[Written a few weeks ago]: This morning at 5:00am my husband and I rolled out of bed and made the usual rounds, patting sleepy backs and whispering early morning greetings as we went room-to-room waking our 8 kids up for a new day of classes and untold adventures.
Everything seemed to be going according to plan until one of our kids went to use a faucet to wet their toothbrush, and no water came out. We then tried the other faucets in our home to no avail, and a conclusion was quickly reached: we found ourselves absolutely without water. Upon reaching our kitchen (which on our rural property is not attached to our sleeping quarters), we discovered the kitchen faucet equally dry.
In the third world country where we live, the electricity frequently goes out, and there have been dozens of times in the past when we’ve been without water for up to a day or two, but today – in the midst of an extreme heat wave we’ve been experiencing for the last several days – the reality of being without water in our rural, no-air-conditioning home hit us (or at least me) unusually hard. We were no longer in the delightful rainy season in which we enjoy slightly cooler temperatures, but in the blistering hot, dry summer months.
16-year-old Dayana, the eldest of our kids, towel in hand, looked at me with her big, curly hair and asked, “Is it okay if I go down to the creek to bathe? I didn’t take a shower last night…”
Knowing that she is accustomed to taking a shower each morning – and the fact that we were facing the no-water situation – I agreed to her idea, and off she went. Soon her younger sister followed her, bar of soap in hand and towel flapping behind her as she raced off to the little creek – which was most likely also nearly dry – behind our home.
Several young voices, dry toothbrushes in hand, eyed me and asked, “Mom…how are we gonna brush our teeth?”
“Well, I guess we’re just gonna get cavities today…” I answered, already feeling choked up in the hot, humid air thinking about a whole day of smelly breath.
“And how are we gonna wash our hands…?”
“Not sure, sweetheart, but just don’t touch me…” I gave hugs and kisses on the tops of heads, trying strategically to avoid contact with their little hands that always seem to be touching floors, exploring the inside of their noses, etc. How on earth was I going to serve breakfast without having washed my own hands? All of us had been sick on and off the last few weeks with fevers and viruses, and the idea of falling ill again didn’t appeal to me.
I reached our kitchen around 5:40am after overseeing the general morning routine in our home. I glanced at the kitchen counter – where my husband Darwin and our 15-year-old son Brayan normally leave the large bucketful of fresh milk they get out of our two cows each morning – and saw nothing. I opened the fridge and peered in. Nothing. Where was the — ?
I glanced over at Darwin, who stood across the kitchen in his old raggy milking clothes that he wears each morning, and my eyes spoke the question for me. He answered, “Oh, the cows wouldn’t give any milk this morning. Their calves are getting so big that their utters are no longer producing. But the good news is that both cows are well along in their current pregnancy and should be birthing soon.”
No milk? I had gone to the grocery store the day prior to buy several big bulk-sized bags of Cornflakes and other cereals, but we never buy milk because we get it fresh from our cows each morning. Cornflakes without milk? I glanced at him, somewhat irritated as if it was his fault that he couldn’t squeeze out at least a few liters of nonexistent milk, and I suddenly felt a strange emotion: desperation. I was starting to feel like I was in some kind of apocalyptic nightmare, some kind of worldwide scarcity endemic that just might possibly sweep the planet in the coming years due to climate change, deforestation, rampant pollution, etc. Had we reached the point in which countries will war over water rather than petroleum?
Darwin added calmly, “Brayan said that we have powdered milk in the pantry.”
I laughed sarcastically, convinced that he was wrong, but I went to go check just in case. I took a few brisk steps and swung by head into our nearly bare pantry where our two ‘guard cats’ sleep. Several sacks of rice and beans; more than a few cartons of eggs; close to a dozen bottles of cooking oil. Pots and pans…and…
Bingo. My eyes landed on a lone canister of powdered milk. A large supermarket chain that donates expired and damaged goods to us about once a month had included a dinged-up can of powdered milk that we hadn’t used or even noticed due to our prior daily abundance of cows’ milk. I went to grab it when the accusatory words suddenly came out of my mouth, “But we don’t have water! How am I going to be able to prepare the powdered milk?!”
I suddenly felt very, very thirsty.
At that point Brayan spotted one single jug of emergency water that was sitting idly under one of our countertops. Atta boy. It would be enough to mix into the powdered milk and serve our family a glass of water for breakfast, but it wouldn’t get us all through the rest of the day, especially considering that roughly 50 people would need to eat (and drink) from our kitchen once our local students and teachers arrived.
I got to work preparing the powdered milk and serving the cereal bowls for our littlest ones while I then filled up my Nalgene water bottle to the brim with water from our emergency jug. I gulped deep as I felt the cool water sliding down my hot, dry throat. The feeling of desperation continued as I entertained the uneasy thought that that might be the last glass of water I would be able to drink in a long, long time. (And I’m the kind of person who is constantly thirsty and drinks many more than the recommended 8 glasses of water per day. A single glass in the morning wouldn’t cut it. Within an hour or two I would need more.)
By 6:15am I was already sweating bullets as my husband and I began organizing our dining room to receive all of our students and Christian laborers in our twice-weekly worship time and Bible study. As our kids came and went, each grabbing their breakfast cereal with powdered milk, we would laugh dryly (no pun intended) each time they would approach the sink, empty bowl in hand, to wash their dishes. They would turn the handle on the faucet, wait, look over at me, confused, and then suddenly remember that we didn’t have water. “What do I do with my breakfast dishes?” they would ask as I motioned for them to leave them next to the sink. (And if the water didn’t come back for several days? What would we do with the Mount Everest of dirty dishes?)
Back in our bathroom – that little cave-like room attached onto our bedroom for my husband’s and my use – our poor toilet quickly became a gurgling, stewing melting pot of nasty sights and odors. Seeing as we’re both seeking to take really good care of our health, we had taken certain vitamins to help cleanse our system, so between the two of us we had gone #2 three times in that porcelain pot before 7:00am. I had also gone pee two or three times, plus I was menstruating, so every time that toilet lid was lifted up, it felt like a bomb was set off in our bathroom. Each time I went to go use our restroom – which seemed to be more frequent than usual – I pranced around outside of the door for a moment or two, psyching myself up, took a big, deep breath – cheeks inflated with emergency reserve oxygen – and darted in, opened the lid as quickly as possible, did my business in the most efficient manner – covering my nose and mouth with part of my long skirt – shut the lid, and darted out, gasping for clean air on the other end.
Throughout this whole morning escapade, I housed a sense of thoughtful dread in my chest. Would the world come to this someday, and will it be sooner than we think? When will the world’s water sources dry up or get so contaminated after years of senseless pollution that they are no longer drinkable? In a matter of hours I had become a very philosophical, dry husk.
Take electricity or petroleum away from man, and he can survive, although without the luxuries he is accustomed to. Take water away – even for a very short time – and he gets put face to face with a life and death situation.
My morning – which I had thought would be all about normal affairs, human relationships, Bible study, preparing for classes, etc – suddenly became all-consumed by a single thought: water. Survival. Although externally I continued to joyfully fulfill the many duties (privileges) before me, internally I was becoming quite frantic. All I could think about were the sunburns on my arms and neck from day after day of walking under the blistering Honduran sun, the beads of sweat forming all over my body, and my dry throat. Everyone around me started to look sweaty and worn out; we were quickly becoming like a band of Israelites wandering around a very dry desert. When would it end?
We humans believe we are so powerful, so smart, so capable of taking on any difficult situation and coming out victorious – we’ve traveled and conquered the globe, learned new languages, earned advanced degrees, own many of the greatest comforts and luxuries the world can offer – but if you take water out of the equation, our own weakness gets put immediately in perspective. It turns out that we are not our own gods; we are not the all-powerful, super-independent individuals we’d like to think we are.
It turns out that, after all, each and every one of us is extremely fragile, surprisingly weak. We must be constantly sustained and cared for in order to survive. Taken out of a situation of comfort and security, we quickly become fearful and aggressive as our own mortality stares us in the face. Dry husks whose beauty and power disappear faster than the snacks in our pantry.
Just a few days ago as I was running errands in the nearby city of La Ceiba I passed by a little stand on the side of the road that sells newspapers. The daily headline had been printed out extra large and pasted on the outer wall of the stand so that passersby could see the news and hopefully be attracted to purchase the newspaper. My eyes felt automatically drawn to the large, colorful poster with the day’s breaking headlines although I knew, as usual, they would hold devastating news.
Sure enough, an oversized photo of an extremely fit man with rippling muscles in his 20s or 30s gave visual power to the text below: Local gym owner murdered.
I do not know why he was murdered — if he was involved in illegal business with the wrong crowd and it finally caught up with him, if he had refused to pay the ‘war tax’ to local extortionists or if he was simply an innocent victim to one of many senseless murders in our area, but what I do know is this: his large muscles and perfect physique could not save him, did not preserve his life. What’s more, I’m convinced that yesterday was a normal day for him — he probably went about his business without the idea of death having crossed his mind once. He probably woke up, went to work at the gym, and thought he had many years of vibrant life and excellent health before him. He might have even marveled at his own impressive body and thought that by doing so much exercise he was even extending his lifespan. I’m convinced that never in his wildest dreams did he think that his very own photo would make national headlines the next day to announce his sudden death.
And so, as I went about my own business on that extremely dry day, the reality of our human frailty — no matter how chiseled our muscles are or how much money we have saved up in the bank — suddenly became inescapable. As odd as it sounds, I thank God for this. Living here in the midst of rampant violence and gang activity, police corruption/unresponsiveness, devastating poverty all around, highly dangerous viruses and tropical illnesses and even uncomfortable physical elements such as scorching heat and no-water days, I am daily faced with my own mortality. I must daily come to grips with the fact that I need a Savior, that my own life dangles by a little thread with many roaming machetes threatening to cut it.
I may have all my accounts in order, put into practice a daily exercise routine, eat right, and live a healthy and respectful life by anyone’s standards, but when faced with a prolonged water outage or some angry neighbor carried toward violence (we know of far too many accounts in our area where one neighbor turns against another, oftentimes due to jealously or a simple misunderstanding, and a life is taken), my entire well-being — my very existence on Earth — is put into question.
That morning, in the midst of my own mortal insecurity as my thoughts frantically ran toward the obvious: my own physical discomfort and even possible danger if clean water did not start running out of our faucets as soon as possible, my eternal security in Christ was affirmed once more. For even if the worst happens — if there is a worldwide water crisis or the local gangs burst through our front gate or cancer hits close to home — nothing and nobody can take from us the eternal redemption we have in Christ Jesus. He is the only thing in the whole universe that doesn’t change, can’t be purchased, and doesn’t belong to this quickly-fading world. I felt as the Apostle Paul did, “Externally we are wasting away, but inwardly we are being renewed day by day.”
Several hours later, as everyone was drooping lower and lower due to the heat and lack of water, I went to the bathroom once more and instinctively went to flush the toilet even though it had not been able to be flushed all day. Like music to my ears, I heard a loud ‘whoosh’ of water as all the day’s waste was taken from the pot down through the plumbing. The water had come back! I ran outside, my long arms extended high in victory as if we had all just won the Olympic gold as I announced to everyone who would hear, “The water’s back! We have water! Praise God! Yes!”
Once I had sprinted to the nearest faucet to take in a big glass of water, wash my hands and brush my teeth, my own pending mortality got quietly placed back on the shelf. I felt like Superwoman — well-hydrated and ready for anything! Bring it on! Me? A mortal being only inches from death at any given moment? How could that be so? I felt great and looked great (except for the waterfalls of sweat cascading all over my body, but never mind those because I would soon wash all that away with a nice cold shower!)
As I rejoiced, feeling eternally young and fully alive — just because the water had come back! — the quiet voice of truth whispered to me, “It’s not true. You’re not Superwoman. Don’t get fooled into thinking you have everything under control or that this world is your home. Just because you now have all the human comforts at your fingertips — full belly, access to abundant water, roof over your head — does not mean that you can secure a life on Earth forever, nor should you desire to do so. I am your home; My Kingdom is your eternal home.” In my heart I repented for my sudden turn in attitude, my brusk ignorance of my own mortality as I suddenly felt myself to be the all-powerful (all-hydrated) being.
And so I encourage you, too, to see your own life and your own human frailty from an eternal perspective. Secure home, stable job, vibrant health, normal life — it can all come to an end at any moment, whether you live in a prosperous nation or a third world country. (And praise God that it is so! Praise Him that we don’t have to live on earth in the midst of such suffering, corruption and sickness forever!) We know that Jesus Himself is actively preparing for us another home, free of all death, sin and suffering. We are just passing through in this life. Let us be careful, lest we get too comfortable and forget that we will soon be face-to-face with the Living God.
Amen! Glory to God!