I really wanted pizza. And to not cook. Or do dishes. Daddy came home and eyed me paging through my amazing new cookbook he gave me just the day before. He didn’t even laugh at the irony when I told him I wanted to order Papa Johns. He voted for Chinese take-out. Who am I to argue- I was getting a night off.
The last time we ordered Chinese take-out must have been at least five years ago. Neither one of us could remember for sure. We taught Little Man how to make his Mu Shoo roll and how to bite into a fortune cookie. I laughed when I opened mine.
“Life is a gift, don’t waste it.”
Could there be a more perfect fortune for me, Little Miss Carpe Diem, over here? I decided to keep it.
A few nights later, I came out of the baby’s room, flush with frustration and anger at Daddy and Little Man for laughing so loudly that she woke up and wouldn’t go back to sleep. I lashed out at them both, handed the crying girl to Daddy as punishment and stormed around the room cleaning up the toys littering the dog hair covered floors that desperately need vacuuming and washing. But not before I do the dishes. And the laundry. And scrub the tub out. The never ending list scrolling through my head coupled with the kids who were happily laughing with their daddy on the couch almost pushed me over the edge. “IT IS PAST BEDTIME,” I was screaming in my mind as I flung the last toy into the basket as angrily as I could, obviously trying to drag everyone else down with me.
And then I saw it. Putting the last book away on the shelf, I saw the fortune there on the ledge, under the picture of my Jameson. “Life is a gift, don’t waste it,” it quietly said back to me. I was still so angry. Why? When did I become the one who puts the chores and the rules ahead of the family and the fun? When did I forget to Carpe Diem? I looked up from that innocent little fortune on the ledge into my son’s eyes and instantly felt my anger turn.
Hadn’t I learned anything about what really matters in this world? Did I forget that easily just how much I have to be thankful for and how important it is to cherish these memories and these good times? Nights like this when Little Man and Jameson were little are some of the best memories I carry in my heart now that my J is gone. How could I, of all people, already forget to see the Joy instead of the list?
“Life is a gift, don’t waste it.”
This is not news to me. Since my son died 22 months ago, I have made that my mantra. My blog is called Harvesting Joy, for goodness sake. And yet in two minutes flat I went from thanking God for the baby in my arms to having an ugly tantrum for no reason whatsoever.
I think back to those first days after the funeral, when we first came home and it was so quiet and empty and it was so easy to fall into the black hole. We knew that we had to make a choice. We had to be intentional about how we were going to live, act, be. Because feelings are unpredictable and untrustworthy. And we refused to let his death take the meaning out of his life and our lives. Not long after that, I started reading Ann Voskamp’s book, One Thousand Gifts. She confirmed everything I was thinking about living intentionally and also challenged me to not only look for the joy that is already there, but to create joy through thanksgiving.
It was good to be reminded that there is always something to be thankful for. Even when your son dies at three. Even when you are constantly fighting the pull of the black hole for the sake of your remaining son. Even when you feel you have nothing left, there is always something to be thankful for. And thanksgiving creates joy.
I’ve tried it; it works. When I’m overwhelmed with my loss and the black hole looms near, I say thanks for his life, no matter how short. When the dog hair is rolling across the floors like tumbleweed, I say thanks for my vacuum. And my dogs. When the dishes are overflowing in the sink and the laundry piles waiting to be folded are bigger than my couch, I thank the Lord that we have more than enough. We are always seeing something; either the positive or the negative. And it is our choice to make every.single.time.
Fast forward to my temper tantrum and I’m obviously not living out my intentions as well as I’d like. When I look back on these times, I don’t want the memories to look like this. I don’t want to be one who was always so busy worrying about the chores and rules that I can’t remember the laughter and the snuggles. Instead, I want to see these moments as little gifts from God; these special moments of staying up too late, the snuggling together can either be the treasure or the curse. And only I can make that choice.
The story of Jesus visiting Martha and Mary is a great example to me in either seeing the treasure or the burden.
As Jesus and the disciples continued on their way to Jerusalem, they came to a village where a woman named Martha welcomed them into her home. Her sister, Mary, sat at the Lord's feet, listening to what he taught. But Martha was worrying over the big dinner she was preparing. She came to Jesus and said, "Lord, doesn't it seem unfair to you that my sister just sits here while I do all the work? Tell her to come and help me." But the Lord said to her, "My dear Martha, you are so upset over all these details! There is really only one thing worth being concerned about. Mary has discovered it -- and I won't take it away from her." –Luke 10:38-42 NLT
Mary and Martha were both in the same boat. Yet they approached the situation so differently. Poor Martha just couldn’t see the gift and she greatly missed out on the treasure. I don’t want to go through the rest of my life as a Martha, always seeing the burdens and missing out in the treasures. I desperately want to experience the gifts Jesus has laid out before me. I choose to seek joy.
I’m far from perfect and know that I’ll fail at times. But I’m so thankful for the gentle reminder from God, who even speaks through Chinese take-out.