Toilet water was dripping down my face. That was the moment right there. Freeze frame and label it as “my life mostly revolves around cleaning up pee and poo.” Not just the literal excrement of a defiant 3 1/2 year old, an eager-to-potty-train 2 year old, and the dog; no at this point in my life I felt like I was also helping to clean up emotional doo doo from those around me. In my head I was a custodian for the brokenhearted. Don’t get me wrong here, I don’t mind cleaning up- it’s a job that someone has to do. But when you have a plumber outside trying to unclog the sewer of a 117 year old house and you have toilet water on your face from your daughter’s potty training endeavors and you are simultaneously comforting a friend via text message, you start to see a connection.
And it was all connected.
The house was going through some potty training troubles of sorts. Whatever went flushed down a toilet, bathtub, sink, and/or washing machine was now flooding our backyard. A team of plumbers were trudging through the steamy, sewage mud in search of the culprit.
Inside the house, my daughter had asked for privacy to use the restroom only so she could clog up the commode with wads of toilet paper; meanwhile, I was dutifully waiting outside the restroom and seized the opportunity to catch up on my social media. Enter dagger to the heart as I came across some words from a dear loved one that cut a gash through my pride. Those words- they were a slap in the face… or better yet it was like toilet water splattered across my face. How could someone just flush the toilet on your best efforts? Here came the flood of anger, resentment, and frustration.
This is when I walked into the bathroom to discover that my precious daughter had clogged the toilet. Perfect timing. We were instructed by the plumber not to flush any toilets or pour anything down the drain. I was going to have to pull that toilet paper out of the toilet. After I scolded Eva and turned this into a teachable moment, I grabbed the toilet brush and a trash can and went to work. I was about to get the last bit of soggy toilet paper out when the brush got stuck on the side of the toilet bowl and splashed toilet water onto my face. Hot. Red hot boiling water bubbled its way to the top of my head. The surge of anger, resentment, and frustration that had begun with the social media status was now updated by the nastiness dripping down my face. The surge was now pulsing through my body ready to explode just like our sewer waste had exploded into our backyard.
I took a moment. I cried. I showered. The horror washed over me in steamy drops of humility until I came down to the real source of the pot of red hot boiling water.
It wasn’t the clogged sewer or the potty training kids that were bothering me. No, the problem was much deeper. The problem was planted in the depths of my soul and rooted in my heart. Bitterness. Nothing like cold water to the face to wake you up to reality. I just wish that it wasn’t toilet water.
I knew I had been harboring some deep bitterness for months now; gosh, it might have been years. But it took our clogged sewer line to bring me face to face with the ugly truth. I probably had more disgusting gunk in my soul than what was overflowing into our backyard. Bitterness. What was I bitter about? Lots of things. Everything. The hurtful words on the social media site and the kids’ potty training only triggered what I had been holding onto for quite some time. For months I had been feeling this tug at my heart to repent of my bitterness. Let these people go who have wronged you. Stop living in the past. Forgive. Move on. But dang, I am stubborn! I just love to revel in all that hurt and pain and relive it and allow myself to be angry with the ones who have hurt me. Someday I’ll see justice! Someday they will all be sorry for what they have done! Someday they will apologize! I was turning into a pig that loves to roll around in manure. Well, this little piggy needed to go to bitterness rehab! I knew my life would not progress until this nastiness was completely flushed out.
After two 2 different plumbers, a visit from the city sewage company, over 100 feet of hose, and a few days of no flushing the problem had been solved but it turned out that the clog was only part of the problem. Due to the fact that the plumber had an exceptionally difficult time flushing out the clog, he suspected that there was a break in the sewer pipe that was probably caused by a tree root dissecting the pipe. Great.
While the problem of our clogged sewer pipes had technically been taken care of, it was only a temporary solution to what will inevitably happen. At some point we will need to get in there and find out just what is going on with these old sewer pipes. The idea of bitterness rooted deep in my soul took on a whole new meaning at this point. Our beautiful house could quite possibly have a tree root messing up the flow of her pipes. She just might need all new pipes. Oh, the parallel with my life is just too much; somehow I feel responsible for all this! It occurred to me that the effects of this tree root could be catastrophic for our home; likewise, the consequences of me holding onto my bitterness could be devastating to my livelihood and that of my family. This bitterness wasn’t just holding me back from reaching my full potential of being the best me, it was going to mess up my family too. Perhaps it already had. How many things have I said or done that have been a direct result of my “bitterroot?” How many people have I hurt? This isn’t just about me anymore.
Every bone in my body wanted to kick and punch and scream to fight against the conviction to repent. But it was time to flush it all out. The giant wad of bitterness was clogging up my life. It was holding me back and hurting others. It just had to go. I knew my life could not progress until this bitterness was completely flushed out. But it might not be enough. The damage might already be so severe that I might just need all new pipes. What would that look like? I’m pretty sure that my memories of hurt and my hurtful actions/ words are connected by bitter thoughts. Every time I think about those memories I spiral down a tunnel of disillusioned resentment until I get the opportunity to say or do something that I end up regretting . I think that it will feel good but it doesn’t. I need a new tunnel. I need a new pipe to connect memories to actions. Somehow, I need to find the silver lining in each of those potentially bitter memories. I need a holy filter to remind me that God was present even in those awful times. I am in desperate need of clean pipes that will allow joyful thoughts to flow purely like fresh, clean water.
My husband’s way of informing me that the sewage issue had been fixed was to draw a heart in the sewage mud that was our backyard. Ah love. It was finished. He had answered my question of what would it look like to have all new pipes. Love. What would be a way for me to overcome my bitterness? Love.
Flash back to the freeze frame and the self-proclamation that my life is ruled by cleaning up excrement of all kinds. As much as I complain about it there is something healing in pouring love into someone else’s life. It kind of melts away the bitterness. Or maybe it’s because you are so busy helping to clean that you don’t have time to be bitter. In all of my whining about the toilet water and the sewer issues and the kids I forgot about the texting conversation with my friend. There was magic in that conversation. Me and my friend- we were cleaning together. We were emptying ourselves of the mess that is our pasts. There was the silver lining. There was God present in one of the most humiliating and humbling moments of my life. There was love in all of its auto-correct glory.
Custodian of the broken hearted? That sounds so melodramatic and self-righteous. But broken hearts do need mending and bitterness does need uprooting. So we continue to pick up the dustpan and the toilet brush and plunger and shovel and continue to dig and clean. I’m learning that with love and forgiveness the dirty work will get done.