This is a true story. One Tuesday this past August, my wife was coming home when she ran over what she describes as a “big, metal Lego”. By the time she got to the house, one of the front tires was flat. So, I put on the spare and drove to Wal-Mart. They wouldn’t put a new tire on because the “Lego” had bent the rim. I then took the rim to a friend’s house where we beat on it until it was not bent. By this time it was too late to get a tire, so I headed home, slightly frustrated that I had not accomplished my goal of replacing the tire. The next morning, I headed out to the car and now the rear tire was flat. As you probably know, cars only have one spare! Forced to leave the car jacked up (and fearful that it might fall on one of my children), I quickly returned to Wal-Mart to now get two tires. Even though I should be at work, I spend a chunk of my day waiting for tires and then head home to put them both on the car. But is that the end? Of course not.
That night my girls tell me their potty won’t flush. I wish I could say this is uncommon, but we seem to have a need to use lots of toilet paper. I grab my plunger, but before I can even start, my wife yells that our toilet won’t flush. Uh-oh. I immediately rush outside and an alarm is sounding on our septic tank. I tell everyone to avoid all flushing, showering, washing, etc… and I will fix it in the morning.
Day three begins with a guy coming to pump our septic tank. It is full, and he pumps it out, but that does not fix the problem. Our septic tank is the type that actually sprays out treated water. It is basically a water treatment plant buried in my back yard. But for some reason, it will not spray. Perhaps the pump is bad. So I spend an extremely warm August afternoon down in a bunch of “poopy water” trying to figure out the problem and eventually remove the pump. I try to find one in town, but you can’t just get one at the local hardware store. So I am forced to overnight one from Arkansas. Pumps are not cheap and the price for overnighting one is downright ridiculous. But I have nine people in my house who desperately want to flush and shower.
My wife and children leave for a family birthday party. I go to the gym, not to work out, but to use their shower since I smell like the inside of a 100 degree toilet (sorry Hendrick Health Club :). I meet my family at the birthday party for a few minutes of revelry. As I am headed home from the event, I feel the unmistakable wobble of a flat tire. I pull over and yes, one of the tires I purchased the day before has a cut in it. Did I purchase road hazard? Of course not. Why? Because it is a stupid waste of money, unless of course you get a flat tire the VERY NEXT DAY! I am exhausted and still smell faintly like poop, but there I am on the side of the interstate putting on the spare tire once again.
Day four involves another trip for a tire, and waiting for the overnight delivery of a septic pump. I paid an arm and a leg for that overnighted package. So of course, it didn’t come. My kids are washing our dishes in a tub in the back yard. My boys find it thrilling to be told to use the bathroom outside (my girls not so much). And I am waiting for whatever happens next.
And yet, I am happy.
That’s right happy.
Why? Why am I happy as I appear to be living out some west Texas summer version of the movie Groundhog Day? Because I am trying to be a realist.
Merriam-Webster defines a realist as “a person who understands what is real and possible in a particular situation : a person who accepts and deals with things as they really are.”
Now it may seem that a realist would gripe away in a setting of multiple flat tires and septic tank woes. After all, the reality is that the situation stinks (sorry about that). But to gripe and complain in that moment would only make me a “situational” realist. Why? Because if a realist sees how things truly are, then yes I can gripe when it all falls apart. But that also means I have to shout hallelujah when things don’t fall apart. I can yell and scream when the septic tank won’t spray, but I have to praise God every time the toilet flushes without incident. And I don’t know about you, but I don’t do that. But what if I did?
What if instead of waiting until things go poorly to remind myself to be thankful, I did it every day?
As I talked about with my children, for three years our septic tank worked and we never noticed. So let’s not gripe now.
Here is my idea then: if you want to complain, go ahead. Gripe away. Bad day. Horrible haircut. Crying baby on your airplane. Not enough money. Not enough time. Let it all out. Wail and moan. But, then you also have to jump for joy for all the things that go well. Good days. Nice people. Enough to eat. Enough to wear. Toilets that flush.
A song we rarely sing anymore says “Count Your Many Blessings.” But I think the key line is “Name Them One By One.” So get started. Alarm clock woke you up on time: give thanks. There was food to eat for breakfast, give thanks. You own a toothbrush, give thanks. You have teeth, give thanks. You have clothes to wear, give thanks. You probably have so many clothes you’re not sure what to wear, give thanks. It’s cold and windy but you are in a house, give thanks. Make a quick pit stop before you head out the door, and that toilet works, give thanks.
That’s right, today when you flush the toilet and it works, then give a little praise, say a little thanks. After all, you are just keeping it real.