A close friend from college encouraged us with this email shortly after Ann’s diagnosis.[i]
One fall evening, I came home from football practice to find out that my dad was in the hospital. He was ok, but had been through a traumatic experience.
We had just added a new manure pit to the end of our farrowing house (the mother and baby pig building). The first litters of pigs had just arrived. My dad looked in a manhole cover on top of the pit, and saw that a plastic pig waterer had fallen into the pit. He decided to fish it out with a hoe that was lying nearby. He reached in, and couldn’t quite reach it. He reached a bit further. The waterer was on top of what waste was just starting to fill the pit. In reaching in further, he now found himself with his head, both arms and both shoulders inside the pit, with his legs outside the pit, kind of just touching the ground. Most of his weight was on his hip bones, on the concrete along the edge of the pit cap.
This was about 1:00 in the afternoon. He spent the next four hours or so in that position, as he couldn’t get either of his shoulders back out of the hole to pull himself out. He considered diving in the rest of the way, but wasn’t sure that his hips would fit through the opening, and if he was hanging even lower down, he might not be able to keep his head above the waste. Or if he did make it in, how or when he’d get back out. What he did do, to make sure he didn’t slip in farther, was to wedge the hoe into the corner of the walls near the hole, and use that to hold up some of his weight. It wasn’t the greatest tool for that job, but it was all he had. The marks in the walls later were a reminder of his struggle during that time.
A Breeze and a Dog
Often, the fumes in a pit like that are enough to kill a person. But because it was just recently starting to fill for the first time, there was less of that than there would be normally. And dad said later, that when he felt like he was losing his breath, a breeze would blow through the opening on the other side of the pit, and give him a bit of fresh air.
And also, one of our farm dogs—Penny—a Border Collie, German Shepherd mix, stayed with him during that time. I think he could reach one of his hands outside the hole, but not his arm, and she would lick his hand.
Eventually, Mom began to wonder where Dad was. My younger brother had come home on the bus. Dad heard the bus, and tried to yell for help when he thought Kevin would be reaching the top of the lane after getting off the bus, but for some reason, the driver had driven up the lane, and dropped Kevin off in the front yard. So by the time Dad started yelling, Kevin was inside the house, and that resulted in Dad being in the pit awhile longer. When mom finally found him, she called for the ambulance, but also called a couple neighbors, one of them being Estle Foster. Estle came right down. Estle was the neighbor that Dad would call on for help with a lot of the bigger jobs on the farm, and Dad would help Estle with the big jobs at his place.
Mom and Estle were there with Dad, and maybe the other neighbor, an older man. They were trying to figure out how best to get Dad out. Should they wait for the medics? What was the best way to lift him out? How many guys would they need to lift him? After talking for a bit, Estle, in a voice that I can hear in my mind, even though I wasn’t there, said,
“He’s been in there long enough.”
Estle walked over, grabbed Dad’s legs, and all by himself, and probably with some adrenaline assist, heaved him up out of that hole.
I don’t know much else of what happened, and some of the details may not all be totally correct, but I do know this—Estle was the kind of neighbor that you could count on. And when he decided that Dad had been in there long enough, you knew he was going to do all that he could do to get him out.
God has reminded me of that phrase from time to time—that there is always a point where he looks down at us and says, “He’s been in there long enough.” He sustained the children of Israel while in slavery, but eventually, the day came when he said, “They’ve been in there long enough.” He has seen us in our sin—trapped, unable to help ourselves out. And he has sustained us—kept us alive. But he sent his Son, Jesus, to tell us, “You’ve been in there long enough.” He lifts us out. Trials come our way, and we wonder if we’re going to make it, but somehow, God helps us through. And out.
Sometimes God grants us sustenance—
Just what we need to stay alive.
A hoe in your hand, a breeze with some fresh air,
A loyal dog staying with you, licking your hand.
But God also grants us deliverance.
It’s only a matter of time.
[i] I received this encouraging story from Keith Tally, a college roommate and electrical engineer with IBM, in an email dated 10/27/2006. Used with permission.