Not Aiming for Perfection

Today I saw a light-hearted comment on FB. Someone was wondering why a character in a very popular book series was not treated with more kindness, even though he was a mean person.  I was a little puzzled. From my limited knowledge of the book, it seemed that it would have been stepping out of character for the people in the book to treat the man with kindness. They weren’t kind because that didn’t line up with their temperament.  

 

I was puzzling over this in my head as I began the day. Today was going to be Decorate the House for Christmas Day. This is supposed to be a happy day. Family united. Everyone buoyant with good cheer. 

 

The day started off cheerfully enough. The two year old had climbed into our bed sometime around 4 am and he woke up later with a big smile on his face. The happiness lasted about twenty minutes and then things went downhill quickly. He didn’t want to get dressed even though the house is chilly and he was walking around in a diaper. He didn’t want to eat breakfast. Even though I was letting the kids eat leftover pie for breakfast. Eggs, toast, oatmeal, and fruit were also suggested, but he didn’t want any of that either. Then he became clingy and didn’t want me to put him down. For about two hours. The six year old did not wake up with a smile. She woke up whining. And then quickly got into a fight with her older sister. The boys had a friend over who had spent the night and the energy in the house was on HIGH. I was very quickly losing my patience. And feeling guilty about it. Leave it to kids to kill the mood. 

 

At the same time I was thinking about that FB post and then I had my Light Bulb Moment. Why on earth am I expecting my children to act like perfect little angels? That’s not what they are. They are human. They have a sin nature. They get irritated and tired. We’ve already had two days of holiday, everyone gets tired of celebrating after a while, plus we’ve had sickness going through the house. In fact, why was I expecting myself to be perfect? I also am human and have lots of flaws. Being perfect has never been on my list of abilities. I was in effect expecting a certain outcome from people who were incapable of producing that outcome. 

 

I have continued to come back to that little light bulb throughout the day. Like when I’m expecting my husband to be enthusiastic about Christmas Decorating and throw himself into it gungho. Yeah. Decorating is a lot more my thing than his. And he was tired today, his mind on a lot of other things. 

 

Then, when my son announced that he had just spilled all my leftover turkey, ham, and mashed potatoes out of the fridge and onto the floor (the leftovers we were going to have for supper tonight)…and I felt a ball of rage boiling up, followed by a ball of guilt for getting so upset over an accident…I remembered that I was human. Having your supper thrown on the floor is upsetting. It’s ok that I got angry. And it was a really good time to take a quick trip to the store and just get a little space from the situation. And by the time I got back from the store I was calm again and had mostly forgotten the incident. 

 

The day has turned out pleasant. The house got decorated. Christmas music played nonstop. Everyone enjoyed the new cozy atmosphere. Yes, we had fights and arguments to sort out. Lots of messes and accidents. Absolutely nothing perfect about the day. But it was good. 

 

As the Christmas season kicks into high gear, this is my goal. To remember that we are not aiming for perfection, that’s not who we are. We are aiming to be quick to forgive, count to ten when it’s necessary, get up and leave the house if needed, but above all, have grace for each other as we live our imperfect lives. 

 

Charity with Dignity

Last Christmas I ran into a rather awkward situation. I received a note from my Kindergartner’s teacher telling me that I should go pick up my child’s Angel Tree Gift at such and such a place on such and such a date. Angel Tree Gift? What? I didn’t sign up for that! I studied the paper very carefully and after looking at some websites, and talking to my daughter, I figured out that my daughter’s teacher had signed her up for an Angel Tree Gift that was hosted in my neighborhood. (For those of you that don’t know, the way Angel Tree Gifts work, is a child’s name is on an ornament and someone picks that ornament and then buys them Christmas presents, it’s for kids who probably aren’t going to get presents without some outside help.)

Well. That was embarrassing. We are not rich. We’re not even really well-off. But, we make enough to buy our children Christmas presents. I didn’t know what to do except go pick up the gift at the appointed time. 

 

I looked up the address and found out that the gift pick-up place was at a small house only a couple blocks away from us. I had driven by that house every day when I took my kids to school and I had always been curious about it. It looked like a regular home, with a wrought iron fence around it, but at different times of the year it would have signs hanging on the fence. “Come Inside to Get Signed Up for Healthcare” or “Register to Vote Here”. I would occasionally see a group of young college-age people entering the house, name tags attached to their Business-Casual clothing. Whatever the place was, it seemed like a positive addition to our neighborhood. 

 

The day arrived to go pick up the gift and my insides were roiling. I hate having to do something brand new that I’ve never done before where I have no idea what’s going to happen. It stresses me out. I had been cleaning house and had on an old pair of sweatpants and old faded sweater. It was a busy, rushed day, and without thinking, I just drove over in what I was wearing. It wasn’t until I was leaving my car that I realized I was completely dressed for the part of Poor Person Seeking Aid. Great.

 

Figuring out where to park had been a bit confusing, but I saw that I could approach the house from the back alley and find a place for my over-sized van. I sat in my car, assessing the situation. Is anyone else coming? Is it the right time? What door should I go to? I sat there until I saw another family approaching the house. Aha. Safety in numbers. I got out of the van and walked carefully behind them. It was a latino family, two women and a handful of small children. They were murmuring quietly to each other in Spanish. They glanced my way and I gave a shy smile. They looked as uncertain as I was. 

 

As we approached the door, their courage seemed to give out and they hung back. I guessed I better lead the way. I stepped around them and hesitantly stepped up to the front door. Before I could knock, the door swung open and a tall black man stood there, big smile on his face. Come on in! Come on in! I gave my polite smile and stepped around him and found myself in the living room of the house. The only furniture was a couple desks and chairs. The rest of the room was full of boxes and bags. There were quite a few people present. A woman sitting behind a desk had a large clipboard with pages of names on it. Someone was talking to her, giving her the name of their child. Ok. So, this what we do? Go give our name to that lady? I decided it was as good a place as any to start. I got in line and waited my turn. 

 

When it was my turn, the lady, an older black woman, dressed in a modest skirt and blouse, the kind of woman who looked like she ran the Sunday School Program at her church, looked up and gave me a pleasant smile. What’s the name of your child? I gave her the name and she started searching through her lists. She searched and searched. I was starting to get really nervous. Good grief. They told me I was supposed to come here, and now they don’t even have my name on the list. How embarrassing. I wished very much that I could just leave. Like right now. The lady looked up, What school does she go to? I told her. She flipped some more pages. HERE it is! SHe looked up and briskly called out a number to a young man who was waiting nearby. She pointed at an unoccupied space and told me to stand there. I went and stood out of the way, and a minute or two later a young man approached me, confirmed the name of my child, and handed me a large garbage bag. I thanked him and then glanced around me. Can I leave now? Is that it? I watched another woman take her garbage bag of gifts and walk out the door. Ok. I guess we just leave now. 

 

I headed towards the door, but just before I got there, an older man approached me. He looked like a businessman. Black hair with silver streaks. He walked up to me and put out his hand, looked me straight in the eye, shook my hand firmly, and said Merry Christmas! The firm handshake felt comforting. The eye contact was a relief. I gave my first genuine smile since I had got there. Thank you. Merry Christmas. I walked out the door. Glad that was over, but happy. The man’s crisp Merry Christmas somehow redeemed the whole awkward situation. 

 

I am sharing this story with you this holiday season because I know a lot of you make an effort to reach out to your community during the holidays. Something about Christmas brings out the philanthropist in all of us. I would just like to give you a glimpse of how the other side might be feeling and encourage you to find ways to treat the people you are helping with dignity. 

 

Sometimes Cleaning Involves Making a Mess

Today there has been a festive note in the air. Thanksgiving is coming next week, and then we launch full-blast into Christmas. And, my son is coming home tonight after being away at school since August. YAY!!! 

 

With all the approaching festivities, my cleaning bug finally kicked in. Our house was a big ol’ mess. I had the kids help me clean up Friday night, but the problem is we had pockets of clutter all over the place. So, while everything was picked up off the floor, the room still felt a mess. So, today we tackled the clutter. I put two kids on the job of fixing our bookshelves. In order to do that they had to take all the randomly piled books off the shelf so they could organize them all neatly. In the process they also found some movies, toys and papers that didn’t belong on the shelf. 

 

I assigned another child the hall closet. He had to pull everything that had been stuffed in there and make a giant pile on the floor. Then from that pile he could hang up all the coats, put all the gloves, scarves and hats in a box, line up the boots, and put the duffel bags of snow pants back up on the shelf.

 

I cleaned out the Random Drawer that had all our coloring papers, school papers, playdough, puzzles, school supplies, and a bunch of other random kid things. (It’s a big drawer.) In order to clean it out I had to make all kinds of piles on my dining room table in order to sort everything out. 

 

Sometime in the middle of all this cleaning, my husband came in from some errands he had been running. The house looked worse than when he had left. I quickly defended myself. We ARE cleaning. It just doesn’t look like it. We’re going to have to make some messes before it all gets clean. He understood. 

 

Today I also decided it was time to start potty training our youngest. It’s way past time, I’ve just been procrastinating. So, I bought a bag of M&Ms and asked him if he wanted some in exchange for sitting on his potty. Of course! He sat and peed for me. And so far has stayed dry and peed five times in the potty! I’m super excited. But, I know that we have some accidents coming in the very near future. It’s part of the package deal. Some of our kids have potty trained in as fast as a week, and some have taken a year. But all of them had accidents. It’s part of the transition from changing dirty diapers to having clean dry underwear. 

 

One other thing I did today was commissioned my fourteen year old to paint me a Christmas Painting to hang on my mantel for the holidays. She got out her sketch pad and started sketching out some ideas. She showed me one, rough lines outlining the little drummer boy. It was a messy sketch, but I could see what she was drawing. It looked great. I knew that eventually she would turn it into a beautiful picture. 

 

Of course, you’ve probably got the point by now…It has occurred to me this evening, that in order to clean something, or accomplish a goal, you usually have to go through a messy stage where you are making progress, but it doesn’t look like it. 

 

It gives me some hope. I am dealing with some personal shortcomings that have me really discouraged. I have been spending a lot of time recently just thinking about the problem. Trying to get to the root of why I can’t seem to ever overcome in this area. Spending some concentrated time just thinking about this has not been fun. It’s put me in a bad mood. It’s also helped dredge up some old stories from my past that I’ve not properly dealt with. It’s all been rather messy. But, here’s where the hope comes in. Right now it just looks like a mess, but it’s still forward progress. I’m closer to overcoming today than I was a week ago. Sometimes, in order to clean something up, you have to make a mess first. 

 

 

A Lovely Evening for a Drive

This evening I had to drive my teenager to her job. It’s a chore I’ve had to take over since my son has been gone away at school. At first I was pretty irritated at having to uproot myself three times a week to drive her to and from work. But, now I’ve just gotten used to it and it’s part of the weekly routine. Sometimes we talk. Sometimes I turn on the public radio station. Usually, I just drive in silence. Living with ten kids makes me cherish my moments of silence. 

 

Today, as we pulled out of our neighborhood, heading towards the ramp to get on the interstate, I was suddenly very aware of the sky and the trees and the light. The sky was winter grey, heavy with coming rain. The trees’ fall colors were muted, covered in a wispy mist. The light was at that wonderful, pre-dusk level, where you can see clearly, but you know darkness is coming soon. 

 

As I pulled onto the interstate the lights of other cars rushed past me. I wondered at how fast the seasons change here in our neck of the woods. A month earlier I was pulling on my sunglasses when I made this drive, squinting against the bright light. Now, everything around me was making me think about cozy winter days, snuggling up in front of a fireplace, playing holiday music in the background. 

 

Our little city is tucked into lots of little hills and mountain ridges and every available ground is covered in trees. This makes driving around town especially enjoyable in the fall as we are surrounded by red and yellow and gold. But today, as I follow the interstate North, weaving through the hills as I coast along with the traffic, the trees all seem to have hunkered down for the night. The sun has already left the sky, their leaves have nothing else to say, a grey blanket  is tucking them in for a peaceful rest. The sky seems to sink lower as the clouds can no longer hold their burden and rain starts to fall onto my windshield. 

 

Inside my car I am in my own little cocoon of warmth, the heater blows it’s hot air, the only sound the slight squeak of the windshield wipers. 

 

I make the whole circuit and finally approach the exit to my neighborhood. I pull over to the far right exit lane, getting out of the way of the three lanes of traffic that are bustling down the interstate, everyone heading home after a long day. I see the red lights on the cars, little beacons disappearing into the distance, and just for a moment, I wish that I was still with them. Driving. Somewhere. Perhaps on a long journey. Part of the great migration. But then I remember my warm fireplace waiting at home, and I smile as leave the interstate and turn into my little neighborhood streets. Slow, meandering roads. Weaving around cars parked on the wrong side of the road as people in this neighborhood interpret the NO PARKING signs as simple suggestions instead of actual orders needing to be obeyed. 

 

I come over a small rise and right there in front of me is a tall tree, Bright Red, leaning over the road. It’s like seeing one of those glamour photos where everything is black and white and then the model is wearing a bright red dress. This tree does not care that it is almost dark. It doesn’t care that all the other trees have decided to turn in for the night, muting their colors. This tree stands bold and tall, flashing it’s bright red leaves for all to see. I slow my car as I pass underneath it. Crane my neck to look up through my window at this shining rainbow.  

 

The last minutes of my drive are quiet. Darkness is here. I pull into my driveway, the house is ablaze with lights shining out of all the windows. Smoke is rising out of the chimney. 

 

What a lovely evening for a drive. 

 

Thoughts on the Nature of Comfort

This past week, my almost three year old had to have a minor outpatient surgery. They had to put him to sleep for a short time and I was called back when he was in the recovery room, very slowly waking up from the anesthesia. It was pretty rough. He was moaning and crying and tossing and turning, trying to yank out the I.V., trying to pull off the monitors attached to his body, but all with his eyes closed, obviously not fully aware of what was going on. When I walked in, the nurse was trying to keep him from falling off his bed. I went straight for him and she asked if I wanted to hold him. Yes. Of course! 

 

She helped me get him out of the bed without disturbing the various wires, and I settled in a rocking chair with him. Even though he wasn’t awake, he knew it was me holding him. He immediately tried to snuggle as close to me as possible, still moaning and thrashing around. I held him tight and whispered in his ear, over and over, Mama’s here, it’s ok. Mama’s here. You’re going to be ok. He would settle down for a little bit and then start thrashing around again. And the whole time I was whispering to him, a litany of Presence. I am here. You are not alone. You are safe. Feel me touching you. Feel me holding you. I’ve got you. 

 

As I held him, I thought about comfort. How, in his pain and confusion, he craved physical touch, craved hearing my voice. In essence, what he really needed was to know that he was not alone. 

 

I thought about all the times that I have needed comforting. Even in my forties, I still have an occasional nightmare that jerks me awake panting in sheer terror. In that moment in time, when my heart is racing, and I am still struggling to sort out truth from fiction, all I want is for my husband to hold me. Let me feel your presence, let me know I am not alone. Let me feel protected in your arms. 

 

As a child with his parents or a wife with her husband, physical touch as a form of comfort is acceptable. But, in our less close relationships, we often don’t feel free to touch each other while offering comfort. So, what do we do? 

 

If you think back and remember times that people have comforted you, comfort basically boils down to letting someone know that they are not alone. I am so sorry for the death of your close one. I just want you to know that I’m praying for you. Here’s a token:  a card, or a cake, or a casserole…I just want you to know that someone is thinking about you enough to take time to get you something. You are not alone. 

 

Or perhaps when someone is suffering with cancer, we pull up memories of times that we faced cancer with another loved one. And the whole point of bringing up these other stories is that we want to assure them that they are not alone. Other people have walked this same path and had good outcomes. 

 

All this makes me wonder, is loneliness actually the worst thing that we can face?  When I think about all the times that I have been sad or heartbroken, I can say, yes, it has stemmed from some kind of loneliness. Perhaps missing friends, perhaps fear of losing someone close to me, perhaps being overwhelmed with life and feeling like I have no one to help me. No one who cares.

 

Two days ago I posted a blog about struggling with depression. I posted it on my Facebook and my friends came out in droves to comfort me. We’re here Esther! We love you! How can we help you? Have you tried these solutions? It was comfort. An offering of Presence from over the internet. 

 

Thank you all. 

 

We were made to be in relationship. Not alone. Relationship with God. Relationship with each other. 

 

“It is not good that the man should be alone…” Gen 2:18a

 

Thanks for being my friends and easing that loneliness. 

 

NOT a Bad Day

I needed to write. So you all get a bonus Blog today. 

 

My lifetime enemy, depression, has been rearing its ugly head lately. I’ve been in denial. I’m fine. I’ve got this. I’m ok. Then today, when I found myself glued to my chair, not wanting to move, except to climb into bed and sleep, I realized, oh, yes, I recognize this pattern. 

 

I’ve decided to fight back a bit. The worst thing about depression is that it whispers, “Failure!” in my ear, constantly. So, I have decided to compile a list of ways that I did not fail today. Speak a bit of truth. 

 

First, my two and five year old boys, who were in my charge all day, are alive and well. They ate, got cleaned, played, watched tv, went outside. As far as they are concerned, it was a great day.

I got all my school age kids to and from school without a hitch, and they are all in a good mood, playing with friends.

Supper is cooking. The dishes are caught up. The laundry is doing ok. The downstairs of the house is clean. Sure, I paid the kids to clean it because I wasn’t able to force myself to do it. But, the kids got some pocket money, they’re happy, it was cheaper than hiring a maid, and I can say that I used my delegating skills.

I also signed our family up for health insurance for the next year on Healthcare.gov, which is a soul-sucking experience in itself. It actually took me two days to finish the whole application. But, it’s done! 

 

I kept the fire going in the woodstove. 

 

I’m getting along with my husband. 

 

My pets are happy. 

 

It wasn’t a failure day.

 

So, for all my friends out there fighting depression and anxiety, this is actually a pretty good tool. Write down everything that was right in the day, even if you have to grasp at straws, like, The sun came up today and set as normal. No tornadoes blew my house down. My car didn’t explode. I didn’t catch the plague… See! It works! I’m feeling better already. 🙂 

 

Thanks for listening.