I think I’ve shared with you before that my paternal grandmother frequently said, “The devil you know is better than the devil you don’t.” It had a quaint wisdom ringing through it, especially said with her Southern accent and stern, maternal tone. Her words helped to further solidify the fear I harbored in my spirit. I was scared to death of change because it could possibly be even worse than the life I’d had thrust upon me. My current circumstances might not seem so bad in the light of new, unknown terrors.
My mother and brother were more manipulative in their ploys to keep me stuck in the quicksand of a go nowhere life they orchestrated for me. But, the common thread of fear of the unknown was prevalent. So, I stayed, unmoving, in a certain hell of an existence of their choosing. They were the devils I knew.
I stayed in a nightmare of a marriage out of fear. Fear of God’s wrath. Fear of losing my children. Fear of being murdered. Fear of my children being murdered. Fear of proving everyone right…..I am a failure. Two failed marriages would solidify the harsh judgment I’d borne up under for so many years. He was the devil I knew.
When my friend suggested I apply for a Habitat for Humanity house I was reluctant to embrace that particular idea of hope. My landlord, coincidentally at about the same time, began discussing the possibility of writing up an owner carry contract with me. I dreamily embraced that idea! I’ve lived in this house over fifteen years now. I’ve given birth in it. My children were raised here. My husband beat me here. He beat my children here. We starved here. We’ve huddled together, freezing, here. It’s the devil I know. My landlord is a devil I know.
I attended the required meeting to receive the Habitat for Humanity application. The approximately thirty other families there intimidated me. I don’t earn enough to meet their loan requirements. What are my chances, really, anyway? Then, they gave the address. Out of curiosity I reluctantly drove by with my mind already made up not to apply. As I drove past scantily clad 12 year old girls and boys unseen for their hoodies, garbage strewn yards, and toddlers playing alone in the rain, I determined the devil I know isn’t so bad.
The property is near a school and a park. That will be noisy and unbearable to those of us accustomed to the solitude of a mountain. The unsavory neighborhood that must be passed to get to it would be too frightening for a family of PTSD sufferers. How could we sleep at night knowing that kind of riff raff is walking the streets nearby?
God has a funny way of opening our eyes to devils and turning our hearts longingly to the uncertain future He has planned for us.
This past month I’ve once again taken on extra work….rentals, houses for sale, spring cleaning jobs. I’ve worked until my arthritic fingers will barely flex and my back feels like it has been beaten with a board. I’m exhausted. The natural physical fatigue that is to be expected has been exacerbated by the loud traffic on the highway that fronts my house. It awakens me at 4 a.m. and continues steadily until 9 when all of the students are settled in their seats and the worker bees are all busy with their duties.
This may be a solitary mountain where the trees refuse to permit daylight to enter and not a single neighbor can be seen, but the noise is unreal. The highway below is busy. The bar around the corner is quickly being rebuilt after a fire destroyed it. It has been the scene of regular stabbings at their all night outdoor music-fests that blare old rock and reggae into our rooms, denying us sleep all summer long. Even with the windows closed, which creates a sort of oven/green house effect on the house, the screaming guitars, drum beats, and yelling rip through the closed glass and stagnant heat. These are the devils I know.
Interestingly, one of those extra houses I took on just happened to be located about two blocks from the Habitat property. I heard the mailman pull up, the Fedex man arrive, and a tow truck haul away an unhappy woman’s new Toyota. But, other than that, the silence of the neighborhood was almost eerie. I spent a total of ten and a half hours there over two days, a Friday and a Saturday, and never heard anyone yell. I never heard music blare. Though I was in town, in a house without a yard, snuggled up against the houses next to it, I never heard evidence of another human being anywhere near.
When I left, the neighbors, who could be seen but not heard, studied me warily. Were I there to perform mischief they could have described every detail of my appearance and my vehicle to the authorities. Yet, when I stopped for a child to cross the street, they smiled warmly as though my courteous gesture gained me acceptance.
The first day I was there I worked the entire day without a break or anything to eat. After I finished late in the afternoon I chose to make my way through the speeding and wreckless young men conspicuously driving Mercedes and Beemers and into the lot of the small store and deli right down the road. The woman behind the deli counter was overly friendly–the kind of person who will remember you a month later and greet you warmly as though you’re old friends. I learned her life history in ten minutes, and she said that she’s never related to a woman customer as she did to me. I dare say we bonded in those moments over that corn dog. The gentleman at the cash register let me have my snack for a mere fifty cents. When I questioned him, because I knew that wasn’t the right price, he urged me to go on and take it for fifty cents.
At the end of the second day there, after six days straight of hard labor, beyond tired and hungry, I asked the kids if they minded pizza for dinner. I was too tired to cook or do anything other than sit on the sofa and veg. Fortunately, we have a pizza place less than a mile away, right next to the abandoned market, and for $16 I was saved from the insurmountable task of preparing food.
As we pulled into the rutted, gravel parking lot our eyes were drawn to a disheveled man walking slowly around the perimeter of the building with a machete in his hand. We had seen him days before in the empty parking lot of the old market. With the market gone, the tiny post office adjacent to it has become a haven for litter and thieves. We sat, doors locked, afraid to get out to get the mail until he was a safe distance away at the pizza place. He watched us, walking slowly and stopping to turn back and stare at us. We busied ourselves with imaginary papers and tried to look like we were simply getting organized before going into the narrow little, inescapable cave of boxes. Now, here he was nervously pacing around the pizza joint with a machete in his hand.
An obviously unshowered woman in a flannel shirt and old jeans lit a cigarette and walked over to her Prius as a similarly dressed man walked out to his 2014 white Ford one ton pick up. I told my 14 year old to run in between them and into the front door to retrieve our order. I sat there, praying, worried for our safety and my son’s as I glanced upward to keep a suspicious eye on the machete guy. These are the devils I know.
After initially deciding to not even turn in the Habitat application, I did. I filled out the paper work, added pictures of the condition of this house and a four page plea for a home that isn’t filled with rats, the steam of our own breath, and memories of abuse. I did it because I’ve learned that the devil you know is not better than the devil you don’t. That’s merely a tactic of devils to keep you trapped in the hell they create for you.
When I compare a silent neighborhood in a new house with neighbors who watch you and your home to the noisy yet isolated darkness of this mountain hovel, there is no comparison. The reality of those young ne’er do wells in their fancy drug cars is the very same reality of those unkempt middle aged growers and dealers in the new, practical vehicles out here: none of them want to get caught and lose the trappings they’ve come to enjoy. I’ve never feared that element out here. Why do I fear them when the clothes and cars are a different style?
The man with the machete: now, there’s someone to fear. The bikers who get drunk and stab each other on Friday night within ear shot and eyesight of me: they are to be feared. The aimless homeless who camp out by the river or, worse yet, near the creek that runs along my property: they seem to believe they own the land they crap on and will fiercely confront anyone who comes near their camp. The impoverished, neglected teens and 20 somethings who waste their days breaking in to empty houses along this highway: were it not for my dogs chasing them and biting them, I would have feared them entering my home that time they crawled over the side of the hill and into my yard where my children were playing. All of this goes on unabated because we essentially don’t have a sheriff’s department out here. It is a land of lawlessness. These are devils I know.
The Lord has blessed me so much in the last year. I have genuine friends to whom I can turn for advice, help, or a laugh. I have sole custody of my vulnerable children. I am my own boss with clients I consider friends, and none of my bills are ever paid late. I’m driving a new car! Hallelujah! My household items lost in the divorce have been replaced by generous friends and strangers; I like my new belongings a lot better than I liked those items I had to say goodbye to. Some of these new things were given to me or purchased for me by people who didn’t even know me. Some of them are just cast offs, no longer needed hand-me-downs. Yet, all of my new belongings represent me better. They appeal to my senses in ways that those items R picked out and allowed me to have never did. I look around at all of this and think that surely the Lord will not stop here. Surely, He will meet our need for a home. So, with hopeful anticipation I pray for favor with the Habitat for Humanity board who will choose one fortunate family from that thirty who attended the meeting. And, I dream of the day I will turn my back on ALL of the devils I know.