The Dung Gate

Sitting in church, I’m pretty sure I got a point that wasn’t meant to be the main one.  The sermon was an overview of the book of Nehemiah, and the dung gate was mentioned.  Names were listed of people who’d helped rebuild the wall, and the guy who worked on the dung gate was noted.  I had an ADHD moment (well, hour or so) and the bit of random information sent me on a long exhaustive examination on the topic.

Today I thought about extreme fumes, and what it all means.  The kind that burns eyes and makes them run.  Like the time I had an hour long interview with a patient who literally lives in bed most of his life, such depression he had not bathed in over a year.  Flat and colorless, except for a hint of blue eyes, skin breakdown, soul breakdown.  Sweating profusely, his agoraphobia made the interview terrifying for him.  Much of the time he saw no one for months but the familiar mother he lives with. His story is slow in coming, as he fight his nerves.  His depression has nearly defeated him.  So many attempts at shock treatment, medication, more medication, hospitalizations, attempted suicides, of course a long history of loss and abuse early on, and a lifetime of trying to survive inside the catacomb of depression.  I remember the challenge staying in the room and completing the interview.  My eyes ran, the tissue I had stepped out to get when fumes hit, now soaked as I tried to prevent him from seeing that I was reacting to the powerful odor coming from his terribly sick body.  As soon as the interview was over, I tried not to rush from the room in escape, but know I was feeling that way.

I’m thinking of the frail old lady brought in by Aid Car, at request of police, found in house, laying on floor, herself and carpet covered in human feces, broken wine bottles, rotting food and cat messes throughout.  The broken down skin, malnutritioned, demented.  The concerned Officer tells me of the squalor she lives in.  Begging me in so many words to find a way to get this lady placed where she will be cared for, as so many loopholes could make it easy for us to send her back and just make the referral call required to make, and leave it at that.

The drunks that come in, covered in sickness from too much alcohol intake.  The suicidal patients matted hair and hung over, that have had to use the charcoal, dried around mouth, down chin, it blackens the teeth, ashamed and trying to tell me how they got to this place.

This sounds crazy, I know, but stench is holy.  It is the place from which most clearly the dignity and value of a person is seen.  A place from which God is magnified.  The same with darkness.  I like to use black to matte my color pictures.  Darkness intensifies color and beauty when it surrounds it.  The polished, bathed, made over; they took the time and effort to clean themselves up.  They deserve the clout they receive.  When absolutely nothing can cover the shame and disgust of an individual, and still, the dignity and value of that person is there, that is Jesus in the room, and I am talking to his child.

I have never been in a third world country, but have heard the smells can overwhelm those of us sheltered and fancy.  I wonder how many of us say “no thanks” to Gods Call to missions and ministry and people care because of our inability to tolerate filth.

As a mom, I have always hoped for my kids to grow up and one day become a teacher or doctor, engineer or lawyer.  Never have I encouraged them to become a garbage man, run a septic company, or manage waste of any kind.  Our son is working as a nurse’s aid in a memory care unit.  Yes, it involves cleaning up filth, even the bodies of patients he’d become fond of and cared so carefully for, before they passed.  These are hideous jobs, and yet, they are holy tasks.  He is studying to be an engineer, and yes, I know that is a calling as well, but I will never be as proud of him as I am now, doing the hardest task of his life, caring and loving for confused, difficult, fragile and needy patients.  Cleaning up messes no one even wants to think of.

God bless the man who rebuilt the Dung Gate.  And now the service is over.  I’m on my way to a day of fun and friends and living large.  And I ask myself, am I up to the task of holiness today?  I hope so.  



  1. I am in awe of your writing…so vivid, so real, and yes so holy. I was a nurse I have been in those dark areas…and I have seen those souls shine thru…”Forget-me-nots” I call them in my little book of such lives I encountered and wrote about…and you do not ever forget…Thank you for such insight into darkness and holiness!!


    1. Judy, writing years later, but did you write a book of your patients? I’m thinking of writing on God’s Street Sheep and would love to hear from another some memories of what they’ve seen.


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