New Year’s resolutions are my least favorite thing.
I heard this year’s top resolution is to “Be a Better Person”. Maybe this is well-intentioned but I’m guessing it really means “Be Better at Everything”.
I’m going to get in shape and lose 20 pounds. I’m going to fully declutter my house and finally get organized. I’m going to get that promotion at work. I’m going to be a better mom. Better wife. Cook better meals. Wear better clothes or have better hair. Just BETTER. Everything about me just needs to BE BETTER! So where is the next 10 step plan? Which group do I join? Where is the magic cure to it all – to just make me better?
I hate to admit that my entire life I’ve spent wishing I could look different. That I could lose that last 10 or 15 pounds. Even 20 years ago when I was 18 or 20, when I should have been walking around in a bikini every single day I always thought quietly to myself…just 5 or 10 more. I’d look beside me and see someone thinner and I was never enough. I look at photos now and realize how crazy that was. Look at my body! Look at my flat stomach! Look at my clear skin – wrinkle free! Look at my perky breasts (I had such a nice rack)! Why didn’t I just take care of it and enjoy it? Why was I constantly striving and letting that critical little voice whisper in my ear?
I am embarrassed to say, today I do the same thing all too often. My stomach is NOT flat. And now it is decorated with stretch marks from five babies. My chest has unevenly deflated and is heading in the wrong direction. My once clear skin has decided to behave like a teenager and my eyes are framed with laugh lines. That critical little voice still creeps in and whispers, “Do something! You can be better!” I won’t even get started on all the things this voice tells me about my mothering skills!!
I’m guessing I will look back in 20 or 30 years and say the same thing. Look at my body! Look how pretty I was! Remember when I didn’t need to dye my hair? Remember when I could take two months off then go out and run five miles no sweat?? Why didn’t I just take care of it and enjoy it? And by then my children will be gone and I will have forgotten all about those little things I got wrong as a mom!
I’m not suggesting we all just throw in the towel, let ourselves go, and stop trying at life. But what if I just stopped. What if I didn’t buy in? What if learned to ignore all the hype to be a smokin’ hot perfect mom with a beautifully decorated and organized home, amazing husband, and over-achieving children? What if I stopped feeling like I am not enough when I fall short in every single one of the categories the world measures us by?
What if we all did?
This year shortly after Thanksgiving a little eight year old girl in our neighborhood died suddenly and unexpectedly from acute leukemia. They didn’t even know she was sick. Her death went off like a shot and reverberated all around our little neighborhood.
I had just met this family at a Halloween carnival in the neighborhood and chatted for a while with the mom. She was so funny! She pointed out her children running and playing with all the others. I barely knew them. But as a mom I felt I knew her wholly and completely. The loss of a child? Her precious baby, so adored? What shock. What grief.
I went to the balloon memorial ceremony along with over 100 others in the neighborhood. All the moms looked dazed. Their cheeks tear-stained and eyes puffy. The hundreds of balloons really were beautiful as they floated away amid children and classmates hollering goodbyes.
But I couldn’t seem to pull my eyes away from this mother. I watched as she let her balloon slip from her fingers and crumpled to the ground in sobs. What incredible, unthinkable, unimaginable pain. There was nothing anyone could really do.
It is all so fragile.
We are all so powerless.
I remember how I closed my eyes then and prayed. It was the only thing left to do. I prayed. I prayed God might let me carry one small shred of her pain carefully and tenderly in my hands. That I might take some of that mother’s unbearable pain and let it pierce into my own heart so that she might survive. So that she might be able to walk through the next minutes and hours and days…a lifetime without her baby girl. Maybe if I carried just the littlest bit she might be able to endure her little girl’s funeral. Or Christmas. Or all the thousands of other moments she’s going to have to face now – a mother’s most awful and terrible fear – now her reality.
Maybe it is unfair of me really. To use this awful tragedy in my own life. But I couldn’t help it. That night I gave Elizabeth a bath and just sat quietly watching her dump the water back and forth as she laughed and splashed and played. I sat memorizing her roly poly body and dazzling smile, her adorable laugh and her beautiful gray-blue eyes. And I couldn’t help thinking…
What if I only get eight years?
Eight years with this amazing, beautiful little creature?
Wouldn’t it make all those silly, frivolous, superficial things I worry about all too often just drift away? My body? My weight? My clothes? My hair? My dinners? The condition of my home? Skin care?
And wouldn’t this be a wonderful way to live? Whether eight years or eighty…isn’t this the way we are meant to live? Isn’t this the kind of life I want for my children?
So maybe this is it. Can I somehow BE BETTER at living this way? Can we all?
I’m sure this isn’t a once and for all decision. There are too many voices whispering. I’m only human and temptations and comparisons are everywhere. But what if it could be an every morning mindset?
Every morning I can remember to wake up grateful and ask God to lead my way…ask Him to help me be present in each and every moment…ask Him to help me be content. I can ask Him to show me who I’m meant to love and serve each day and then do my best to carry it out.
I bet that looks a lot like healthy fruits and vegetables and lean proteins and plenty of water and sleep and exercise. Not because it keeps my weight down but because we all feel better when we are good stewards of our bodies.
I bet it looks a lot like changing diapers and doing dishes and folding laundry and cleaning up messes and reading bedtime stories and disciplining for the 100th time in an hour then sending a text to my husband to thank him for working so hard for us.
I bet that looks like lingering a few minutes at Target so the elderly lady behind us in line could stop and chat with my little ones and smile at Lizzy and squeeze her tiny hands.
I bet that looks like a phone call or card to a friend or dinner for a neighbor.
I bet that looks a lot like spending that extra twenty minutes listening and loving that patient in tears in my office then laying my hand on her arm and saying “Be gentle with yourself” as she smiled at me then through her tears because no one had ever said that to her before.
I bet it also looks a lot like mixing up cookies after school with the boys and sitting down to eat them all together warm out of the oven. Just eat the cookies!!
And I bet that looks like asking forgiveness of my kids or husband for the millionth time when I inevitably lose my temper and hurt their feelings.
Today at naptime I laid quietly next to Luke. His eyes were closed and I just watched him breathe. Felt his warm body next to mine. Noticed how he works that dingy, stinky blue blanket between his fingers. And I watched the exact moment he relaxed completely and fell asleep. I was so happy to be right there next to my littlest boy.
Later I noticed Lizzy playing with her babies and her little grocery cart from Christmas. She picked up one of her babies and said in a singsong voice, “Groceriieess” then she planted a quick kiss on her baby’s head and settled her in the cart. My breath caught just a little in my throat because you know where she learned that? From her mom. From the hundreds of times I’ve pulled her from her carseat saying, “Let’s go get groceriieess” then kissed her gently as I settled her into the cart.
And after school we had nowhere to be. Eli made some cookies and everyone just relaxed and played on the new racetrack from Christmas then we settled on the couch for The Simpsons after dinner.
Sure sometimes they fight. They yell and run in the house and throw punches and slam doors and tell me they hate me. Sometimes someone wets the bed or Lizzy blows out her diaper or they track dog poop into the house. Sometimes, even when I’m trying to be patient, I’m so angry the vein sticks out in my forehead and I yell so loud my throat hurts for the rest of the day. They skin their knees and break their arms and spill their milk three times in one dinner and sometimes I find boogers wiped in the the most absurd places. Sometimes while I’m fixing the bed I step in fresh puke from our geriatric cat and fail to notice until I’ve tracked it all over the upstairs carpet and sometimes I gain five pounds over Christmas break. Sometimes everyone seems to hate each other and everything is a mess and it is all so awful I want to cry and I imagine anything would be better than this!!
But sometimes the big boys give me a spontaneous hug, not because they are leaving for school or heading up to bed, just because I’m their mom. Sometimes I come down from my bath after the kids are in bed to find Luke rummaging around in the kitchen packing leftover cookies into individual baggies for all his brothers to take in their lunches. Sometimes Lizzy squinches up her eyes and smiles and lays her head down on my shoulder and calls me Sis. And sometimes we have a dance party all of us together in the living room…the little ones hopping and jumping, the big ones popping and rolling on the floor and doing the worm…and everyone is smiling and laughing and there is so much love and it is all so wonderful I want to cry and I can’t imagine anything better than this!!
This life. This is the beautiful, messy life God has planned for us. He wants us to enjoy all our gifts, however imperfect. He wants us to really live it. He wants us to be gentle with ourselves and love others. He wants us to just be still and cease striving. He wants us to open our clenched fists. To let go of perfection and make room for grace.
And can anything really BE BETTER than that?!
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