They say children are our greatest teachers. In that case, I’d like to nominate my nine-year-old for Teacher of the Year.
Eli is one of those tortured souls. Her heart is too big for her birth order, her tears never more than a sarcastic, sneaky or sassy sister away (she has one of each) and her perfectionism? Let’s just say it rivals her mother’s, and I’m only just now learning to temper my own at age thirty-five.
The simplest way I know to explain it is that my girl very often feels stuck. She can no more change her position within the family than she can her position within the world (which is exactly one country too far south for her liking) and both realities pain her to no end.
A few weekends ago, she flipped out. (Okay, so that’s nothing new, but this time she really lost it.) She didn’t want to go to the beach (sound familiar?) and we were SO MEAN for making her. By the time we’d arrived she was downright desperate to escape what, to her, felt like tropical torture.
“I HATE this place! I HATE this day!! I hate MEXICO, I hate the SUN, I hate my SISTERS, I HATE MY LIFE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”
Keep in mind, we were here when this happened:
The irony of her agony against the serenity of the sea made her mood that much more maddening. After consoling, cajoling and busting out both my finest and flimsiest parenting tools I pleaded,
“Eli, HONEY! Look around you! Look how many gifts you’re refusing right now. WHY? Why can’t you just receive what this moment is trying to offer you?”
You know how sometimes the lessons seep in slowly through the cracks and other times they knock you down, suck you under and remind you how partial you are to air?
Yeah, I’m still picking sand from my teeth.
Eli’s beach tantrum was meant to be my lesson, not necessarily hers. You see, I often struggle, myself, to feel content despite my circumstances:
Like the fact that someone always seems to need me and their needs are usually dire, disgusting or demanding.
Like the fact that my work never feels done and my accomplishments are often undone within minutes.
Like the fact that the vast majority of return on my investments won’t manifest for years, or decades, if ever.
Like the fact that no matter how much balance I attempt to maintain both within and all around me, there is usually a minor emergency in the making that requires me to shift my priorities and focus. Again. And again. And again.
Thing is, it wasn’t just the speaking aloud of the very perspective I’d been needing myself that hit me with such impact, but the certainty I felt and the urgency with which I wanted her to hear it.
So, curious, I turned it around. I begged of myself with the same fervor,
“Beth, HONEY! Look around you! Look how many gifts you’re refusing right now. WHY? Why can’t you just receive what this moment is trying to offer you?”
Wow. Um, well…I’d have to think about it.
Over the past few weeks, I’ve done just that. I’ve been hyper-aware of my mood, in-tuned with my joy (or lack thereof) and taking notes, searching for patterns and consistencies. What I’ve found are a remarkably small number of “thieves” robbing me right out from under my awareness:
Unmet Basic Needs
No big surprise. Same repeat offenders as usual.
So if I’ve been onto these guys for a while now and already knew they were trouble, what made that moment feel so big?
What I suddenly realized was just how much control I really do have, not over fear as an abstract, widespread, love-countering concept, but over its ability to steal my joy in this moment.
How consistent and abundant the gifts really are, and how the only real variable is my receptiveness.
That as much as I’ve craved joy and sought peace and lusted after fulfillment, just like the beach and the sand and the waves that day, they have always been here, waiting for me to quit freaking out and notice.
Alright, so I can’t promise I’m over all my childish ways, but the following process has proven pretty powerful over the past couple of weeks.
4 Steps for Making the Most of This Moment:
It seems each step might present challenges as unique as every individual, and that our ease with one vs. another will change as we grow. Until recently, the heart-opening part has been a real challenge for me, though it now seems to be the place where the magic happens: the difference between reasoning my way to joy and feeling my way.
And when I get there?
When instead of wallowing in my fear of inadequacy after two days of fruitless writing, I hop on my bike, let the thoughts come and go as they will and “accomplish” more in an hour than two days combined?
When instead of judging the mama feeding her baby Coca-Cola in a bottle, I make eye contact, offer a smile, and share an unspoken understanding of just how beautiful-difficult it all is?
When I slow down enough to realize my kid is dawdling because she can’t help but notice the gifts, whether a broken-legged beetle or a flock of yellow-bellied birds or a tune in the hum of a diesel engine?
When, just as soon as I catch myself devaluing the moment, “I don’t like priming, I like real painting” I realize I don’t have to give away my joy for the next four hours?
When my world is falling apart, I’m certain I’m dying and I’ve failed in my every endeavor, and then I do yoga and shower and remember to eat all is well again?
When I quit hiding behind my introversion and make a new friend in Spanish, because I now can?
Or when I realize that the whole reason I expect Hunter to put the suitcases away once I’ve emptied them is because he’s done it for me so many times before, because he is awesome?
That’s where the magic happens, for me. It’s not in the grandiose acquisition of esoteric enlightenment, it’s in the smell of rotting possum and acknowledgment of rich soil in the making. It’s not in the saving of the seas from the evildoers who invented plastic, it’s in the saving of this second from the pollution of judgement, fear and anger. It’s not in the becoming of the perfect mother, but in the ability to make room for the meltdowns and accept them as really loud gifts (okay, sometimes).
It’s hurricane season here, meaning rain floods the streets nearly every day. Yesterday I observed something no less ironic than Eli’s refusal to see beauty that day on the beach:
A young woman, dressed head-to-toe in starched whites and clearly on her way to work someplace fancy stood waiting at her bus stop. No more than three seconds after a thoughtless cabbie hit a foot-deep car-sized puddle, soaking her with street sludge, she began laughing. And I mean really laughing. She shook various body parts, unphazed as a soggy street dog, looked at me with a childish sparkle in her eye and burned that moment in my memory. Her expression made words unnecessary…“Sigh…you just never know what the day might hand you, now do you? Don’t you just love the rain?” And she turned and walked away, still smiling.
I want that. I want her superpower.
If the gifts really are everywhere and available anytime we clear the clutter that prevents their presentation, then it matters not whether I’m on the prettiest beach in the world or covered in Mexican street slime.
And if it really is possible that every moment offers beauty for the taking, then I don’t have to want it, I just have to choose it.
Can it be that simple? Well, are there gifts being handed to you right now?
How about now?
Yeah, me too.
This has me written all over it. Except I’m really still working on the “magic” part. So, with luck, this is me, in future?
Oh wow. This is pure brilliance–in it’s form & in it’s message. I am burning this one to memory, as you so beautifully put it.
Thank you, thank you. You ARE a gift.
That would be “its” not “it’s” — that’s what I get for staying up too late burning the midnight oil … but I know perfection is not necessary here. 🙂
Amazing. This is what I’ve been working on this summer and I’ve come to the same conclusions you have. Hmmmmm, greater power, universal flow or mere coincidence? I really love this sentence the best of all: “It’s not in the saving of the seas from the evildoers who invented plastic, it’s in the saving of this second from the pollution of judgement, fear and anger.” Well said!
Best post I’ve read in awhile. The woman in white…perfect. Loved this. Thank you so much for composing and sharing this beautiful realization. :::double high fives!
And sometimes it is all that you didn’t write in two days that you do in an hour. Be well. MC
Amazing. Imperative. Liberating. Truth. You got an AMEN! from me girl….keep preaching it to the choir until the choir sings it out in harmony.
Ok so normally i don’t say you’ve good good posts… But that one was pretty awesome mamma.
And Eli?? Oh come on!!! What about me!? Just because I learned how to not throw fits to get what I want magically makes me not a good teacher???
And well Eli, She’ll get over it. Trust me.
“How consistent and abundant the gifts really are, and how the only real variable is my receptiveness.”
What a beautiful lesson – thanks for the reminder, as always.
Poetic and profound…….
Thank you, Beth, for another timely, soulful post.
So much to process in one read-through. It seems that there are emotional seasons that change as the the light gets longer or shorter each year. I’m plugged into several wonderful writers through their blogs, and while the styles and messages are different, there is often a synchrony in the how timely and relevant the posts are. Right now I am experiencing deep emotional unrest as the school year begins again for me as a teacher while my kids stay home with a sitter. This is the third new school year for me since I’ve had my kids and no matter what I do with my schedule and my children’s schedule September is deeply unsettling. It would seem that what feels like my own isolated, emotional struggle is perhaps a much more universal and common experience though, as this last week has been filled with WONDERFUL insight from the writers I’ve found over the years. It is just so frustrating that it is apparently going to take years for me to figure out how to find a good recipe for more productive and joyful seasons of change/changing seasons since each one comes just once a year. I do feel so much more mindful when I’ve had a chance to read your thoughts (and it really is so helpful to step away from the info-sphere for a while, too).
reminds me that the things we say to our children, are the very things that God is saying to us…
Thank you for this wonderful and thought provoking post.
What I want to know is, what happened next with your daughter? If she’s anything like mine, she didn’t begin to see the blessings all around her. (Yes, I know it’s about where I miss the blessings, and the answer is, often! When I remember, practicing gratitude is one of my best helpers in life.) At the same time, there’s a 9-year-old girl interfering with my experience of that beautiful beach! I can just about get that she gives me the opportunity to help her see the blessings. Unfortunately my techniques for doing so are all failures. So what happened with the lovely Eli that day?
Beth – I just wanted to say thank you. Thanks for making the world a better place. Peace.
This post just spoke to my soul, and I’ve been trying to digest it. I’ve been pushing the gifts away or just simply not noticing them. THANK YOU for calling attention to the grace of God that surrounds us all the time. I’ve been keeping this post up in my browser just to remind me.
A friend sent me your link, and I just love the site. Thank you!!
I cannot tell you how much my soul needed that truth. I have been struggling with the weight of feeling like I am not enough (that there is not enough of me and what is there is not good enough), that I’m stuck where I don’t want to be stuck. On top of that I feel overwhelmingly guilty because the reality is that my life is not so bad. I look around and think “Why am I whining, it could be so much worse.” This whole thought process becomes a vicious cycle and I just sink lower and lower.
I can promise you that I will re-read these words again. I will because truth is not something flat and one-dimensional. It is alive and growing. I need to remember that yes there are some things in life you cannot change – but WE are always capable of change. I want to be the woman in white too. Thank you.
Uhhh what a great read and so true. We seem to learn as adults to focus on the negative and forget to be be open to all of the little ‘gifts’ as you say, that are present in every moment. Thanks for lifting me today 🙂