Don’t rush for the jackhammer

The friends who sold us our house warned us about its unfinished basement.

“It’s bone dry down there—no water for ages. But the floor has white powder. The stuff just keeps coming up.”

Indeed. The first time I visited the basement, I almost scampered back up its painted grey stairs.

The cement block walls looked solid. “Nice high ceilings,” said a friend who’d come along to inspect, knocking on a stretch of galvanized furnace ducting. But the floor looked like it had a bad case of dandruff.

I dislike basements. Most of those we’ve lived above have been gloomy and damp. Not so Hope House. It seems dry as crackers, and on the morning side several windows invite light. Not a bad basement at all.

Except for the powder.

It’s alkali, we’ve found out.  Harmless to people, but determined. It seeps upward, flaking  the floor’s multiple coats of grey paint and its top layers of concrete. White piles cover the entire basement, and compress under even a small foot.

Walking in the basement is a little like treading on white sugar.

“You could sweep up a dustpan full a day,” the warning included.

I could, if I were so inclined. I’m not. I am, though, inclined to explore the reasons, and a solution, for the alkali. The downstairs could house several extra rooms. With a growing crop of grandbeans, and the Preacher’s library waiting elsewhere for a home, we could use the space.

In the era in which our house was built, contractors poured concrete foundations directly over compacted dirt. Like a petrified sponge, concrete remains porous. Moisture in the soil makes its way through and seeps out the other side. If there’s not much, it dissipates. Minerals in the water don’t evaporate though—they simple pile up on the surface.

The soil around here is highly alkali, I’ve learned. Like manna, more powder shows up daily.

Pour a new floor, with improved concrete, someone recommended. “Yeah, Mom, rent a jackhammer and rip out the old floor,” our daughter said. “Do you know how many guys would love the opportunity to make big noise and an even bigger mess?”

Others have suggested sandblasting off the paint and sealing the floor’s surface (more big mess, more big noise). Or hanging the freezer and washer and dryer from the rafters, and pouring on a new layer of concrete. Or simply installing a slightly elevated good sub-floor.

We’ll get it fixed, somehow. (More suggestions are welcome!) But that floor reminds me of some people I know. In spite of seemingly smooth lives, something nasty works its way up to the surface regularly. Bitter memories, often. Unforgiveness. They’re difficult to walk alongside. Tricky to live with. Useful for little but storing and reviewing personal angsts.

Just when I contemplated hauling out my verbal jackhammer and using it on someone like that this week, God reminded me to apply gentleness and pray for wisdom. Like houses, people have unique needs, and he’s the definitive expert in the foundations of the human soul—not me.

That’s why his name is Wonderful Counsellor.

Think I’ll ask him about the dandruff in the basement.

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