By 1 p.m. today, I said aloud “I don’t think I was supposed to have children.”
Oh yes. I should’ve traveled the world.
Mondays happen to everyone, and they’re especially Monday after a weekend of solitude; the girls and Dave were with family, and I stayed behind for Sunday school stuff. Everyone’s voices were so loud today. The dog hid in the bedroom. No one wanted to read, play, or do much but fight over Matchbox cars. I had a flashback to a moment from “Anna Karenina,” when a mother in the story realizes her children were just as other children.
“These joys were so small that they could not be seen, like gold in the sand, and in her bad moments she saw only griefs, only sand; but there were also good moments, when she saw only good, only joys.”
I suppose today was one of those bad moments. It was all sand. I glimpsed a preview of my daughter as a preteen. I was tired before lunch, which was reheated pancakes. They weren’t even good reheated pancakes; I had to pitch the rest, and the recipe. Blasted.
I can, one hour after their bedtime, look back and see some joy sprinkled in there. Alice heard me using that tense voice that doesn’t reach my full lung capacity and wrote me a note. “Hello. I love you. Love Alice.” It’s on my dresser. Six is generally really nice; I see that now. Violet wore a Halloween costume all afternoon: she’s a lion, and an adorable lion. Louisa’s speaking in full sentences: “I need you to put your arm around me.” I have a beating heart: I find that compelling.
I was supposed to have children. I know.
My children are a gift from God, who knows what I need more than I do. I know. I love them fiercely. Don’t misunderstand: I’m not going anywhere.
But isn’t it like a human to, on a bad Monday, wonder where the big mistake was instead of recognizing growing pains when we’re experiencing them?
We’re growing, all of us. Together, too, and being in each other’s space all day makes the introverted and extroverted in us push and pull in turns. Through this, I know children make me holier. Children make me laugh, usually on Tuesdays or later, and laughter is holy. Children remind me to slow, and slow is holy. Children remind me that all we have is today because, to my 2-year-old, every time she gets out of bed it’s a new day: it’s either a day that starts with breakfast or a day that starts with a snack and dinner. May we all find that restart in our days. That’s holy. That’s early childhood grace.
At the same time, I’m spending time in Philippians, Paul’s happiest letter.
I’m sharing a message at my Wisconsin church in a few weeks, and in preparation I’m taking in what Paul said to that church plant he loved so much. Always an editor, always a writer: I’m gathering stories and back stories and whittling them down to my time frame. The leftovers, I get to keep and take home. A leftover that’s popped up in my dreams and thoughts is a paraphrase in The Message from Acts 16. An earthquake frees Paul and Silas from their shackles. Paul yells to the jailer (who’s about to kill himself over having botched the job of guarding them): “Put your entire trust in the Master Jesus. Then you’ll live as you were meant to live — and everyone in your house included!” This idea of “living as you were meant to live” has thrilled me since those days I was bored to angry tears in a stuffy cinder block study hall with the blinds shut to the outside world. I have been restless for outside, for movement, a good story, and good works since — since at least the late ’90s. I’m always thrilled to wonder about the life I was supposed to live.
But the addition Paul tacks on there — “and everyone in your house included” — is one that can keep ya up nights.
In study hall, that anxious frustration of hearing breezes in leaves I couldn’t see behind the blinds — and the desire to forever leave behind the football player carving the word “boobs” into the desktop next to me — that feeling resonates when I have a day like a Monday in September with tired children. I am not even showing them the life we’re supposed to be living on a Monday, except to point out we all have them, Mondays. Mama said there’d be days like this. I did. Mama did say that.
“Everyone in my house included” isn’t a promise; it’s more like a grace built in, a possibility that those we spend our days with will soak in some of the stuff we’re taking in and putting out. What do I put out on a Monday that I wish on Saturday morning — when I’m happily on a walk reflecting on the week — I’d done differently? Ack. Then comes more from Paraphrased Paul:
“If you’ve gotten anything at all out of following Christ, if his love has made any difference in your life, if being in a community of the Spirit means anything to you, if you have a heart, if you care— then do me a favor: Agree with each other, love each other, be deep-spirited friends. Don’t push your way to the front; don’t sweet-talk your way to the top. Put yourself aside, and help others get ahead. Don’t be obsessed with getting your own advantage. Forget yourselves long enough to lend a helping hand.”
That I’d forget myself long enough. That’s probably the thought I’d hit on Saturday.
Not in the way that I’ll skip lunch or my free time reading in the afternoon; but probably in my very posture, my very tone. Because it starts here, small, and then I take it to the world.
“Forget yourselves long enough to lend a helping hand.”