The remnants of a summer day. Sleepy headed children, freshly dried from their bath and dressed in clean pj’s. They lay cuddled tightly into their soft blankets with droopy eyes. The chosen and favorite stuffed animals were all in place, ready for bedtime. The summer sunset washing across the sky was quietly fading giving way to dimly lit stars hanging overhead. All of this activity eventually left two parents who were ready to find the sofa, a sitcom rerun or something (anything) to do that didn’t require anymore standing. It had been a long day.
That evening, I sat down for what seemed like the first time that day and I was left with my thoughts. And while normally once this happens I would begin to take note of everything I wished I had been able to accomplish but didn’t, that wasn’t the case this time. I sat there and considered if my day could have been anymore perfect and then finally wondered: what makes up a perfect day at home with my children?
‘Perfect’ is a dirty word. We usually don’t want to hear anything or anyone described as “perfect.” Because perfect is word best reserved for describing our ideal type of cookie or vacation getaway and nothing further. We cringe when we hear that our coworker got a near perfect review, or that the beautiful girl you see in movies has the perfect and most ideal body around. Perfect reminds us that we aren’t and that someone else most likely is.
Even though that isn’t the truth.
So what had made that day so great?
Could it be that the children were happy and content all day while I was able to clean the entire house and complete errands? No, that couldn’t be it. The laundry piling up in the hallway and spilling out of baskets upstairs refuted that notion. The dishes piled high in the sink when I traipsed down the stairs that morning were replaced with new dishes that would remain there when I climbed up those same stairs again would suggest that it wasn’t the practical accomplishments that left me feeling so great that particular evening. This realization was foreign to me since normally I like to feel as though I have accomplished something tangible at the end of each day.
We had spent a day outside in the late spring sunshine. Springtime finally decided to show up that week, though by the week’s end it really wasn’t the springlike weather that we were enjoying. It felt more like summer had arrived, with the humidity and the heat feeling slightly oppressive. Eww. The children were in the baby pool that morning before 11 a.m. It took nearly 20 minutes for that stinking thing to fill up using the garden hose. And once that was done, it still wasn’t ready for swimming in since well-water is notoriously cold.
I spent the next 20 minutes filling the largest pot that I had to the brim with hot water and carrying it out my backdoor, down the back porch steps and across the yard to the pool I had situated underneath of the crape myrtle tree. Several trips like this and it still felt like the hot water had barely made a dent in the cold water, but the kids couldn’t wait any longer. They climbed in. It was about 15 minutes later that they talked me into removing their swimming diapers and letting them get naked. Because why even bother?
We spent the next two hours outside. They splished, they splashed. They played on their swing set. They insisted on going down the slide with naked bottoms and subsequently landed with a plop on the ground completely covering their tiny butts in the dirt. The dashed back into the pool to clean off and then climbed back out again to go and slide, the process then repeating itself for the rest of our time outside. I’m not even sure what I fed them for lunch. They enjoyed a cartoon or two. They painted crafts while mommy watched nervously – and she might add that only a blob or two of pink paint made it on to one of the chairs, thank you very much. The small one went to bed for nap-time first, while her older brother stayed up and enjoyed more time in the pool and outside play. We enjoyed strawberry shortcake ice cream on the porch.
It was a full-blown summer day.
And I didn’t exactly know why at the time, but it was perfect.
Sometimes I think where we go wrong with ‘perfect’ and what actually intimidates us about that word is how we define it. My perfect day would be a day where I get the house mostly cleaned from top to bottom, the children amused themselves enough, we play together some and everyone is always smiling. That all sounds wonderful in theory. But save for a fluke of nature, that probably isn’t going to be the way of things everyday, let alone for a day or two.
God has been confronting me with the fact lately that He is in everything. And I really do mean it when I say, “everything.” He is in the grand and the macroscopic. The life changing, the eye-opening and the heartbreaking. But He also works in the obscurity, the trivial, in the ordinary and the plain. And His grace is all pursuing.
Instead of searching for progress, for perfection and functional in our days, we should be pursuing joy, contentedness and connection. And if we blink, if we beat ourselves up over the unfinished or the chaos we might miss it. In fact, we will miss it. It would be nice to check off a bunch of boxes on my to-do list and feel like I was the glue that held it all together everyday. But that just wouldn’t be, and isn’t, the case. No matter how many times I aim to have that kind of day, I fall short. And what I really need instead of a new attack plan is a ton of grace.
I have beat myself up for nearly four years over whether or not I am giving enough. I know other moms who do the same, who sit and wonder, who stress and ponder over whether or not they measure up to some nefarious standard of motherhood. I do it, I sit there and feel sorry for myself and wonder whether or not my children’s childhood will be filled with joyful and pleasant memories of me or if they will only recall my shortcomings. All that these thoughts do is serve to push me away even further, to disconnect more. Since you can’t win anyway, well, then what is the point exactly?
I have never realized before how much I need His grace. I always thought that repetition typically meant failure or signified the mundane and the unfixable when in actuality it shows His constant work within me, within us. We find Him in the repetition, we find Him especially in the moments where we don’t think ourselves worthy enough, where we are driven facedown to the shadow of the cross. Over and over again habitually. It doesn’t seem conceivable that every time we fail, every time we falter we should find such favor and adoration.
He will redeem the irredeemable bad day, filled with messes, cluttered rooms and tedious arguments. And He is in those moments of temper tantrums, nap-time and ice cream on the back porch. He’s there. When we stand in His grace and in His might, then we truly find rest and contentment. He is in the warm spring days, spent at home with my children, not doing much of everything. He is in the catastrophic and in the jubilation. He is there, in everything, waiting. And He desires for us to fall into His arms and say that we cannot without Him. He desires the brokenhearted, the shell-shocked and the exhausted. He desires us to know how much we need Him, not because He is boastful, but because surely He wants us to know how desperate we should be for our God. He wants us to know that He can sustain us.
I hope that this summer, this not long enough summer before my son jets off to preschool and life begins to change that I can uncoil myself from the fetal position and enjoy every moment. I hope that I can stop getting in my own way, or using myself as my own battering ram when things go wrong. I hope to let go of it all and to find peace amongst the fray. I hope all of such things for my readers as well. I hope that the mother’s out there, especially, can let go and just be.
Happy weekend, everyone.