A Blessing in the Mess

27 Apr

At the end of a meandering, choppy day, do you ever feel as if nothing you did made a difference because you never achieved that magical moment when you felt accomplished and “got something done?” I’ve had some days like that recently. Even when there are bright spots and a few fits and starts to projects, some progress here and there, often the overwhelming take-away is that I didn’t do enough. That often leads to a regretful mental spiral that starts with “Should have…” Nothing worse than that remorseful refrain. It drowns out the quiet list of “I dids.”

Such was last Thursday. I’ve been out of town a lot, tending to my parents’ moving process, and so I had big plans for my full day at home. It began promisingly — a trip to the market to replenish the fridge and prep a couple of days’ worth of meals.

But then, the wheel-spinning started. I lost my mojo. No focus. I can’t tell you what I did or didn’t do, or what exactly led to the derailment. There was a text exchange that got in my head a good deal more than it should have. A work meeting with sad news. Pain in my hip that hi-jacked my walk and had me limping home less than half way through my circuit, defeated and exhausted. There were fits and starts on a blog post that remained unwritten. A garage in sore need of attention as the bounty of donation items stack up, staring me down — when will you take us to Salvation Army?

I recounted this to my husband and son over the shrimp risotto dinner I had prepared, remarking that it was kind of a wasted day.

“Dinner sure is good,” said my son. Hubby concurred.

I thanked them, and added, “There was one bright spot.”

I shared: Looking past the overwhelming stack of items to be sorted and hauled, late in the day I decided that at the very least, I could clean out the back of my SUV (which has lately served as a refuse transport).

As I opened the garage and got started, my next door neighbor stopped by and asked if I had a minute to talk. “Actually, to listen,” he said. “And really I need 10 minutes.”

For the briefest moment, I was a little frustrated. Not even this task was going to go smoothly. And, honestly, I wondered if perhaps our perennially-wonky sprinklers were spraying their house, or if our barbecue grill had been wafting mahi-mahi smoke into their house, or our palm tree was dropping seeds into their gutters. (Honestly, they are the best neighbors. This was just me being grumbly.)

He walked up to the garage, notecards in hand. 

And then he asked if I would give a listen and help him hone his Father of the Bride speech. 

His Father of the Bride speech!

He wanted the content of the speech to be a surprise to both his daughter and his wife. “But my wife wanted me to run it past someone. She suggested you.” (Not entirely random, as she has attended women’s events at our church where I was a speaker.)

So here’s this esteemed father of three adult children, a retired OB/gyn, sharing his tender heart for his baby girl, right there in my driveway on an otherwise unremarkable overcast Thursday afternoon, our only witnesses, an overflowing Waste Management bin and a pile of discarded home goods.

And the speech — It was touching and precious. We both had a “little something” in our eyes by the time he was finished.

After telling him how beautiful it was, he asked if there was anything he could cut out to reduce the time a bit (as his daughter had asked). I gave him one suggestion, and then another to punch up a funny line.

“But really, it would be perfect just as you’ve said it,” I told him. “No one will have a stopwatch on you.”

As I finished relaying this story over dinner, I said, “So, yeah. A bright spot, but kind of an unproductive day otherwise.”

Hubby jumped in: “Wait a minute. Do you think he would feel that way? I bet he thinks you had a very productive day. And you were there when he needed you. And what a compliment to you that they sought you out!” 

Did I mention I have a wonderful husband?

I paused. He was right. I was focusing on all I hadn’t done that day. All the ways I had fallen short of expectations (mine and others’). And yet, because of my thwarted plans, I had time for my neighbor when he needed an assist for, in his words, “the most important speech I will ever give in my life.” 

If I had been busily typing away in my office, or running up and down the road, or walking purposefully on the street, I would have missed this opportunity — this blessing — to serve and do God’s work. To “love our neighbors as ourselves,” is straight from the mouth of Jesus when asked what’s most important. It came right after, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength.” (Mark 12:30,31)

I was focusing on the undone, rather than the done. I know to my core this is destructive thinking — heck, I coach this in my wellness workshops — but it’s so much easier to recognize it in others than in myself. In the long years of parenting young children, going to bed, exhausted, but still with a messy house and wet laundry in the washer, I would pray that God would help me “sense that my gain was good,” from Proverbs 31:18 (ESV). I love The Message translation too, about this amazing Proverbs 31 woman. “She senses the worth of her work.”

Incidentally, my neighbor, who is Jewish, had chosen to include a reading from that very chapter as part of his speech. It was my favorite verse, as I told him. We both laughed when he said, “Oh that’s right. You guys (Christians) read that too.”

“Strength and dignity are her clothing; and she laugheth at the time to come.” I shared with him that I especially love the translation: “She smiles at the future.”

I’m thankful for the nudge from my husband for helping me to shift my perspective to see the beauty of that moment, the weight and importance of it to my neighbor and me, even in the midst of a messy, chaotic season where the checklists are long and the checkmarks are few. To smile not only at the future, but also at the past.

Do you sometimes struggle with the habit of magnifying your shortcomings and diminishing your triumphs? What — or who — helps you to flip the script?

In closing, I offer a prayer for us who struggle to focus on the “dids” instead of the “didn’ts”:

Father, help us to let go of the false hope of perfection. Help us to find the sweet spot between being productive and being available, flexible and open to the people around us who need us a little or a lot. Help us to see ourselves as You see us, with love in Your eyes despite our inability to do it all. And help us recognize when something that seems random and flukey can turn out to be the moment when we truly walk as you would have us walk, and be blessed by it. Amen!


2 Responses to “A Blessing in the Mess”

  1. MJ April 27, 2021 at 5:35 pm #

    Sweetie, that was your best yet.

  2. Brenda Fukuda May 11, 2021 at 11:14 am #

    This is so good! There are so many days like this…how different my sleep would be if I always saw them this way.

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