The Hubs and I recently celebrated the joyful arrival of our third baby girl! Although I didn’t expect the rest of the world to be as excited as we are, what I wasn’t quite prepared for was the excessive quantity of off-color comments in regard to our new family size. Now, mind you, I am the 2nd oldest of 7, so the “are they ALL yours comments!?” are nothing new to me! I’ve heard them directed toward my mother for as long as I can remember, and her clever responses never ceased to respectfully put people in their place. My problem, I suppose, is that I was unaware that having just three children was both uncommon enough that people feel it necessary to draw attention, AND such an overwhelming feat that I best not leave the house lest I become a spectacle at the grocery store! While I realize my youngest two are especially close in age (15 months, to be exact) and they’re all pretty little still (4, 18 months, and 2 months) they’re usually well behaved! *knock on wood* Yet, if I had a dime for every time I’ve heard an exasperated, “Wow! You have your hands full!” or “Oh my! You’re brave!” I could probably pay for a fancy date night! 😉
As I shared my frustrating experiences with a good friend of mine last week, her mom piped up, suggesting that next time I say something like, “I’m so sorry for whatever it is that has made you feel like children are a burden, but mine are truly a blessing to me!” In that moment I laughed, but as I thought about those words more and more, as I stripped away the tinges of sarcasm and really focused on the truth at its core, I became convicted, deeply and truly convicted! Because, while I could say those words to someone and mean them with everything in me, is that truly the image I portray to the world when I leave my house? Do I show the world that these precious little ones are indeed a blessing? As I stroll through Schnucks (the local grocery), with our infant in my Ergo, toddler in the basket, and preschooler trailing behind with her mini shopping cart, am I a witness to the joys of motherhood? Do I model love as I dialogue with my four year old while picking out vegetables? Do I exemplify gentleness and patience when I correct my toddler for grabbing an unwanted item off the shelf? And do I illustrate peace as I bounce up & down in the check-out line because my 8 week old is no longer sleeping soundly, and everyone is tired and hungry? The answer, if not “no,” is “rarely,” and I find something terribly wrong with that!
I’m not implying I need be fake, or portray a false image of “got it together” to everyone I encounter, but rather that I simply be intentional in the witness I bring to the world around me! My childhood piano teacher always said, “practice doesn’t make perfect, practice makes permanent,” which my mother then modified to “what you practice is what you will become.” So what do I “practice” in my daily life that is in turn laid bare when I leave my home?
The French Jesuit, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin is credited with saying, “Joy is the infallible sign of the presence of God.” So, go with me for a moment…..If I really received an indwelling of the Holy Spirit with the Sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation, and if I truly become a tabernacle of Christ Himself when I receive the Eucharist, should I not also be a living, breathing, walking, talking, JOYFUL sign of the presence of God? Now, this is of course, MUCH easier said than done, but if I truly believe these little ones are a blessing and a gift, I also believe it should be obvious to those I encounter!
So, I’ve decided to try something…. Everyday I’m going to choose to get up, get dressed, put myself together for the day, and that includes adding a smile to my face (or, on those rough days, at the very least, a pleasant expression! ;)) Last Tuesday (grocery and errand day in our house) I did just that….and then we went to the store! Only this time, I smiled cheerfully, I was attentive, and most of all, I was an intentional and joyful mother to the little blessings that accompanied me….and what happened? I was met with pleasant glances and comments like, “What a blessing your little ones are!” “What a precious family!” and “How beautiful that you brought them with you today!” …..coincidence? Perhaps! But either way I got home that afternoon uplifted and empowered, not only because of others’ words of encouragement, but because I was successful in practicing joy, and that joy then overflowed into my interactions with others!
So I now challenge you, whether it be in your workplace or the supermarket, the back of church or the gym, SMILE! Count the blessings in your life, name them one by one! Big or small, we all have them! My favorites tend to have messy faces, sticky fingers and loving hearts. What do yours look like? A place to call home? Friendship and community? Or a comforting hug at the end of a long day? Whatever they may be, make the choice to recognize them and not only will it change your countenance, but I can almost guarantee it will change the countenance of those you encounter!
“Joy is what happens to us when we allow ourselves to recognize how good things really are.” ―Marianne Williamson