Saturday, October 29, 2011

Balloon Despair

As I opened the door of the little community center following my friend's baby shower, I was bombarded by the tormented howls of my 3 year old boy, running towards me from the parking lot.  Thinking that he may have fallen and hurt himself on the way out to the car, I exclaimed "What happened, what's going on?" to the older children.

Little Ben, with tears rolling down his cheeks, blubbered tragically: "My ba-woon... it's gone!" and pointed to the sky at a rapidly disappearing green helium balloon on a yellow ribbon.  Relief filled my heart that there was no injury; no scrapes or bruises, yet I couldn't help but sympathize at the heart-felt innocence with which my son continued to mourn, his little finger pointing and his eyes wide with terror at the tiny speck that faded into the clouds, far above the city sky-line.

Instinctively, I knelt down, holding him close and tried to ease his suffering and sorrow.  I told him that the balloon was going on a journey, way high in the sky, and that it was having an adventure in the clouds. 

"But it's gone!" he protested, as I tugged his little hand and moved him towards the waiting van.  The tears still poured down, and unreasonable, over-tired protesting manifested itself.

"Maybe someone can share their balloon with you!" I suggested, hoping to offset the tragedy and distract him.  "And we have lots of candy in the van from the pinata!" I bribed.

Thankfully, one of my older children took pity upon their younger brother and offered their balloon to him.  I commanded the children to hang tight to each of their strings as we loaded everyone up, bucked them and shut everyone (and every balloon) safely inside.

Driving down the freeway a short time later, the cutest words ever came out of my 3 year old's mouth:

"Mommy," he asked, "Can we go to the airport and get in a plane and find my ba-woon?"

Awwww!!! My heart melted at his ingenious, yet impossible plan.  Sadly, I had to explain that the "ba-woon" was too far away and we wouldn't be able to find it - not to mention the exorbitant cost of chartering a jet (or helicopter) and taking off on a futile mission such as this.

Oh to be young and have the most tragic occasion be the loss of a party balloon.  The pain is great and traumatic in nature, bursting forth with wailing and despair - but can be remedied by the simplest of gestures - a sharing sibling or a bright yellow lollipop.  If only it were so easy.

I don't have a heartwarming parable or creative quip to share along with the imagery of a balloon sailing beyond reach.  Frankly, I'm at a loss to bring closure to the vivid picture that is a comparable depiction of my own life at times - hope drifting far beyond grasp.   And I know that I'm not the only one who struggles with hope and despair; success and failure; good days and bad.  Sometimes life is beyond control.  Sometimes (sorry to burst your bubble) BAD THINGS HAPPEN.  And worst of all, there are times when we feel powerless to fix it.

I take heart in the only thing that is sure and true.  God's mercies are new every morning.  He is faithful.   He is the most secure, most real, most true part of my life. (Lam. 3:22)  
For the mountains shall depart And the hills be removed, But My kindness shall not depart from you, Nor shall My covenant of peace be removed," Says the Lord, who has mercy on you.  "O you afflicted one, Tossed with tempest, and not comforted... In righteousness you shall be established; You shall be far from oppression, for you shall not fear; And from terror, for it shall not come near you. (Isaiah 54:10, 11& 14)

Sunday, October 2, 2011

The Pedestal

Once in a while, I find myself basking in the glow of a compliment, often related to being "super-woman" or something ridiculous like that.  Like any attention-obsessive woman, the words will roll back and forth though my head for the next few hours or days until they are blotted out by some self-incriminating judgement which I pronounce upon myself.

So is it wrong to aspire to perfection - or, near-perfection?  Because I know I'll never look perfect with my stretchmarks and newly found grey-silvery hairs, but at least I can work on my behavior and try to become as "perfect" as I can...  Is there a problem with trying to be the "best" mom and wife that I can be?

I try to be all that I can to my children.  I give them the opportunities I never had, and I try to make sure they are well-dressed (while maintaining budget-friendly standards) and I spend time with them, doing all sorts of fun, family-friendly activities.  I try to be a kind and patient mom, and even though I get angry far too often, I think I usually am doing a decent job as I attempt to connect to my kids and remain attentive to their sensitive, impressionable hearts.

I do my best to be a great wife which involves not talking about diapers and baby-barf all the time, and occasionally dressing up.  Which leads me to the fact that I try to be an interesting wife... so I do my best to keep up to speed with my husband's voracious appetite for knowledge of current events, finances and the latest theological debate.  I know he doesn't want a wife who will just smile brightly with a vacant stare in her eyes and say: "That's nice, dear!" (having no understanding of what was just said!).

Then there are the "spiritual" hoops which I attempt to jump though, often guiltily, being dictated by what I feel I "should" be doing, not necessary out of love and relationship to my God.  But I work at it, and I struggle - trying to read my Bible and journal and pray... and it keeps me going, and I have another check-mark on my list of requirements to be a good person - a good wife, mother and leader.

Is this what I am, though?  All this stuff I do is easily shattered by a bad day.  I loose my temper and freak out one too many times - or worse yet, I wake up feeling depressed, weary and uninspired, making the entire day something I just have to "get though" and I miss out experiencing the vivacious, joy-filled relationship my family represents.

We try to be super-mommas and we fail.  We try to be Martha Stewart and the stock boils over, the garden doesn't produce and our decoupage looks like the art of a 3 year old.  We try to be champions of spirituality: ready, and equipped with all the right answers but sometimes we just have to say "I don't understand".  We can attempt to be an exceptional lover - always encouraging, always attractive and always able to get that spark going - but some days the words are few and tense, there's too much dirty laundry and you're barely coping with the utter exhaustion to do much more than mumble "G'night" after circumventing another day of near-financial, relational and general household ruin.

Life gets to us.  Yet still we strive.  We hold up a pedestal, and scramble to stay perched upon it's lofty height.  Why?

I don't think it is wrong to have goals.  I don't think it is wrong to want your home, your kids and your self to look nice.  The wrong comes from misguided priorities; setting your eyes and focus upon an illustrious image.

Some days, you just need a swift kick in the head to keep from obsessing about minor issues - like insisting that all of the tangles are combed out of your child's hair before stepping outside the door, and not inviting people into your home (offering the gift of friendship and hospitality) because you are embarrassed about the finger-smudged walls, crumbs under the table and your threadbare, cheap furniture.  Because once you uphold your appearance and behavior higher than the act of loving others, and even in a sense loving yourself, you've strayed into dangerous territory.

Lady, it's time to get off the pedestal...
Sometimes I try really hard, and hold myself to far too great a standard because I just don't really love and accept myself.  I'm not even really talking about a self-esteem issue, though.  I don't believe that we should run around, saying "I'm okay, you're okay, let's just accept our issues because everyone is SPECIAL.."  Yuck... blech!  On the contrary, I know that I HAVE ISSUES.  I screw up.  I'm selfish like the rest of society and I let people down.  Rather than acceptance based on behavior or acceptance based on just being "human", I know that I need to seek a far more eternal, profound anchor.  My anchor and hope rests solely in God's love and acceptance of me.  He loves me.  Rather than a pedestal, I need an anchor.  I need something that will tether me to earth, give me roots, allow me to accept my feet of clay.  I can't be all, do all, and look like "all that", all the time!

I have noticed that the true barometer of my actions, and whether I am striving or not, is seen primarily in my happiness and contentment.

If I decide to bake 5 dozen cookies and play in the leaves with the kids, followed by cooking up a gourmet meal and wearing heels and lipstick, and I can do this with joy - not with stress and striving, then it's okay!  When I am over-extending, straining and torturing myself to uphold a certain ideal or image - it's wrong!

So what knowledge have I acquired though this dialogue?

I started out, driving down the road, alone in my dark-green, messy mini-van, pondering my propensity to try to be "perfect".   I shouldn't try to be a certain way to impress others or even to impress myself.  I'm certain that I will continually teeter-totter between right motivation and wrong motivation, but I know well enough to sincerely check my heart and consider whether I am doing things for the right reason.  I know I can't live on top of a pedestal.  I can't set my heart and happiness on a superficial image of who I wish I could be - because I will continually let myself down.

I wish I could end this posting with some magical phrase that neatly wraps up the point I am trying to make.  Unfortunately, this is far too abstract to be whittled down to one sentence.  Heart issues are complicated.  What I will say though is this:  I'm okay with not being perfect.  I know that my worth and merit is not based on all that I do.  However, I will still do my best in all areas of life.  It's not wrong to challenge yourself and work hard - but it is important to be cautious about idolizing a certain image or ideal.

"Super-Momma" is not exactly the right term for me - I'm more of a "Super (but not perfect) Momma".