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Open Hearts, Open Drains

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I live in Malaysia, where much of the drainage system is above ground. My friends live in a house on our island, and when they clean their dishes, you can watch as scraps of food travel out of their sink, through their back yard and into the neighborhood drains, which eventually empty onto the beaches of the Straits of Malacca.

Sometimes as my husband and I walk into a lovely restaurant, hungry, ready to sit down and relax, we are hit by the stench of sewage. It can make you want to get back into your car and drive away. I’m learning to not breathe as I walk over certain drains and to take different routes into stores and restaurants to avoid the suffocating smell that hits me unexpectedly.

The dirtiest city I have visited is Tana Rata, in the highlands. After a lovely, three-hour drive to the mountains we were ready for a cool, restful, pollution-free vacation. Homeless people in Malaysia sift through the trash, so anything that might be useful to them is placed next to the bin rather than in it. So when we walked through the town, every few feet we encountered a pile of garbage next to a trash can.

We call one small stream a block from our house “Stinky Creek.” A tan-colored waterway for monitor lizards and a waterfront home for many homeless families, it is one of those places where I can take only short gasps of breath until we pass over it.

I suggested to my friend that we could start a clean-up campaign for Penang. He said, “It wouldn’t work. Once a program is started, it never continues. No one enforces a pollution law, and so no one continues to clean up the garbage.” Or maybe we all think, Let someone else deal with it.

The drains remind me of our hearts—dirty, clogged and stinky. Our dialogue with God goes something like this: God says, I want to unclog that part of your heart. And we say, “Um, God? This is just the way I am; I thought you knew that already.”

We ignore the trash or think it might be useful for someone else. Or maybe we allow Him to clean one area of our hearts but not another. Many people we meet here in Malaysia fill their heart-drains with milk and flowers for the gods, self-infliction or gifts for their dead ancestors. They can only hope that they have given enough sacrifice. How many candles can one burn? How many prayers can one say? How many hours can one spend in a temple before knowing, really knowing, that a heart has been cared for, cleaned and restored?

This year, God asked me to allow Him into the deepest parts of my heart—my personal Stinky Creek. He asked me to stop ignoring the areas of my life that needed to be unclogged. I reluctantly said yes and gave up my crinkly potato chip bags of stubbornness, my empty cans of loneliness and my rotten food of fear. Each time I allowed God to remove the dam of garbage, I knew I was free. Now I am eager to ask, “What do you want to clean today, God?”

I’m grateful my God can restore and heal. Ask Him to reveal any uncovered areas of sin in your life and be ready for a gentle spring cleaning of wadded up sins that you may have forgotten.

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