Almost 2 ½ years ago, I moved into an apartment where I ended up living with sewer gases, sewer flies, rampant mice, a scary high man and natural gas poisoning. I haven’t told this story, and I don’t know exactly what it’s worth. But I sense the time is ripe for its telling and that someone might benefit. So tell it I will, per chance….
We often go along in life thinking that if we do the right thing, we’ll get the right results, yes? But in reality, isn’t it true that sometimes we do and sometimes we really, REALLY DON’T?
There are forces that viciously oppose right, truth and freedom. They don’t cry uncle so easily to good decision-making skills. They oppose what’s good because it’s good.
But let me go back. Before I moved into this apartment, I did due diligence, as much as possible under a time crunch. I chose an attractive apartment, a respectable building, a decent neighborhood, a relative ticket price that should’ve given some assurance of a comfortable (though small) abode. Check, check and check. I thought right. I did right. I prepped. I moved in.
The first hurdle was the increasing headaches and body weakness that my 5-year old and I experienced in the first few weeks. The degradation in our health was quick from a slow (but fast enough) gas leak in the apartment. That got fixed. Check. Surely all would be well now. It was just a touch of bad luck.
Except I’d been having an overwhelming, intermittent sewer gas smell of which I could make no sense. Maintenance would always come check it out at just the wrong time, when it wasn’t happening. You know, it’s like when you take your car to the mechanic for a noise, and it will never make the noise for them. So, they brushed me off over and over, suggesting repeatedly that I run vinegar through my dishwasher, because it must smell, because they do that as they age. But my dishwasher was brand new when I moved in, so huh?
The spaces between the intermittent, overwhelming sewer gas smell were increasingly filled with a constant, faint, permeate-everything sewer gas smell–at least to me. Maybe it was just forever stuck in my nose.
And then the evidence (poop, ahem) of mice started showing up, especially in the morning in the kitchen and around the perimeter of the mattress on the floor in the living room where I slept. Talk about insomnia.
And then the mice themselves started showing up in broad daylight, getting bold and just running around willy-nilly at all hours.
And then tiny (sorta cute, if they weren’t absolutely filthy) fly-looking insects started to show up daily. I would vacuum up 10 one day off the walls. I’d vacuum up 20 a few days after that. Vacuum up 50 a few days after that. 75. 200. Oh, the vacuuming. I started calling them sewer flies, because I didn’t know what they were, but I knew I smelled sewer gases in my apartment and logic said…. Turns out they were, drum roll, “sewer flies” when I researched.
So that gave me the confidence to keep calling maintenance and keep calling maintenance over a long time. I wasn’t imagining the smell. Maintenance continued to always somehow magically only come when the smell wasn’t pervasive or I’d just aired out the apartment (although I couldn’t safely do that overnight, living by myself where I was, so I just slept with it and the mice). And they continued to say the (brand new) dishwasher was the problem. They threw down some sticky mouse traps (which only ever served to catch and be completely covered by sewer flies) and called it a day, over and over.
Well, noxious gases aren’t healthy. We vent sewer gases outside of our homes for a spiffy reason. I work from home, so I couldn’t get away from it all. My esophagus was feeling the burn (and hasn’t fully recovered to this day).
Then High Guy entered the scene. My neighbor’s son was a drug addict. Remember that due diligence thing I did before moving in? Well, I selected a building with a security system. High Guy apparently got around the system, and he got in the habit of sleeping in the very small common area outside my door sometimes. I guess he’d been having friends over and bunking out in the laundry room for some time across the hall, but I hadn’t noticed that because I didn’t use it. Anyway, add overwhelming drug smoke fumes to the dirty air in my apartment now. And add that to the list of things that didn’t get addressed by the apartment management company when I called.
So, when High Guy got a little scary one night, I called the police, sharing about his squatting and substance habits. I know he knew it was me that called the police, because next time he came around he yelled he knew it was me through my door (and not in a most pleasant, grateful way). I was pretty terrified from that point on to come and go.
I’ve told enough. I’ll skip to the end. The sewer gas smell turned out to be, drum roll again, sewer gases. When maintenance turned over the apartment right before I moved in, they ripped out the kitchen and put in a new one. They never capped the sewer pipe behind the kitchen wall. Open pipe to the sewer means sewer gases and sewer flies flying free plus mice easily setting up house along with me. That explains why no one else around me had any of the problems I had. They all had lovely apartments like I was supposed to.
These were not the right results. I did the right thing. God, why do we get the very, VERY WRONG (horrible, no good, terrible) results often times when we do the thing we’re absolutely sure we’re supposed to do?
Because there’s an Enemy of truth and an Opposer of progress and freedom who works overtime when people dare to stake claim to those things. There will be no red carpet rolled out on such occasions. We simply have to decide whether we’re willing to fight for right—be willing to walk through fire again and again—for the sake of good. Will we do what we gotta do, or will we go back to Egypt (think Moses and slaves who started yearning for free yummy food instead of desert manna in their long trek to a better place)?
I mean, don’t take me wrong, timing and prioritizing fights are everything. People who pick every fight and fight all the time are obnoxious—that’s a pathology all in itself.
But, if there’s a Jericho—a massive, walled city between you and your God-given liberty, safety, truth or progress—and you’ve marched around that sucker six times silently and then are instructed to shout your way around it the seventh time, well, shout you should. There’s a time for patience, and there’s a time to move and pay whatever price comes until those walls fall and you get to live as God intended for his precious children to live. If it necessitates a primal war cry in order to prevail and endure until then, so be it.
Dear ones, never trade your freedom and the truth for ease or silence. That kind of easy only appears easy. And only the truth always sets you free. Temporary, superficial safety and comfort at the expense of your life’s foundation or under the weight of dictatorship is not authentic safety and comfort—it’s counterfeit. There are people and circumstances in life that pretend to provide for you while they shackle you. If the pretense of goodness isn’t put on for show in such cases, who would be seduced to stay put while ropes and gag clothes are tied? We have to recognize when wrong is covered by a thin veneer of fake right. Pick that fight. Push back against that veneer to see if it holds up or splits open to display a world of wrongness. You’ll get through the resistance, and a true, real, easy ease will emerge after the fight, no longer hidden out of reach behind that walled-off Jericho. Or, at least I’m still hoping so.
I haven’t reached the freedom I set out for nor is my truth renowned yet. My release hasn’t been secured. But when the capital-k King is the one giving marching orders and is the guarantor of promised freedom, it’s just a matter of time. Little-k kings can’t white knuckle those crowns forever without a high price to pay—higher than you’ll ever have to pay in your attempts to de-throne them. The Master opens the door for every caged bird eventually. And everything hidden in darkness eventually comes to light, especially when it’s time for the shouting on that seventh time ‘round.
We simply can and must not forget that there are people who appoint themselves kings of anything and everything—build cities and set themselves up on thrones—if they’re not told NO. Don’t bow and ask to hold their crowns. Remind them they never had one (or just remind yourself if it’s unsafe to inform them outright), and march through, around or atop whatever it takes, however long it takes, until the walls come down.
But here’s the thing: You also have to be for darn sure how you will, and will not, fight for truth and freedom. Otherwise, you might become a perpetrator too, harming the innocent around you instead of promoting your cause and evoking justice.
Your integrity is at stake when you decide how to respond to wrongdoers. And the chance to prove your integrity peaks when your price for doing right seems much higher than the price the opposition pays for a while. But the integrity of The Great Oppressor—and all the oppressors that follow in his footsteps—is already decided. They lose. Game over on their good character. But you…you get to decide yours in these, the hardest moments.
You get to remember that two wrongs don’t make a right. You get to know that if you start acting in lockstep with meanies, you’re just becoming them, not rising above them. If you become unscrupulous in the fight, you’re still giving them power. And if you stop being able to live and love, they’ve won.
Mind you, true love is tough as nails when necessary for the good of itself and another, but it’s never abusive, coercively controlling or vindictive. It doesn’t steal, kill and destroy out of retribution in a way that does collateral damage. It self-defends appropriately against specific, dangerous people when in immediate danger, yes. But we must not make everyone around us pay on our way to freedom and healing from our deepest wounds.
But anyway, back to my original voyage through apartment misery. I find two truths came out of it:
- There are good reasons for us to fight the elements (e.g., noxious gases) and choose the creepy plagues (do sewer flies and mice count?) when fleeing our Pharoahs. And Pharoahs always betray that they’re Pharoahs when they pursue and try to retain their hold on captives as they’re losing them. The privileges that come with control aren’t easily surrendered. But we were ALL created for liberty, and we’re in good company if we have to survive plagues and rivers and deserts to reach it.
- These current days are ones during which we’re all going to need to know what freedoms we believe are God-given or implicit to humanity, not other-given. Which ones can we simply not compromise on, and how are we willing to fight for them? What are we willing to endure to de-crown the kings? What won’t we do because it just degrades our own character and hurts innocent people while we attempt to heal our own hurts?
Having said all that, I yearn for peace. I pray that chaos and discord and control cease. But this is real life, and sometimes you pick the sewer flies and mice and risk and you resist, and you decide to do it until you reach the Promised Land. Some things are far more important than comfort. As so many have said, freedom is never free.
With Hope & Heart in Hand,
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