Yesterday I had a flashback of one of the most poignant moments of my life. I was working on replacing the bathroom fixtures in our rental house in Puyallup and having a difficult time removing a defective toilet. I had to embrace the bowl and pull it off of the base. (Either I don’t know how to remove a toilet or this is the only way to get them from the floor after they are unbolted.)
While I was hugging that cold porcelain I flashed back to a time 8 years ago when something similar happened to me. We had just moved from Colorado to Puyallup, Washington. My immorality had been discovered and my family and I were spiritual and moral refugees and yet we were welcomed into the family of Christ Church of Sumner. My first post-ministry job was razing an old house next door to the church.
The story, as I remember it, was that a lady had lived in the house for decades with her countless cats. Finally, her health deteriorated to the point that she needed to be institutionalized. Her family then sold the church the 5 room house. My job was to tear it down for $10.00 per hour to make room for a parking lot.
I found tearing down that house a terrifying metaphor of my life. I had spent years building a resume, reputation and career as a trustworthy man. But because of my arrogance and stupidity I had seen my life abandoned and condemned. I was tearing down a house in Washington, but I had torn down the life of my family and a church in Colorado.
But with this little yellow house I had already dismantled and hauled off all of the outlying buildings, porch and knocked down many of the non load-bearing walls and it was time to go after the bathroom. The vanity came out without much resistance, the sink as well. (I hate it when the ghost of Freud helps with a sentence) The only thing left was the tub and the toilet. I decided to deal with the toilet first. I removed the tank and carried it out and threw it into my truck to take to the dump. I unbolted the bowl from the floor, but it wouldn’t budge. Something——time, rust, secrete glue, some malicious spirit—–had corroded, sealed, or soldered the toilet bowl to the floor. It was not coming off it’s base without a fight.
I pushed and pulled…nothing. Finally, I wrapped my arms around the cold, slick and disgusting bowl and heaved with all the vein-popping effort I could find. It wouldn’t budge. I was frustrated, sad and ashamed of myself. I remembered that only two months before I was on the board of trustees of a major Christian organization. I was a former president of the second largest denomination in the state of Colorado. I was well-respected and admired and successful in almost every way imaginable.
Now I was trying to tear a toilet out of an old cat-woman’s house. I remember wondering, “How many times had her bare butt sat on this seat I was hugging?” I fell back against the bathtub with the sharp smell of urine piercing my nostrils and began to weep. “Oh, God how did I get here?” I will tell you what God told me if you promise to listen and remember. Do you promise?
Here is what he said, “Joe, you are right where I want you to be. You are with Me and WE are going to be just fine.” I had never felt anything more real and more divine. The stinging tears of self-pity became sanctified tears of great joy. Jesus was with me. Immanuel.
It is better to tear out a toilet with Jesus than do anything without him.