Over the past month, a string of events both in our personal lives and in the world at large has caused me to reflect about the issues of choice, control, and surrender.
There was the under pressure expansion of our water heater as the temperature regulator presumably failed, which explosively burst both hot and cold water pipes and left the water damage assessor and the plumber scratching their heads, saying, “I’ve never seen anything like it.” After overhearing my husband tell my father in law that the plumber mentioned houses being blown off the foundations when water heater safety devices fail (and Googling on the topic), I was reminded of how fortunate we were to escape the situation not only with our home and lives intact, but also with minimal damage to our possessions (we live in a rental, so the damage to the house is being handled).
I am thankful for my family, my life, my home.
Then there was the story my mom related to me about a woman in my former hometown that had been killed pulling out of her children’s school in front of a school bus. I imagined her morning routine, bundling her kids up, making lunches, ensuring everyone had their backpacks, running some errands, going to the school to volunteer, then…her life was just over. I thought about how she had no idea when she last wiped a grimy face, or gave her children a hug, or locked her front door, or ran the dishwasher, or any of the thousands of little actions we complete a day, that this would be it, the last time she’d do that in her life. I thought about the heartbreaking loss her children will feel with no mommy to give all that a mother gives to her children and wondered how my daughter would ever comprehend the loss of me. It still shakes me to think about it, and this poor woman, beloved to some, was a stranger to me.
I am thankful for the gift of my life and every day of motherhood.
Also in my former hometown, tornadoes ripped up neighborhoods of houses, a few miles away from my parents’ home, passing through areas populated with my friends and family members. My family and friends emerged unscathed, and the community is rallying together to support those affected families who were not as fortunate.
I am thankful for the lives of my family, for my friends, and for the safety of their homes.
Last week, going out for a bite to eat as a family, M, V, and I spun wildly out of control going around a roundabout in completely dry weather. The cause of our fishtailing was inexplicable. Despite others rounding the circle, no one collided and we were able to move on with our drive home and our day resumed normally, though we were a mite rattled.
I am thankful for the safety of my family and of the other drivers on the roundabout. I am thankful our ancient, but paid off, sole, vehicle is intact.
To round out the week, our daughter fell off a chair in the basement, banging her head on the unfinished concrete floor. No bumps, no bruises (except to her spirit), no injuries. It could have gone so much differently.
I am thankful for my daughter’s safety and for her heart and smarts.
Additionally, I have recently gone through some personal struggles, which reminded me that we cannot control how others perceive our intentions, our persons, our words, or our hearts. Nor can we control their actions. We can only control our own actions and choices to forgive or hang onto bitterness.
I am thankful for the charge to love myself and others and for the opportunities of love that come along with the task of forgiveness.
And then there are the ongoing challenges of stay-at-home motherhood: multiple poop and pee accidents that consume portions of the day spent in cleanup, cranky little girls who skip naps, days of unaccountable resistance where every little interaction feels like a battleground, and finding yourself responding to situations with a harsh or impatient tone rather than a loving one. Feeling burned out by the monotony of household routines, of nearly every job you do being undone and needing to be done again. Wrestling with the daily decisions you make as a parent and wondering how they will affect the person your child will become. Wondering about your own identity aside from motherhood; worrying about the future. Fearing what life could bring to your child, your family, fearing that in the future you’ll regret choices you make today. Feeling guilty that you aren’t more appreciative, or patient, or understanding, or unselfish, or less fearful or just…more.
I am thankful that days of doubt and struggle pass, and are replaced by days of harmony, of confidence, of trust in myself and my ability to contend with the future when it comes. I am thankful for the many times when I do show love and patience and care and for forgiveness when I am not at my best. I am thankful for my home, for the ability to care for my home and family, for the opportunity to be at home with my daughter.
Sometimes life feels out of control. Sometimes you have to remember that what you do have control over is your own actions and responses. Sometimes, rather than letting the fear and doubt and suffering of life overwhelm, you just have to surrender the battle to control and let your heart soak in the moments of beauty and love amidst the chaos and randomness of life.
Moments of surrender, of giving up the idea that we have some sort of larger control over our existence, allow for some measure of peace to meet the pain. The idea that we don’t always have to have the answer, or act perfectly, or that we aren’t even in control of the biggest factor of our life…how much time we have, can be freeing. It does not mean that we aren’t called to make responsible or loving choices, but it means that even when we make them, we can’t prevent suffering. We are not in control of suffering. By relinquishing the perception of control, we can allow our vulnerable selves to receive gifts of love, of understanding, of forgiveness, of thankfulness, of friendship, of lessons that emerge from the struggle to live. Surrender does not mean a lack of perseverance; rather it requires that we face pain and mortality with a clear perspective, letting go of the grasping, anxious struggle that we often carry around inside of us as we endeavor to protect ourselves from situations, from people, from (reasonably well-considered) risks that might have the potential to hurt us. It means that we continue to love ourselves and others despite what the world throws our way. Surrendering to love may be the biggest choice within our control. I believe it is also the path to internal peace.
In my attempts to surrender these past few weeks, I’ve been humbled by the kindness and ongoing support of new and old friends, by the always present love of my family, by the brilliant light that is my daughter, by the care-taking gifts of my husband, by the beauty of the Shenandoah Valley, flowering and lovely in the springtime, by the gifts of my home and my life. I am grateful. I am loved and loving. I am surrendering, one internal battle at a time, one day at a time.