Chasing Contentment

It happened again. I find myself in the same position. The position of discontentment.

When my bones rest easy, laughter fills the house, and the world is sparkly, it’s child’s play to wrap myself in contentment.

Before the race gets muddy with feet-bogging daily grime and I run slap into a mountain standing in my way, I’m doing all right. I can be content.

But when it gets hard I have to work at being content. It’s not one time accomplishment. Contentment is easier to misplace than my keys, my wallet, and that book of stamps that keeps walking off.

Contentment is elusive. Just about the time I’m thinking I’ve got this thing down, I finally learned my lesson, I slide back into the pit. I don’t notice it on the way down. I’m certain those around me do, but all my complaining and grumpiness is completely justified in my own eyes. It couldn’t be my fault.

It comes from wanting to much, from being unhappy with my destiny. It’s completely different than the inevitable failures that provoke and motivate me to strain toward the prize.

When contentment is lost, I gain nothing but a bad attitude. I forget all the blessings surrounding me. Simple pleasures are overlooked and I fail to recognize the joy I hold in my hands.

I forget to breathe.

I forget to see.

These spider  lilies came up in my front yard. They wouldn’t have bloomed if the grass had been cut regularly. Some people call them surprise lilies because you never know where or when they might come up.

 

 

Surprise lilies don’t need special tending. A person doesn’t have to do anything to be graced with these flowers except allow them to be.

I didn’t even notice the flowers in the front yard until one of my kids told me about them. When I glanced out of the window, it was obvious surprise lilies were making an appearance. You can see the red from some distance, lacey flags of scarlet demanding attention before the season turns and they sleep under the ground once more.

I wonder how many other simple pleasures I’ve missed because I’m too busy being discontented to count my blessings.

How do you keep contentment?

I need to remember who I am, and who I am not. Stop playing the comparison game.

I need to recapture my ability to take joy in the simple things. Moments of beauty are fragile. They are like iridescent soap bubbles, reflecting the light in rainbow promises of better things that live on the edges of our perception,hints of the greater things we cannot see at present. Moments of beauty fly on whatever breeze exposed to, delicately ethereal, meant to be enjoyed in a fleeting space of time.

 

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Baby Dresses

The smell of hot cotton fabric permeates the air. I used to hate ironing. I never could get every crease out. A ready iron in my hands had a tendency to create more problems than I could erase, playing hide and seek with wrinkles until it drove me to despair.

The trick is to iron only cotton fabric, cut into squares . I like the small, well-behaved pieces, the calm way they lay still for me, not like hard to manage shoulder seams that always want to squirm away when you try to hold them flat enough to iron.  Simple, unsewn pieces have no curves and strange corners.

I push down on the fabric, slowly drawing the heat across a multitude of tiny blue flowers. The busier the pattern, the less the wrinkles show. Still, I pass the iron over the field of blooms again and again, until the scent of hot cotton lingers, memories of little girl dresses.

I had other plans for this fabric. I can still picture the dress in my mind, the one I imagined when I chose this fabric. But then life happened. Time got away. The white and blue dress was never sewn.

The iron creaks. I never had the money for a good iron, so I made do. There were irons I coveted after. Maybe if I had owned one of those my ironing would have been more successful. Nevermind.

I whisk my palm across the hot fabric, not resting there, always moving, moving. I am going to put this in the shadowbox as a background for the dress.

I barely finished the dress in time. Last babies. You understand. The final embroidered flower was stitched in place while I was in the hospital bed recovering from my fourth c-section, and she was brand new to this world. Silk roses on a baby dress. What nonsense.

Two of the flowers need repair. I hesitate. Was it really so long ago her hands were small enough to catch the tiny loops and undo all my meticulous work? It was a trial to keep her from unraveling them all. I thread the needle.

White thread and a twist. One, two, three stitches. The thread knots. I take my time and unravel it. When I was younger, I was always in a hurry, leaving snarls and wadded thread behind on the back sides of my stiches, not worried about what didn’t show.  I tease out the tangle and leave a clean, smooth stitch behind.

On her way out she breezes by, her fingers lighting on the dress for two, maybe three, seconds as she walks by. She says, “When I have my baby girl, she will have her picture made in this dress.”

I say nothing, because even though we have said this very same thing a thousand times, I can’t say it today.

Not today.

She opens the door, her hand jiggling the keys impatiently. They hit against each other and jangle.

She has one foot out the door when I say, “Text me when you get there.”

The response is automatic. “I will, Momma.” Her mind is elsewhere, on her to do list.

Before I assemble the dress and backing into the shadowbox, I pass the iron over the blue flowered fabric one more time, breathing in the smell of hot cotton meant for little girl dresses.

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Encouragement for Mothers: Diving In

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You are ready.

It will be glorious or horrible and, most definitely, it will be messy. There will be sunshine and roses, rain and thorns.

This is what will happen.

The washer will break.

Flu will haunt your house like a hungry stray cat you accidentally fed.

Some days you will forget what blue sky looks like, but on other days you will be able to taste it when your mouth opens wide and lets laughter fly free.

There will be tears.

You will be expected to sweep up sharp broken pieces even while your bare soles are smudged with blood. You will never be enough and always be enough.

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You will never be enough and always be enough. (Tweet This)

It will be scary hard. You will be forced to plant your feet, take ownership of your failures, and stare them down. You will fall short but you will be forgiven. You will learn to forgive yourself.

You will be pulled and stretched until every bit of your bounce is gone. Flexibility will be your middle name. On certain days you will wonder if the shape of deflated balloon is the permanent price your spirit will pay. But then, when you develop eyes to see the magnificence of stretch marks, the vision will leave you without air.

You will breathe beauty.

You will take a small hand in yours. If you don’t let go you will both grow into your feet, getting big enough to walk in the land of giants. You will begin to understand that perfection does not dwell in the world of mortals. In times to come, a backward glance will reveal the perfect, unerring, working out of the distance you have already traveled.

This is what will happen.

You don’t get it all. You get the prize.

You don’t get it all. You get the prize. (Tweet This)

Your sisters are all lined up along the edge. They will help you if you are wise enough to understand that you are not alone.

Dive deep.

You will be fine; more than fine. How do I know? Look at you, sister-friend, momma-lady, baby-girl.

You’re already treading water.

 

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Grownups Need Coasters

My son has been nudging me, poking at me with his behavior and mess.

Every day he leaves a greasy frying pan full of egg bits, knowing he’s breaking the rules. Dirty dishes and clutter on the counter. When he walks through my house he doesn’t walk, he tromps. Almost yelling, he talks too loud. Way too loud. He is getting on my last nerve.

I know what he’s doing. You can count on one hand the weeks he has left in this house.

It was exciting, buying his own home. Three bedrooms, two baths, and property lines marked by barbed wire. There are woods. He has already found the perfect spot for a someday fort. Not the usual first home.

He has stayed here, at my place, to help with things out of necessity. Meantime, he has saved his money, for the most part. As a momma I confess, anytime saving is brought up I tell him he could save more. He can.

It bewilders him that he can easily afford this home he has signed on.

He decided early what he wanted in a house and this one is it. It’s funny. The location is highly desired, the property in demand, and yet there it sat for six months. Waiting on him. I used to go to Bible study at that house. I told him, “That’s a good house. Plenty of praying’s been going on there for years.”

Everything worked out perfectly. Inspections, papers, appraisal, homeowner checklists, maintenance charts, budget. All that is left is the waiting.

Now he follows me into my room and sits in the chair across from mine, his form settling down into it with an odd deflation.

“It’s a big house,” he says.

“Yes, it is.”

He sighs.

He looks at me with those eyes. They are a bit too shiny. I do not tear up. Mother’s hearts are elastic and hold in things that are of no use at the time. I can mull this over later, take this emotion out of its gilded locked-tight box and hold it close.

 

I lift my head and firm my chin. In my packet of mother wisdom, I rummage around, searching for the words he needs to hear on this last leg of our present journey.

The heater kicks on, the warm air whooshing quiet dryness into the space between us.

“You know, your siblings will probably stay with you quite a bit.”

He nods.

I know this is not the same.

He sighs again. It will have to do. His spine bones straighten a bit, taller in the chair.

“I was online, reading a list of what I need to buy to set up house, and it said I need coasters.” He frowns. “I’m not sure I need coasters.”

By seven months of age he had commandeered my coasters. They ended up in his mouth, gummed, sloppy with baby drool. In his hands, my coasters did more harm to tabletops than good. A favorite thing he liked to do was use them to scrape back and forth on the varnished wood. He would bang, bang, bang them against the furniture. The lovely sound made him pause, cocking his head to one side and crowing before he began again, a wonderful endless game.

A blink later, coasters were used as mini Frisbees, flying through the living room. You could put an eye out with one of those missiles. Too busy trying to keep him off the counter tops, I had little time to worry about the damage small rings of water could do. The coasters went into a drawer somewhere a long time ago.

We generally use bits of junk mail or magazines that are lying about, maybe a potholder. More than a few times, a clean sock from the laundry pile conveniently located on the couch would do. Strange how family habits take over and proper niceties are forgotten.

“Yes.” I affirm. “Grownups need coasters.”

“I’ll use a towels.”

I grunt. “You don’t have any towels, either.”

“Yes I do,” he protests, pouting. “I have two.”

I laugh, missing him already, and take today.

We’ll think about coasters tomorrow.

In my packet of mother wisdom, I rummage around, searching for the words he needs to hear on this last leg of our present journey.

 

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Lessons That Matter

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My highschooler comes home from her new part time job, Tuesday through Thursday, at lunchtime. The chatter is non-stop for a while. I love to watch her as she talks.

She works as a pair of extra hands at a private school.

A helper was needed for two special needs kids, teenagers. When the job posting came up, I thought it might be of interest to her. Patience with certain children is one of her attributes, and she is not scared of different. I asked her if she was interested and she said yes.

Our homeschool schedule had to be adjusted, but that is fine. We can well afford to be flexible with the hours.
purseandkeys

Important lessons take precedence, and some things need to be experienced. (Tweet This)

I felt this would be an excellent opportunity for her.

After the first week she says to me, “I’m really surprised by how much I like it.”

“I knew you would.”

I am too smug. She wrinkles her nose at me, then rolls her eyes. I pretend to be affronted, and defend myself.

“Well,” I say, hands on hips and trying not to grin,“at least I didn’t say, ‘Told you so.’ ”

This earns me a skeptical sideways glance and a lifted eyebrow.

“OK,” I admit. “It’s kind of the same thing.”

“Kind of exactly.”

We laugh.

Over the following days I learn that The Wiggles and Minions are her students’ favorites, about words missed and corrected, and many other things.

I listen to it all.

We are in my room after she gets home one day and conversation goes as usual. She pauses for breath, hesitating.

“Do I talk about my kids too much?”

My kids.

I shake my head no. “I want to hear,” I tell her.

She smiles and speaks of how much her boy student likes to color all the pictures in, not just the right number to get the answer, of gentle tugs on her sleeve and sweet laughter finally earned. She isn’t looking at me as she describes the laughter. There is a particular light in her eyes.

When she still rested in the womb I placed my palms on my naked, swollen belly. With fingers splayed out across the roundness, I wept and promised her she could be who she was, not knowing what future would come.

Here it is. I watch an unfolding woman’s soul begin to enter into being.

“My kids,” she said.

Just when I thought she couldn’t get any more beautiful.

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Beautifully Fragile

I feel very fragile lately.

I have been fragile for years, but it was a moment of clarity and surprise when a medical assistant shook her head and said so to me.

You’re so fragile.

The idea was foreign to me. I was the girl who dug trenches in hard, red clay to bury water lines, planted gardens and carried heavy loads. The girl who bathed dogs and people and wiped up vomit from the floor.

When she told me I was fragile, I laughed.

Who has time for that?

Now I have time. I’m not a girl anymore.

It’s a strange place, but not bad. Tears dampen my cheeks almost daily. But what days they are.

My daughter comes in from a trip to the movies.

“Bree asked me if I was a daddy’s girl.” She bites her bottom lip, trying to hide a smile. She looks at me from underneath her lashes but I can see her eyes, the way they shine. “I told her yes.”

And here I go again, wiping my eyes with a tissue.

My middle boy, the one who drives me crazy, the one too much like me and too much like his father, says to his little brother who is now a man, “I am proud of you.”

Their conversation continues to flow around me while I am stayed, becalmed in the current, bathing in that singular moment, hardly able to breathe and not really caring if I ever do again.

I cry at the note taped to the television, “Watch anime with me,” and at the memory of how he always laughs at my lame joke about anime and anemone. An invitation into his world is a prize. This is not a carnival prize, but a gold medal prize to be carried and worn over the heart.

My husband comes in, weary from work but too stubborn to admit it. He stands, reading the endless to-do list on the refrigerator. When I see him with the youngest man-child and get a glimpse of the crazy, terrorizing love that comes with being this boy’s father, the wild rawness, the manliness of it, moves me.

Against such things it’s hard to keep fists clenched tight around the small threads of bitterness gathered up over days and years. Maybe that is where the salt for all these tears was being held, waiting for release.

There are always ready tears for my eldest, who does nothing to make me cry, and so I do. What can I say? Mothers understand.

It took a long time to get here. I always, always knew it was all worth it. All the books and articles and wise women said so.

So the fragile girl laughed and wiped up vomit and held tight to little (and not-so-little) hands whether they wanted it or not. She waited by the phone and did not yell. She saved her keening for another day and stood as tall as five foot something allowed. Love made her strong.

It’s not a bad place. Not a bad place at all.

 

quote"who knew being so overwhelmingly, beautifully fragile would come from being so strong" doonastone.me

Who knew being overwhelmingly, beautifully fragile would come from being so strong? (Tweet This)

 

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On Raising Conversational Men

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Talk to him.

Never answer “Why?” with “Because I said so.” Explain yourself in concise words. If you don’t know, admit it. If it’s the best you can do, say so. If you are wrong, apologize. (Tweet This)

Talk about everything. Talk about things in the news, and things he likes and things he reads about, and things his friends say and do and about his dreams and yours.

Listen as much as you speak. Never laugh at his opinions. Let him keep his voice. Do not give yours away either, but temper it when he needs you to. Always flavor the conversation with generous doses of love.

Talk about hard things. Those things you’d rather not even think about but expect a man to know. He will not find his way alone, or maybe he will. Maybe he will take another, darker path than the one he should and cause your heart to shatter. The harder it is to speak of it, the more you need to speak of it. Do not wait for him to bring it up. Speak and wait and listen. Let him be quiet when he needs to be. Allow him time to process. Give him room and space to think, so his thoughts can find him.

Then bring it up again.

Teach him to respect all people. Teach him that allowing others to have an opinion does not invalidate his own deeply held convictions.

In time, reveal your fear and your anger. He needs to know you are you and he is himself. He needs to know how to speak, listen, and think. So do you. Let him see your cracked places, without breaking him. A grown up man-child can handle your unwatered, passionate views.

Talk to him often, and rest in the words, and in the inbetween.

Do this.

If you are blessed, one day he will come up beside you and, without thought, steady you with his words, spoken and silent. And you will weep at the kindness of your son.

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Audacious Faith

The heat comes early. A Bible lay on the bench, out of reach unless I get up. I close my eyes against the slant of light, and against the air stirred by the blades of the ceiling fan. I lean my head back, resting it on the cushy part of my chair.

I don’t hear You like I used to.

Yes, you do. You just don’t trust Me like you used to.

My eyes pop open. It’s true.

Life has always been bloody and hard. Still I rarely wavered. Hope held me captive. People who know have seen the warring places I’ve come through, they see my hard things. I see them. Everyone sees them. The worst, the very worst, happened then, not now. And truly, there is peace and healing and even glory, glory, glory.

I have a testimony.

So why is today such a battle? Why do I wrestle with what should be Small Things? (Tweet This)

Because one day a life-smack blindsided me. I came to the cruel understanding that Things Weren’t The Way I Thought They Were and They Never Would Be. Deep things. Things I didn’t know were so dear until they were ripped from the side of my heart. Non-recoverable things.

Bereft, like a child whose mother never came, I watched everyone else go home while the sun died.

It was a rude discovery, to find I’d been on training wheels the entire journey thus far. It rankled. Still does. There I had been, thinking I had A Large Faith (they told me I did) when, in reality, I had never been allowed to crash too hard. It had only felt that way because my breath came fast and my sweat stank and my strong thigh muscles burned, burned, burned and I got plenty of bruises.

You can break both ways, but there’s a difference between being caught and being picked up out of the dirt. (Tweet This)

Distracted by my wounds, I didn’t realize I’d lost more than my balance.

My faith has not been of the bold sort lately. More often it is the grasping kind that clings, attempting to fold itself into His side. A redeeming failure, but there is something more.

Do I want to have an Audacious Faith?

Sometimes, I wish I were still ignorant. Sometimes, when people talk to me, wise words come out of my mouth and I wish I could snatch them back.

There’s nothing to be done for it. He is a Tenacious God.

I put my face to the wind.

morning

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Welcome to the Tribe

I smile.

“How old is your baby?” I ask.

“Three months,” she answers. New momma pride rounds the words, making them full and rich.

The tiny infant rests in the crook of her arm and she shifts the child.

“Precious,” I murmur.

She blushes, still new to the rush of parental pleasure that accompanies any praise of our offspring, and gently touches her baby’s cheek with one finger.

“So little,” I say, “but they grow up before you know it.”

She glances up for a moment, smiles at my words and nods, before she refocuses her attention on her child and coos at the babe.

She does not look away from his face. “He’s big now.”

My first clue that it’s a boy.

“He was 4lbs 3oz when he was born.” She adjusts one of his socks that has slipped to reveal a miniature pink heel, repositioning the bit of white and yellow knit to cover his foot. It will be an endless task. One of many she will repeat too many times to count.

“He will get bigger,” I assure her. “Before you know it he will be taller than you!”

We laugh.

Her eyes meet mine as we engage in the small talk of mothers. It takes no heed of the length of the timespan between us, whether decades or a mere handbreadth.

We are so different, she and I. Worlds apart, really. But together we dance the ageless dance of Eve, repeating the spoken ritual as our mothers did before us. We recognize each other, and pay homage to motherhood, my sister life-giver and I.

motherandBaby

 

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In My Father’s House

Last night I had a dream.

I was at an event, a gathering full of noise and laughter, but I left it behind to enter a side room through a set of French doors. Here was a sun room, narrow and comfortable, furnished with brown chairs and pleasant decor that reflected the light. There were a few plants and a rug. Everything had a muted aura, a wash of coloring that was not quite sepia, but more of a golden hazy glow reminding me of a movie effect to put viewers in mind of memories or what-ifs.

My dad was there, and in his right mind. I was bringing him a plate of food. I handed it to him and he asked me to sit a while, so I did.

It was him, but without baggage, and we talked with the ease of old friends. After what seemed a long time, he let out a deep sigh that came from the very soles of his feet. He set his unfinished plate on the wooden side table.

“I know this is your party,” he nodded toward the door that led to the large room, “But would you do something for me?”

“What is it?” I asked.

“My birthday is not for months,” he said. “I want to celebrate early.” His hands rested on his knees. Hands I knew, but didn’t know. He squinted up at me through his glasses. “Will you come?”

I grinned with a child’s delight. “Of course I will.”

He opened his arms to me and I went to him. Our arms wrapped around each other and nothing else took up the spaces between us. I could feel his frame, but not the sharpness of his bones. Then I let him go.

It was a beautiful dream.

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