This picture makes me smile. Because she’s just like me. I don’t know how many of you are familiar with Seinfeld and the crazy characters the show portrayed over the years, but this girl sticks with me. I refer to her as the “frankfurter girl.” Because that was her ultimate breakdown. She would cry at the drop of a hat. Literally. And when she dropped her hot dog, tears ensued. She cried over just about everything. Another episode that hasn’t left me is the one where Jerry, the comedian, tried to be utterly serious and dark at his friend’s request. And it’s these two, the frankfurter girl and serious Jerry, of which I cannot help but see a resemblance to me. Way too serious and too much waterworks. Not enough joy and laughter. And I so miss my laughter. It used to burst forth from the depths of my belly. My mom even had to tell me to stop once. She thought I was choking. Often, I’d laugh so hard tears sprung from my eyes. But now, it’s another kind. Frankfurter girl tears. Evidently, I’m not as dry as I thought. But rather than springs of living water flowing from within, it’s wellsprings of tears that spew forth.
But you know, I already know why the tears. And I’ve known for quite some time now. Basically, I cry because dying is hard. That’s what I’ve been trying to do. Die to self. But it hurts. It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever tried to do. And despite progress here and there, pieces of me still hold to what I consider my own. And as I read in the book of Luke, I find this is a killer. For whoever tries to keep their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life will preserve it. Holding too tightly to my wants, my agenda, is killing me. I’m snuffing the life right out of me and quenching the Spirit. And the fight has been lengthy. In truth, the battle began in earnest over seven years ago. Coincidentally, that’s when I had my son.
I love my child, it’s true. I ache over his own struggles. I long for him. And I’d do anything for him. At least I think I would. But in consideration of doing anything for him, I have to honestly say that I don’t think I have. Not completely. Because the truth is that at the birth of my child, someone else was birthed too. For an incredibly self-seeking woman drew breath the moment my precious, baby boy first drew his own. That’s when selfishness rudely inserted itself into my heart and soul. Which is so surprising. I always thought I was generous at heart, but the truth began to emerge in 2006. That’s when the very real battle of self began. It was then, when I had my son.
Before my child, I had no cares in the world, really. It was just me and my husband, and we did whatever we wanted. But then, there was a baby. And my son needed me unlike anyone had ever ever needed me before. And I just have to say, this was a bit overwhelming to me. For I’m not a natural. I didn’t slide gracefully into motherhood. I was terrified and couldn’t sleep for fear that he would stop breathing. And I was never sure of what he really needed. Never. I believe I spent that first year guessing. And juggling because I began to work from home. God blessed me with both a baby and a new home-based job within months but these gifts also became my biggest trials. It was hard to balance a new baby with work because it was always there in front of me. And being the type-A person that I am, I had my own ideas about how and when I should work. But nothing ever went according to plan. Every day was different as the cries of my hungry infant rivaled the blip of incoming work emails. And this is where darkness began to fall.
Those first years were hard and now I have so much regret. Because my little boy learned way to early what it means to be happy and sad. This was evidenced by a visit to my hometown when he was about two or so. I felt happy, so I called him to me for a kiss. Afterwards, he waddled over to his me-maw and pulled out his pacifier to say, “Mama’s happy.” Even at that tender age, he could tell when I was up. I can’t tell you how many times I wish I could go back there to get my priorities straight. How often I’ve wished I could undo things I’ve done. Or not done. Because now I see it clearly. Despite love for my baby, there was also the love for myself. And so, I began to cling. I began to construct, but walls consisted of agenda and structure and rigidity and organization. These flimsy walls never lasted. And because my wants seemed to fall by the wayside, I became stingy with my time. I began the game of comparison… my list of to-do’s seemed more lengthy than my dear husbands (at least through the inward glasses I wore). And resentment deposited its seed. Bitterness flourished while I diminished. As I said, I have regret. So much I wish I could un-do. Or re-do.
So many moments that started off like this…
Turned to moments like this…
And sadly, there’s no turning back time. But I do have today. Not surprisingly, I find myself in pretty much the same place. Almost eight years later, I’m still fighting the same fight… building flimsy walls made of agenda and structure and rigidity and organization. The only difference is the ping of an incoming work email is rivaled by the wail of a seven year old. But you know, there is knowledge. You do learn as you go. For I know that I’m the very one who boxes myself in. Today, I see that the self-imposed rules and timelines I’ve surrounded myself with will not hold me up. This semblance of a schedule I try to maintain actually contributes to my downfall. For the foundation and structure I’ve so carefully laid out is in fact unsteady. And clinging to these unsound walls paves the way to instability.
Today I have realization. I have clarity. And often, revelation comes through the face of the little boy who stares back at me. In him, I see me. Oh, he loves to laugh. He loves to be silly and his laughter wells up from deep within. Wellsprings of mirth. But also, there’s another side to him. There are frowns and creased brow. There are sighs. And my fear is that I’m turning him into a mini-me. Because I box him in. I impose my agenda and rigidity and organization upon him. And rightfully so, as I’m his mother. But see, I’m a type-A personality. And as I tend to do, I go over-board. This past Sunday the perfect example…
The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit. John 3:8
It was picture day. Little league baseball boys all in a row having their picture snapped. But, oh, the wind. It was so gusty. They laughed and giggled as the wind made their eyes tear. They grabbed to their hats to keep them from blowing away. They were delighted. And sure enough, the wind blew hats half way across the field. I could hear my son’s laughter floating on the air as he sank down to his knees, grabbing the rolling hat. I went after him. I didn’t enter his euphoria, though. Instead, I focused on his grass stained pants. See, rather than embrace the moment and cling to the joy that was set before me, I saw only what had to be done. I saw how another load of wash would affect my carefully laid out plans. And so, I utterly missed the moment. What could have been a blessed memory becomes a dark spot in my past. Yet one more regret… one more time I wish I could have a do-over. Why, oh why, didn’t I just laugh with him?
You know, structure is a good thing. But if it controls you, it can have the opposite effect. If rigidity boxes you in, then it’s time to tear down the walls. And if life is snuffed out and the Spirit is quenched because things just don’t go your way, then priorities need to be evaluated. At least this is true for me. I know I am not meant to be boxed in. God wants me to be fluid, malleable, and yielding. It’s almost as if what God said to King David, He says to me:
Are you the one to build me a house to dwell in? I have not dwelt in a house from the day I brought the Israelites up out of Egypt to this day. I have been moving from place to place with a tent as my dwelling. Wherever I have moved with all the Israelites, did I ever say to any of their rulers whom I commanded to shepherd my people Israel, “Why have you not built me a house of cedar?”’ 2 Samuel 7:5-7
God moves. His Spirit moves. And I’m supposed to be the same. He did not order me to construct my rigid walls. He did not tell me to box myself in by unattainable goals. And He did not say to chain myself to self-imposed rules and regulations. Because He knows that will be the death of me. The wrong kind of death… Spirit quenched. And because I hold to the wants and desires that drive my laid out plans, I am still holding to my life. I’m still battling myself. This is me putting myself first. Not my son. And if I say I would do anything for him, wouldn’t I do this one thing? Why can’t I just surrender? God help me.
Yes, it’s true. Dying is hard. It’s been a seven year battle. And there have been tears and failure… skirmishes lost. But the battle is not yet over. I still have today. Despite more regrets than I can count, it’s not too late. But rather than dwell on days gone by, I can live in the moment and look to the future. Because as my son wisely put it, “There’s no reset button.” And he’s so right. I may not be able to un-do or re-do what’s done, but I can surely redeem the time that’s left. For life remains within my son. The Spirit bubbles up alongside giggles of delight. Oh, he may frown from time to time, but he hasn’t lost his smile, or his laugh, yet. And the good news is, through him, I think I’ll find my own. I shall laugh again. A spring of living water flowing from within…