury of testing the water coming into their houses. If it was unhealthy for them, they’d never know it. They just drank it.
Most of the time, when my brain won’t let me stop thinking about these things, I avoid talking to people about my time in Guatemala. I’ve seen their eyes glaze over. I get it. That was then. This is now. I should move on.
And trust me, I’d really LIKE to move on. Except I can’t. And actually, I won’t. I won’t forget the man lying outside of my gate one morning, a bottle of rubbing alcohol clutched in his hand. I won’t forget our little friend Benito, brought to the malnutrition center just a bit too late for his broken body to recover from the fact that he hadn’t had a real meal in far too long. I won’t forget my students who worked long, grueling, physical days and gave up their evenings to learn English, all for the hope of better lives for their families.
It’s embarrassing to admit that I had to live in another country to know how very lucky and ridiculously rich I was in the States. Apparently, I am just that hard-headed. But I got it. I get it now. And what I am learning to reconcile in my heart, what I was reminded of by a sweet friend the other day was an important truth: that I don’t have to feel guilty about my good fortune, the good gifts in my life. Not at all. But in the midst of my own abundance, I can be both grateful and giving.
Grateful that there is provision for those I call my own. And Giving to assure that there is provision for those I call my own in the sisterhood and brotherhood of humanity.
Grateful for running water, for spring peepers beginning their songs all around, for a front porch to sit on and watch birds gather up seeds and kids gather up sticks to battle with in the fantasy lands of their imaginative games.
Giving to the needs that come across my sometimes-muddy path….and if it’s been too long since I have seen any in my little world, then making sure I enlarge my world in order to find them.
I’m sure there will be muddy, tricky, pipe-exploding days ahead. It’s a little thing called Life. In the meantime, the way I see it, I’m pretty sure I’ve got the Lent thing covered this year. I just did it a little early. So bring on that wine and chocolate. I’ll enjoy it with a heart full of thanks that someone invented such magical stuff and a heart ready to share when there is lack nearby. It might be with my neighbor down the mud road. It might be with my neighbor in another country.
And I won’t forget that spring is coming. Fresh new life. Fresh new hope. Fresh new water.