What a month it has been. This past month has been a "vacation" I didn't ask for and had no interest in, a time of separation from normal life and its responsibilities and joys. I have hardly been able to write anything. Yet in some ways it seems as if everything has changed, and nothing is what it was before.

Until the middle of Labor Day week, I thought my next Patheos column would be entirely about the infestation of my home by bird mites, a tiny biting mite than comes in droves and drives a homeowner to the point of despair—perhaps even insanity. From the middle of August to the morning of September 4, my life was completely taken over by these mites, which invaded my home after birds abandoned a nest built under my patio roof.

The online literature about these mites was very discouraging. People described lives of constant vacuuming; of washing all their linens every day using 20 Mule Team Borax (which, incidentally, produces a lot of discolored sheets and clothing); showering with coal-tar products, Windex, and a Listerine solution; frequently washing off walls with bleach cleaner; and repeatedly spraying corners and areas under furniture with insecticide. It seemed hardly worth being alive if this was what I had to look forward to.

Fortunately, I began finding websites with more information about the bird mites. They can't live more than a couple of weeks without their avian hosts. Removing the source—in my case, the bird's nest and bird feeder on the patio—causes the mite population to dwindle. They won't survive if the humidity is low and the temperature drops. (In August, my area of southern California experienced an epic bout of near-Floridian humidity coupled with desert heat, a weather pattern no one could remember ever seeing before. The conditions had to be exactly right for this mite infestation to flourish as it did.) Using diatomaceous earth powder on floors and carpets, meanwhile, is a way to shred the mites' exoskeletons and bring about their demise.

After days of tearing the house apart, vacuuming, running multiple loads of laundry, using foggers and sprays, and spending some nights in local motels, I decided to vacate my home for an extended period. I drove to Oklahoma to stay with Mom and visit family. There was and remains a certain sense of detachment from the practical requirements of daily life; it seems as if there has been a great gouge carved in my spirit, and as if God and I are on a new, perhaps shaky and unfamiliar, set of terms.

The theme of "threes" has tied this episode in my mind to a peculiar watershed in the story of America, which occurred during Labor Day week. My own set of "three" unfolded in a homely manner. While dealing with the bird mites, I had three especially difficult nights. On the first of these nights, I seemed to be tested on trusting the Lord; in that case, trusting Him for a good night's sleep, although it felt as if I would never shower all the mites off that evening. (The Lord delivered on the good night's sleep.)

On the second of these nights, the test seemed to involve suffering the biting mites, just because I believed God was asking me to. This was extremely hard, but eventually, I simply had to decide that I couldn't be out of accord with the Lord. It's hard to convey the difficulty of this decision; I fought it for hours. Fortunately, I didn't have to endure the biting more than a few more hours that night.