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The Messenger


He had never been a particularly religious man. At least, not overtly. Most of his conversations with God involved hurling a profanity laced framework of frustrated anger towards the sky’s cloud covered heavens around questions like,

“Are you happy now?!?”

“Do you find this amusing?!?”

“Is that all you got?!?”

“What did I do to deserve this?!?”

“WHY ME?!?”

His wife was deeply religious. She went to church without fail every Sunday. When she asked her husband if he wanted to go, he’d smile and say,

“No thank you, Dear. I don’t need a church. It does nothing for me. The woods are my church. Besides, if he needs something done, I’m pretty sure God always knows right where to find me.”

God’s message had found him before. Once when he was in U.S. Army Ranger School. Most of the Ranger candidates in his class were, like himself, young hard charging officers and soldiers. There was one exception. One of his classmates was a Green Beret Major who, judging by his greying hair and well weathered countenance, must have been at least somewhere in his late forties. He was clearly old enough to be most every other Ranger candidate’s father.

None of the other candidates could quite understand why that Major was there, putting himself through that grueling endeavor. He was a Special Forces Q-Course qualified Army Chaplain already, not to mention, a Vietnam Veteran. He’d certainly been to Hell and back more than once. He had not one God damned thing left to prove to anyone. Yet, there he was, like everyone else, bug eaten, cold, wet, tired, and starving, quietly handing out small green Psalms/Proverbs New Testament bibles to every Ranger candidate who would accept one.

Several years later, God’s message found him again. This time waking him up from a dream, sitting him bolt upright in bed in the middle of the night.

The Persian Gulf War had begun. His combat infantry division was locked and loaded, prepared for deployment. He knew nothing of the Middle East. He and his young wife had just gotten married. He knew that it was his sworn duty to deploy if called.

But his unit was light infantry. The Middle East was shaping up to be a tank heavy mechanized desert war. He was an intelligence officer who spoke not one word of Arabic. He had no expertise on Iraq or Kuwait except as a name on a map. If his unit deployed, he silently wondered what it was God thought he had to offer.

His duffel, ruck sack and weapon were packed, sitting on a pallet sling load on the tarmac. He was on a travel restriction, subject to 24-7 immediate recall. Each morning when he donned his uniform and drove into work, neither he nor his new wife knew whether or not he would return home that evening.

So, he slept on the edge, with one ear to the phone. Then, one night, from a fitful sleep he bolted upright in bed. Was he dreaming? Or had the image of God really just appeared overhead?

He could see above him, a bright light sitting, as if on a cloud. A voice spoke to him.

“Now is not your time. This is not your mission. Stay strong. Stay ready. I will soon call you.”

He never deployed to Iraq. His unit was never as a whole chosen. Several weeks later, his battalion commander called him into his office.

“Lieutenant, orders just came down directly from the office of the Secretary of Defense. Pack your bags. Get your men ready. Congratulations, son. You are going to the Mexican border. You’ve been hand-picked to lead a new on the ground military intelligence component of the War on Drugs.”

God’s message had reached him directly once more after that. During his life and death battle with cancer. God’s message was brief but direct:

“Stay strong. Be ready.”

In the fifteen years since that time, to the best of his mortal ability, he had.

But life as a tongueless, tube fed cancer survivor was hard. His ongoing existence had massive, black, foodless holes to fill. There was an endless array of dark corners he tried desperately to avoid. Breathing and swallowing were a challenge. He struggled to communicate. His stomach emplaced g-tube leaked constantly. When he went out in public, small children sometimes pointed and stared. Store clerks mocked and laughed at him. He constantly drooled. Through it all, he clung to the last message he’d received from God.

“Stay Strong. Be Ready.”

He persevered and marched on.

Years passed. Fifteen to be exact. His doctor’s dubbed him “a miracle”. As he faced life’s daily struggles, he had doubts. He sometimes quietly wondered. With ever increasing frequency, he posed the question to God.

“Why Me Lord?”

“What did I do to deserve this?”

“What is this mission I’m staying ready for?”

“If this is some medical miracle, why do I feel so cursed?”

God never answered. With ever increasing frequency feeling forlorn and forsaken, the man nonetheless persevered and marched on.

Then one mid winter’s weekend evening, as temperatures plummeted to near zero and time’s clock hands stroked midnight, another unexpected life catastrophes struck. His wife informed him that the toilet was clogged and had just overflowed. He grabbed a plunger and went straight to work, to no avail. There they sat, at midnight on a mid-winter’s weekend, with temps dropping towards zero, sitting in their outskirts of town, well/septic system fed home, toilets overflowing, desperately in need of a plumber.

The first plumber he called did not call back immediately. The man fell asleep waiting for a return call. When the return call came, the plumber apologized.

“I’m sorry. I have no one available. Everyone in my outfit is out with the flu.”

The second plumber he called also excused himself.

“I’m at the hospital with my ailing wife.”

By that time the sun was up. The man cursed towards God as his wife searched for more plumbing options. He kept cursing and dialing.

Finally, on the fifth try, the man reached a septic tank plumber guy who said he was available.

“Reardon’s Septic Service”

“You Dump – We Pump”.

The man’s wife gave the plumber their address. The plumber assured them he would be able to be on site and assist them within the next few hours.

“Do you know where your septic tank is? If so, it would be helpful if you would start digging it out.”

While they waited, the man went out in winter’s below freezing temps with a shovel. He scraped layered snow and ice off the ground in the vicinity of his septic tank, punched down through frozen ground and began digging. His tongueless, post cancer survivor’s breathing quickly became labored and heavy. His dribbled stream of drool froze to his chin as he dug. His fingers stung from the bite of winter’s cold. He looked to the clouds.

“Why me, Lord?”

“What did I do to deserve this?”

“Was this the mission you had me stay ready for?

“Am I simply here to amuse you?”

“Do you find this all funny?”

In the midst of frozen fingered digging, as he exposed the lid to his septic tank, the man’s God focused rants were interrupted by the buzz of his phone. He stopped digging and reached into his pocket to answer to call.

The voice on the other end was garble and broken, but the man got the gist of the call. The septic tank plumber guy had to empty his pump truck and then would be on his way.

An hour or so later, a grunge stained yellowish septic tanker pump truck pulled into the driveway.

“Reardon’s Septic Service”

“You Dump – We Pump.”

emblazoned in big red letters on the tanker truck’s side.

A burly Carhartt clad figure jumped nimbly down from the cab. The man judged him to be in his mid to late thirties.

The septic guy approached and held out one massive paw with a friendly smile.

“Hi. I’m Greg. You called for a pump out?”

The man nodded.

“Thank you for coming. Am I glad to see you! It’s near impossible to find a plumber these days. All our toilets are clogged. I just finished digging my septic tank out. I sure hope you can help me.”

Greg immediately busied himself dragging hoses and fittings around the side of the house. As he opened the tank and surveyed its contents, he remarked,

“Been awhile, huh?”

Once again, the man nodded.

Greg then stuck the hose nozzle into the midst of the septic ooze and began pumping.

As the man watched Greg pump, out of the blue, standing there in his Carhartts, cradling the grungy septic pump hose under one burly arm as he used the nozzle to stir several years’ worth of foul-smelling septic tank contents, Greg looked the man in the eye, smiled and somehow correctly guessed the man had once chewed tobacco. As the conversation progressed, Greg revealed that had once been a tobacco chewer himself and as a result had some concerns about his own health.

Greg began asking the man about his experiences with cancer. Feeling comfortable talking about issue he rarely shared in direct conversation with others, as Greg stood there sucking foul smelling scum from his septic tank, the man opened up.

Greg listened quietly for several minutes as the man described his ongoing frustrations and struggles. After sucking the bulk of the septic muck from the tank, Greg put down the hose and prepared to go back to his truck to get another attachment to suck the remaining septic clogged mess from the discharge pipe feeding into the tank from the house.

As he did so, Greg invited the man to walk with him.

“Do you mind giving me a hand?”

“No. Not at all.” The man responded.

They walked around the side of the house towards the still running septic tank pump truck, which spewed a noxious mixed aroma of exhaust fumes and funk. Oblivious to the smell, Greg gave the man instructions as he retrieved another nozzle for his hose.

“When I holler, pull this lever. We’re gonna suck out all the crap clogging the pipes from your house.”

The man nodded and stood, engulfed in a cloud of foul-smelling stench that filled his nostrils and stuck to his clothes, while he awaited Greg’s holler.

Greg hollered. The man pulled the lever as he’d been instructed. The hose jumped to life as the pump truck’s engine revved.

The man walked back around the side of the house. Greg was once again standing over the septic tank, hose under one burly arm, pumping. Greg looked up at the man and smiled. Out of the blue he asked the man,

“Have you found God?”

The question caught the man off guard, but somehow, perhaps due to the sincere manner in which Greg asked it, the question did not offend him.

The man answered first by describing his philosophy on church. Then, feeling surprisingly comfortable talking to Greg, he shared his feelings and experiences about his survival from cancer, his frustrations with life, how most of his conversations with God involved loudly cussing him out. The man found himself unloading all his daily life struggles on the burly septic tank plumber guy he’d just met. Feeling a bit guilty, then man then explained that he didn’t always yell at God.

“In fact, I have a little daily prayer that I start off each morning with. Would you care to hear it?”

As he continued pumping clogged septic muck through the hose held securely under one burly arm, Greg smiled and nodded yes.

“Lord, thank you for yesterday, today, and each and every day of life. Amen.”

Greg nodded again, then, without prompting, proceeded to share his own struggles, experiences, and relationship with God with the man. Without judging, without preaching, just standing there, pumping the man’s septic tank, talking. He finished up both by saying,

“We all struggle. Life Gets hard. I just want to let you know that God’s there for all of us.”

With that, Greg pulled the hose from the septic tank. The two men walked side by side back through the stench fouled air to the truck.

Once at the truck, Greg coiled his still dripping hoses, stowed the freshly muck covered nozzle, turned a valve to relieve the tank’s built up internal pressure, then jumped up in the cab of his still running pump truck.

As he sat in the cab of his truck figuring up the man’s bill, Greg remarked,

“I feel like we were destined to meet today. I hope you didn’t mind me sharing my experiences with God.”

The man smiled as he replied.

“Greg, I can honestly say I enjoyed chatting with you today. Don’t take this the wrong way, but I find it somehow ironic that I spent my afternoon sharing conversations on God with a man pumping several years’ worth of septic tank crap from my home. This is one of those stories no one will believe when I tell it.”

Greg chuckled, jumped down from the cab, and handed the man his bill. The two men shook hands. Greg then jumped back up in the cab, put his septic tank pump truck in gear, and was off.

As the man perused his bill and walked back towards the house, his cell phone buzzed in his pocket. He flipped it open and answered.


“Yeah. This is Ken Reardon. The septic tech from Reardon’s Septic Service. I spoke with you earlier this morning. Wanted to let you know that I’m on my way over now to check your system out.”

“Oh. Yes. Thank you for checking back in with me. Your man Greg was just here. Did a great job too. He got us all pumped out. No need for you to come over now. I think we’re all set.”

“Huh? What are you talking about? We don’t have anyone named Greg working for us. I should know. I’m the owner.”

“Well, a guy named Greg was just here. Had a big yellow truck with “Reardon’s Septic Service” “You Dump- We Pump” on the side. Did a good job.”

Even left me a bill.”


Until Our Trails Cross Again: