February 20, 2014

What a plumbing crisis reminded me about life

Our home has been faced with a major plumbing crisis recently.  It has been a heck of an experience—costly, stressful, poorly timed, and lengthy.  As I was awake at about 2am thinking about all that has happened and will happen this week with the plumbing, I came back to the life lessons that I mention below. 

1.  God is in charge.  Sometimes when I’m helping people through crisis, I find it important to divide out the parts of the struggle that we can control and what we can’t.  I believe that what we can’t control, what we can’t do anything about, is best to leave in God’s hands. 

Earlier this week our daughter was having a very difficult time with teething.  I was barely functioning with limited sleep and the stress of a fussy, crying baby most hours of the day.  On top of that, we were faced with not having access to water in half of our home (the half that controls the kitchen, dishwasher, and laundry).  I wasn’t in check of my emotions and allowed myself to slip into that hopeless place—the one where you begin to think that there is no way that things will get any better and you become frustrated, anxious, angry, and sad.  After making the rest of our family miserable with my rotten mood, I went to bed and prayed and prayed and prayed.  I turned over the teething, the lack of sleep, the emotions, the plumbing issues all over to God.  Yes, the baby still woke up a few times, but I managed to get more sleep that night.  She had a much better day the next day, and I was better able to put the plumbing experience in context and think logically about it. 

God has a plan, even when we do not think that he does.  There is a song by one of my favorite artists, J.J. Heller that says, “I don’t know what you are doing, but I know who you are.”  I think that applies in almost every problem area of our lives.  We may not be able to see the plan in all of it, but if we believe, we know that God is working in all of it.  Remember Romans 8:28.

2.  Rely on your spouse.  I am forever grateful that God gave me the husband that he did.  He is kind, patient, understanding, strong, competent, funny, intelligent—I could go on and on.  Stressful situations in marriage can either pull you apart or draw you into one another.  I confess that with all the stress I mentioned above I wasn’t as patient and kind with him as he was with me.  He was strong enough for the both of us, and at that point I knew that things would be ok.  Sometimes marriage is like that—sometimes one partner carries the load when the other can’t.  He is unwavering, and I’m so grateful that I have him as my partner for life.

3.  Build an emergency fund.  Even if all you can save is $5 a week, do that.  Put money in reserve for a rainy day. Believe me, it will eventually rain.  Sure, you can spend that $5 on a nice latte or magazine, but I bet when you are faced with an emergency dental procedure, need of car repairs, or plumbing problem you will be very glad that you put that money into savings instead.  Build your emergency fund by using coupons, earning money through consignment sales, taking a part time job, or bartering for services or goods with friends.

We will not choose to tackle a few projects and goals this year because of this plumbing problem.  Yes, we could put them on credit, or even take the money out of our savings—we choose to not have debt and to have enough of a cushion in our savings that when emergencies like this come up we can address them. 

4.  When faced with problems, consider it an opportunity for learning.  I often encourage people who have recently been through a crisis to reflect on what they learned from the experience.  Sometimes they learn that they are a lot more resilient and strong than they ever knew.  Sometimes they learn something about the people in their lives or the world around them. 

As I mentioned, we have not had use of our kitchen sink or dishwasher.  Unfortunately, we had some unwashed dishes at the time of the plumbing problem.  Even with using paper products this week, there have also been other dishes that needed washing.  I have taken the dishes and washed them in that bathroom sink.  Each time I do, I think of other mothers and wives across the world.  I think of those in areas of Africa who must walk miles each day to get water for their families.  I think of the homeless women I pass who sometimes sleep under bridges with no running water.  I think of women escaping domestic violence and living in a motel with their children until they can find housing.  I think of my great grandmothers and great, great grandmothers who fed, bathed, and cleaned for their families with limited or no access to plumbing. 

What I have learned is that most women will do anything for the good of their family.  I happily clean the dishes in my bathroom sink (yes, I use hot water and lots of soap to get them sanitary!) because it means that my family is fed and cared for.  I am humbled and grateful because I at least have that as an option and reflect on so many who do not have even that. 

5.  Let gratitude take over.  The day after the long prayer session I found my gratitude rock on my bathroom counter. It is a rock (or any symbol) that you put somewhere that you will come across it multiple times a day.  Each time you do reflect on the blessings and positives in your life.  I realized when I saw the rock that gratitude is a choice.  I chose to look at all of the blessings that we have and to remind myself that “This too shall pass.”  The way we look at situations in our lives is a choice.  I fail. I stumble.  I make a fool out of myself plenty of times.  I don’t always choose wisely.  Instead of giving up, I try better the next day and the next.  I make those choices “One day at a time” and eventually the crisis has passed, the problem is solved, and life continues.