“Be content with what you have;
rejoice in the way things are.
When you realize there is nothing lacking,
the whole world belongs to you.”
― Lao Tzu
I’ve been working on being content with what I have. Trying to fall in love again with my home. Trying to be happy with what I own, and being fine living without accumulating much more than what we already have. It’s a tough war going on inside of me. I see friends with bigger homes, houses cleaner than mine, their kids better dressed and well-mannered, enrolled in the greatest of sports opportunities, their lives seemingly soaring with perfection when my own seems a jumbled puzzle of trying times. I struggle with the balance of being fine with what has been given to me and what we work hard to maintain; what is being asked of me and what I feel I can manage with grace and balance, and it isn’t much.
I’ll admit my tendency toward selfishness gets the best of me many days. In realizing this awful truth about myself, I try to combat the inner-greed by turning my attention toward the practice of giving thanks daily. Over the years, I’ve retrained my brain in a way to instill a sense of gratitude, not loss. At first, I thought my efforts fraudulent; now I know that’s farther from the truth. What contemplation of blessings brings is a perception of will and a renewed mind, body, and spirit. A peaceful place of heart and a contentedness of spirit grows with practice. Amazing what a simple, “thank you for my good health, thank you for the kids I finally have, thank you for the husband I can’t even believe is mine, thank you for the goodness all around me” can do for one’s overall emotional and physical health.
What I’ve garnered from the practicing of minding grace is that my environment is affected by my natural discontented spirit. My home is a large source of contention, in this game, I’m afraid. Too often, I’m nervous when new friends are invited over for the first time, when family gather, even. My inner-critic feels fear of being judged for our ancient couch covered in a decade-old, faded Pottery Barn slipcover, the discount pillows strategically arranged to camouflage red marker and juice stains, all of the bargain Craigslist finds. Years ago, I used to be proud of my frugal nature, the knack I possessed for scoring the hidden gems at consignment shops and Goodwill. Deep down, I know I have nothing to be ashamed of, for this is who I really am—a delightfully frugal, sort of crunchy-kind of woman concerned with too much excess. Honestly, I’d be a nervous wreck having much nicer things than we own since my kids are still in that exploring stage, hard players, not too careful with a red marker in hand. They don’t care if our things don’t impress. So, I shouldn’t either.
“We need much less than we think we need.”
― Maya Angelou
If I’m completely honest with myself and you, my patient readers, I’m not—at all—that unhappy with our place of residence. There have been countless wonderful memories made here, certainly some major heartbreak, but mostly the inner-workings of a family trying their best to live and love together inside the confines of a relatively small home. Most days, I like that we live among one another, that there aren’t too many places to hide away, that The Husband and I are teaching our children to be happy together. After all, what matters more than those we love?
What is restless, truly, is my heart. And when this cracked, pumping vessel of mine becomes restive—as it is now—I realize that the unease is due to a level of great imbalance within our family, something is off-kilter inside the four walls of our home. An imbalance that I can’t seem to tip back to level. Discontented in spirit is a personal defect I struggle with each and every day.
My initial reaction—when life becomes so overwhelming that it can’t be ignored—is that if I could just escape the confines of the instability here then the discontent will release its hold on my family and me, and we will be able to break free of the confines of the pain, the source of disruption, and all the troubles will disappear. In my right mind, I know that these issues we are grappling with will follow no matter the place and space, no matter what the numbers on the mailbox say, despite the size of the mortgage payments. Though, the fantasy of someplace fresher, cleaner, brighter, untarnished is a pleasant divergence from the reality of our messy lives. And so today, I remain stuck inside the walls and look for a resolve inside myself. For, we all know that the only control we have is over ourselves and our own choices.
During quiet times of reflection and prayer, I can change my outlook on the muck before me and merely choose love, stillness and calm, patience, and tender care no matter the trial set before me. It’s my choice. And the choice is yours for the taking, too, if you are brave enough to change.
“You are the sky. Everything else – it’s just the weather.”
― Pema Chödrön
The focus now needs to be keenly set on love. And not just the mushy-gushy type of heartfelt sentiments, but the difficult, tough-love kind—the talking myself into loving when my heart feels like a stone, when my stubborn nature builds walls around me, when I’m just plain tired of caring. When The Girl retaliates by ingesting foods with her allergens that she knows will make her sick, yet deliberately sneaks down to gorge herself on these intentionally, I need to find the love to deal with her terrible choices and the patience to remain calm when she is sick and wheezing all day long—she, yelling at me, as if I’m the one who made her so allergic and sick, as if it’s all my fault. These challenging times are the times to have compassion for her, to see the plight in her eyes from the slight stance where she stands before me, too often screaming in my face, her pain and anguish shooting daggers at my heart. Even in these trying times, I choose love.
The focus now needs to be on remaining still—right where I am, exactly where I’ve been planted—because any slight movement might erase the magic in the moment—imperfections and all. For, when Baby Girl slides into bed beside me every night lately because of her fear of the dark despite a nightlight in every outlet, and the rising fear she feels of losing her almost-four-year-old self to the baby she once was not so long ago. Even when I feel the anger in losing precious sleep because of her beside me tossing and turning, snuggling up to every inch of me like she’s going to lose me in the intensity of her fears, I choose to be still beside her in her fear. Even in the middle of the night when I have been awaken too many times to worsen me for the wear—most definitely then—I must find the love for Baby Girl in the morning as she remains cuddled next to me, so innocent and happy, and kiss her sweet porcelain cheek despite my wretched grouchiness. I choose calmness and love, because who knows how long my Baby Girl will want to remain so close by my side?
The focus now needs to be on patience and tender care—the kind that can mend hearts, minds, and moods—the type of uplifting calm and true presence of Love itself. So, when The Boy stays out late with his dad for a Cub Scout camp-out and at 11:00 PM comes home hyped-up on the thrill of Halloween excitement, animatedly describing the fun he had that night with his buddies, too jazzed-up to fall asleep, then suddenly, quickly resorting to full-on meltdown mode, startling his sisters awake—this is when a mindful patience is necessary. Certainly, when The Boy wakes up at his usual early bird time, clocking only eight hours of sleep last night, uncharacteristically grumpy during breakfast, head-strong and groggily resolved to build Legos this morning, speaking only in whiny retorts to his sisters who are annoying him a little too quickly today because of his sleep-induced edginess—this is when I still remain patient in loving him in the rough moments together and all throughout this jolted day. For my son, I choose love because he needs to know that he is deserving of my love despite his having a bad day, and that I will always love him no matter what.
Folks, my dad said it best when he turned to me, just before he walked me down the aisle to be married to The Husband, with tender concern in his eyes and stated, “Remember, LOVE IS A CHOICE.” My late father’s words have remained within me, and make more sense now than ever before.
“All your life, you will be faced with a choice. You can choose love or hate…I choose love.”
― Johnny Cash
Going forward, my focus remains inward with the intent of turning all the interior reflection outward realizing the swirl of imperfection in my family’s less-than-ideal traits are so delicately mirrored as my own personal deficiencies, though it can all be overcome in time by choosing love. Humble mom moment.
“However mean your life is, meet it and live it; do not shun it and call it hard names. It is not so bad as you are. It looks poorest when you are richest. The fault-finder will find faults even in paradise. Love your life, poor as it is. You may perhaps have some pleasant, thrilling, glorious hours, even in a poorhouse. The setting sun is reflected from the windows of the almshouse as brightly as from the rich man’s abode; the snow melts before its door as early in the spring. I do not see but a quiet mind may live as contentedly there, and have as cheering thoughts, as in a palace.”
― Henry David Thoreau, Walden