Wednesday, July 12, 2017

What Retaining Wall?

We moved into our house nearly fifteen years ago. Time really does fly! 

At the time that we moved into our home, there was a large piece of property just outside of our neighborhood that was owned by a single family. At least twenty acres. We couldn't even see the house from the road because of all the trees. Then they sold to a developer who cut down 90% of the trees. They built two model homes, a couple of other houses - and then building stopped when the economy crashed. During the time of their sabbatical, we watched as the property fell into disrepair. No one lived in any of the houses, even though they held regular open houses in the model homes. One corner of the recently shorn landscape fell off into a deep ravine, a mud pit that collected rainwater and North Carolina's famous red clay. Yuck. Yikes. As the years passed, the hole seemed to get bigger. As we passed the property, we would shake our heads and declare that they would never be able to build a house there. 

But they did. They built houses all along what used to be that deep ravine. They backfilled it with dirt - presumably from other places in the development - and built one huge house after the other. In the spot that we deemed the worst possible place to build a house (we swore they wouldn't dare!), the builders erected a retaining wall below the base of the stilts that held up the back deck. 

Just over a week ago, as I enjoyed my morning walk, I looked at the back of that house and the retaining wall had collapsed. I figured that the previous weeks of drought that had been followed by days and nights of torrential rain had been the cause. That, and the fact that they never should have built a house there in the first place.  

If you take a close look at the photo above, you can see a tarp of some kind covering the collapsed wall and the clay and dirt that had slid out from behind the wall. The workers standing on top of the tarp had a look of dazed disbelief, walking around with their hands on their hips for several moments. (I know because I stood there and stared far too long in my own cloud of dazed disbelief.)

If you look at the photo below, you can see the width of the house and the width of the disaster.

I stopped and stared the first time I saw it. I tried to imagine what it had sounded like as it slid down. I wondered if the homeowners had even heard it or if perhaps they had wandered out onto the back deck one morning and looked down - only to find that what they thought had been a solid foundation had literally been washed out from under them. I wondered if they had noticed cracks in the walls inside the house or perhaps an imbalance out on the deck.

The photos below show the work that is being done now, work to shore up the ground under the house, under the deck, under their very lives. It looks like they are bringing in rocks and layering them in the backyard, presumably to help with drainage. It looks like they are preparing to build another retaining wall.

I'm not a huge worrier. I'm human, so I worry, but I don't worry all the time. I worry about money, about running out of money. I worry about the health and safety of people I love, and even people I don't particularly love. I worry about car accidents and having the kanswer come back. But not all the time, not even most of the time. However, if I lived in that house, and the retaining wall had fallen down behind our house, I think I would worry about that all the time. Because even though they are getting it fixed, how can they not jump out of bed and check that wall every morning? How can they trust that it won't give way again? Literally, the foundation of the place they call home couldn't sustain the weight of their lives.

All of that got me to thinking.

How many of us have watched the foundations of our lives collapse beneath us?
How many of us have watched the lives of our loved ones destroyed by people and situations that are out of their control?

A devastating diagnosis.
A job loss.
An encounter with a police officer that ended tragically.
A family that imploded or disintegrated.
An election that ushered a tyrant, a despot, a dangerous leader into power.
A house fire or a break in.
War and rumors of war.
Being arrested on false charges and being pressured to accept a plea bargain for a crime you didn't even commit.
Losing a job, losing a spouse, and losing a home - all in the same year. (I recently met someone who has experienced that trifecta of terribleness.)

What do we do then? Who do we turn to for help in rebuilding?
How do we handle the droughts and the floods in our lives?
The losses and devastation that life inevitably brings our way?
Who stands with us in the middle of the mess, hands on hips, spreading tarps over our brokenness, so that we can take the necessary time to determine possible solutions?
Who leans in close to us, with their arms around our shoulders, tissues, casseroles, and cookies at the ready, keeping us company as we cautiously reconstruct our battered and busted foundations in spite of our overwhelming, dazed disbelief?

Who are the retaining walls in your life?
Where are the retaining walls in my life?
What are the retaining walls in our lives?


I am enormously blessed and grateful when I look back on my life and realize that
even though there have certainly been foundational shifts in my life,
even though I have done more than my fair share of stupid and dangerous things,
some of which have endangered my life's foundations,
even though kanswer sucks, always has, and always will,
even though bipolar disorder sucks,
even though job loss fractures finances and families,
even though racism is real and life-threatening,
even though much, if not most, of what I hold dear will eventually collapse under the weight of life itself,
even though I could add trial after tribulation after trouble to this list,
I have never gone through these trials alone.
There have always been companions on this journey.
I am so grateful.

And then there is God.
For all the times I feel like God is silent,
for all the times I wish God would act decisively and directly,
for all the times I cry out for healing, for restoration, for wholeness
in my own life, in my family, in my city, and in the whole world,
for all that I have ever experienced and ever will experience,
God has been my retaining wall.
God has been my strong tower,
my rock and my fortress,
my redeemer and my deliverer.
The One who loves me most.
The One I love most of all.

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