Songs from the Desert
I live on the edge of the Sahara desert, referred to as the Sahel. Water is a huge issue here. It is literally the wellspring of life, but it is something that we so take for granted in our western mindset. Here, people have to work at getting water—hard. They walk long distances with buckets on their heads, get up at four o’clock in the morning before the harsh call to prayer breaks through the silence, wonder if they will have it today, come up with plans to save it, use it sparingly, re-use it, prioritize things that need water (like, do I bathe the baby or have water for drinking?). It is a different world for sure. I do not live fully immersed in this reality because we have invested in a large reserve system for water. I do not even know exactly how it works; I just know I have a really big tank in the back yard with a pump attached to it and a smaller one on the roof. Throughout the year I rarely have to wonder if I will have water or not.
Except for this time of year. Dry…hot…desert…wind…chapped lips…cracked heels…parched, sandy land. That is what it is like right now. There has been no rain since early last November, and the temperature keeps climbing until July, when we will see the sweet wetness fall from the sky again and rejoice!
As my husband gets ready to leave for an unplanned trip to the United States for medical care for his arm, the water reserves at our house are completely empty. There is no liquid in them, no water coming from the pipes. The crazy days before he left on that plane were filled with calls to insurances, research on nerve trauma, talking to doctors, gathering the kids to talk in the midst of confusion. All during those days, there is nothing coming out of the tap—not a drop.
In my weakness, it felt like the last straw. Now, it looks like a picture God is painting for me, an important lesson that I do not want to miss.
This little crisis is teaching me about how to deal with the big stuff. This inconvenience has grabbed my attention, and I am realizing that I can learn something about how to deal with the real tragedies of life.
Do you know how messy life gets without water? Dirt is everywhere. The desert enters the house and is visible on clothing, kid’s faces, floors, dirty dishes, the long thin hair of the three girls in the house which just cannot get clean enough using a bucket, feet that look like a thousand pedicures would not help them.
Do you know how messy I get? Scrambling to find water, wondering if we will have it, worrying about what to do with laundry, waking up in the middle of the night to see if some water came in, not sleeping when I find out it did not. Painting scenarios in my head of how to deal with this.
It is not a pretty picture, yet it very closely resembles my emotional state on the day my husband got on that plane. The rock-solid truth of God’s presence was not evident in my teary eyes and anxious thoughts.
Before he got on that plane, my husband arranged for a teen-age boy who drives a primitive donkey cart with a big green oil barrel on it and a hose for siphoning water to come by the house and fill up a blue barrel by my front door each night. It sounds basic, but what a relief it was to me—the assurance that there will be a blue barrel full of water each afternoon, and the thought that I can use it and it will be refilled each day. This is very basic stuff, no frills. Yet, I can take that water from the bucket and wash my daughter’s favorite jeans for school. I can boil some and warm up a bucket to bathe my six-year-old who thinks it is delightful and comfy to sit in a round laundry bucket in warm soapy water. I can wash dishes and clean sand off the floors instead of just moving it around. Yes, this is okay—this I can do.
All this reminds me of the next morning, the morning after my husband left. The night before had been emotional and just felt too hard. I was seeking God, trying to sit in His presence and experience His goodness, all of which are so foundational to me. Yet to be honest, I was a mess. Life—even spiritual life—is messy sometimes. I called out to the Lord, and He led me to ask for prayer from sisters whom I knew would intercede for me. The next morning, I woke up to a full barrel: peace, calmness, presence. Enough for the day.
It is funny, the things that you think will bring the fullness. The day my husband was leaving, in the midst of a million errands, we passed a brightly-blue-painted truck; it even looked like water, with a large hose hooked up to it, backed up to a house. This was exactly what I was looking for. I figured if I filled up our big reserve from a water truck, I could stop worrying about water. With no yellow pages or websites, this is the way you find services in Africa. There was a phone number hand-painted in white on the side of the tank. We quickly pulled over, and I scribbled the number down as my husband started chatting with the driver. Relationship is everything here, and while I am impatient, wanting to schedule something, my husband is chatting about family, work, weather—urgh! I am in the passenger seat, willing him to just schedule something. I do not care what it costs, I am ready to not have the pressure of water for a while. The driver asked about our family, where we are from, our kids, where we live—and then he said, “Oh! I know your house. I was there three years ago to empty your septic tank.”
To empty the waste. What looked to me like a water truck—something to fill a needed void, a necessity really, relief from the pressure of searching—was actually a tool for emptying waste. I suddenly was not in a hurry to schedule that. How deceiving! I was sucked in, hook, line, and sinker, ready to pay any price. Thankfully we figured out the truth before scheduling and paying for it.
It occurs to me that there are so many things that deceive us in life, things we think will offer us peace. They look like exactly what we need, what we have been looking for, what will relieve the pressure. Too often we go ahead and pay for it only to realize that it is toxic, not life giving.
Since the day my husband left, a little bit of water comes into the reserve tank each night—not a lot, but enough. Between that and our friend who comes on his donkey cart each afternoon to fill the blue barrel, there is enough—water sufficient for necessities and even to have a bit left over so that we are not completely dry again.
I realize that is what the Lover of my soul is doing for me. My Savior and closest Friend is giving me enough for each day. The prayers of sisters all over the globe have interceded for me, and the emotional angst of that first night has been replaced with a peaceful reassurance, a filling-up with life-giving presence. There is enough for the day, but not so much that I neglect to think about it.
Right now, in the driest part of the year in the desert, I have to be very careful with water. I am thinking about it all day long; it is constantly on my mind.
Right now, in a time of real need in our family, I have to be very careful with what my mind is dwelling on. I have to be purposeful in sitting in God’s presence and soaking up all He has freely offered. I have to be resolute to give thanks—for everything. I want to be decided on finding grace—everywhere. I want to be fixed on where my strength comes from. I want Christ on my mind all day long. That means I can give thanks—thanks that I do not know what will happen with my husband’s arm, if he will ever hold me again with two arms, if I will listen to him play the guitar again, when he will come home, or what is happening in the doctor’s office right this moment—because giving thanks keeps me fixed on the life-giving presence of Christ. I know I cannot make it without Him. I am so aware of my need of God, moment by moment. I can give glory and praise to His name because I know He has given me enough. Enough for this day, and enough for every day for all eternity.
Question to consider: What things (or lack thereof) bring out the messiness in you? In those times, how do you keep focused on the fact that He has given you enough?
About the author
At my core, which, after all these years I am still discovering, I am a passionate seeker of beauty. I am enthralled to witness how Grace turns ugliness into beauty- I am grateful to be on the receiving end of that beauty…daily- even south of the Sahara desert where I live. In my pursuit of beauty, I love to drink strong coffee, read a good book, go for a run, have dates with my handsome husband of 20 years, or read a new cookbook then whip up yummy food for my family of 4 terrific kids and any friends that can come over. Hospitality is not just something I do, it is at my core. I love creating space for intimate conversation, comfortable rest, inspired vision casting, and contemplative reflection. Along with creating space, I am passionate about making memories. This includes celebrating things in our family- both big and small- and working hard to daily “be present” to experience and cherish life with those I love.View all articles by: Nicole Paschall
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