Perfection

Dear Heavenly Father,
It was a day of failings,
but it was a day better than before.
Thank Thee for progressing me.

Help me, help me, help me.

That’s when you know the atonement is working things out in a sanctifying kind of way, when things get better even though it’s not perfect yet, or finished yet, or right just yet.

Perfect, in the greek sense, means whole and complete, and that usually is far easier to achieve than the no-mistakes kind of perfect.

Today my family was perfect, in a whole and complete kind of way.  There is hope for the baby, maybe.  We have the adoption update on Mary, that it is happening.  We celebrated the adoption of Kirk and Barrett today, and remember the feeling of being sealed to Alex and Anber and how those special and sacred powers help us everyday with them.  I got to hug Nathan’s parents when they dropped Mary off after speech.  I spent the evening at the hospital with the baby, but got to be home at night instead of away for six weeks.  I fed my children, celebrated with ice cream sundaes, tucked them into bed, and sang them lullabies.  I finish the evening writing next to my husband that I adore.  That feels pretty perfect, in a whole and complete kind of way.

It was not so perfect in a no-mistakes kind of way.

I mean, I tried.  I got up at 5 in the morning so I could pray and read my scriptures.

But then, when I thought there was secretly time to also get in a hot shower before the intrusive children woke, the baby woke for her first bottle.  I didn’t have my ears on, so didn’t hear her, and didn’t even know until I saw Nathan go to her crib.  For a half a second, I thought about just slipping into the shower and letting him handle it.

#Fail.

Before I could take a new breath, I rushed over and resigned myself to feed her and shower later.

Except who says that?  Let him handle “it”?  What is it?  The feeding? Or the baby?  Or the intrusion?  Is she really an intrusion?  Of course not!

Except, yes.

Resign myself, really?  As if it is so very difficult to sit there and feed the baby?  As if I did not pray for years for such a privilege?  As if my life and hers are not both miracles of divine intervention making such moments sacred?

Except also, because of her airway and feeding issues, it can take a good half hour to an hour to feed her properly without any aspiration.

This is the clash of the temporal and the spiritual, and it gets me every time, even first thing in the morning.

Except it isn’t really a clash, so much as the temporal application of the spiritual principle, as if God thinks its His job to refine me, to progress me, to help me practice until I get better at all this stuff, so that maybe I will feel a little more comfortable about living with Him again someday.

Oh, right.  That is the plan, actually.

So we just keep going, and just keep trying.

Having the entire bottle feed to repent, I tried harder after that.  I got the baby down and my shower finished, and even got acorn squash and eggs cooked for everyone for breakfast before any of the kids woke up.  Wanting to let Nathan sleep in, I got each of the kids showered and dressed as they woke, and managed to do it with a smile.

Shocking, right?

Don’t get excited.  It’s only because I had spent the half hour before in repentance mode.

The kids were so good, and I was patient and participatory and present, and we had a very easy morning full of laughter and songs and happy moments.

It’s funny how smoothly things go when you do things His way, right?

They were good at the courthouse, and the adoption went smoothly, and no one got run over downtown.  We got them lunch, and all of them back in school, and I headed to Tulsa with the baby.

I kept trying in Tulsa, refocusing my thoughts anytime I got tired or worn out at the hospital there with the baby.  When I got frustrated or tired of waiting or anxious about her health, I just thought about how it was so nice to at least be at home.  Even after spending the whole day at the hospital for testing, the baby and I get to come home.  We aren’t banished for months at a time this round (yet).  It makes a difference, a huge difference.

Traffic was terrible as we were leaving to head home.  I tried some coping skills like listening to a conference talk, and some spiritual songs, and singing hymns to the baby.  But mostly I was worn out, and tired, and feeling a million miles from home.

See how spoiled and weak I am, to get to that place so quickly, when I was just a minute ago so grateful to be able to go home to Nathan at night instead of being a thousand miles away in Ohio?

Sigh.

In the Old Testament, Hosea calls us “backsliding heifers” when we do that, like new working cows that can’t remember they are supposed to be plowing (really, look at 4:16).

Know what Heavenly Father does with us then?

He loves us like His little sheep anyway.

That’s what the verse says.  He leads us to safety, to breathe, and to graze, and to sing us mountain songs, and to let us start over again in our training.  He lets us rest for a night, and then get back to work.  He takes the yoke off, removing the burden of responsibility, so that we can gather our Self together again, and gives us a fresh start in the morning.

He nourishes us, just as He would if we were better at doing what He commanded already.

Yeah, that was bad, we know He is thinking.

But what He whispers is, “Let’s try again.”

That’s a lot of love, and something to learn.

So tonight, when Anber was slimy – not naughty tonight, just slimy – I hugged her anyway (even though I was completely repulsed by the slime), and even tickled her when I knew it meant she would rub her snot on my clothes as she wriggled around.

When Alex told a lie about a wrestling game at school he wasn’t supposed to play, I let his lying consequence stand instead of rescuing him, even though it meant he missed part of the adoption celebration, but also without drowning him worse in a slew of extra consequences just because I didn’t like what he did.

When Kirk got all picky about which part of his ice cream sundae he wanted, even though we had worked so hard on all of it, I remembered it was his celebration and let him pick out the pieces he wanted instead of focusing on my own agenda of what lessons he should be learning.

When Mary threw her quarterly screaming tantrum throwing things fit because she realized her choice to trick the grandparents into taking her to McDonald’s to get a bucket of stickers she had already been told she couldn’t have meant that she missed the adoption celebration we had already told her was happening, I remembered that her emotional response was really about seeing the boys’ mom today and knowing that her mom isn’t functioning well enough (or sober and clean enough) to come to her adoption, and that her adoption hasn’t happened yet even though she has been here longer.

When Barrett started screaming at bedtime, and all I wanted to do was engage in the power struggle to prove I could win, I remembered he is a tiny toddler who had a big day – and so his mom to boot – and that the celebration had gone past his bedtime, and that this was not his fault.  Instead of screaming back at him or coming down on him for throwing such a royal baby fit, I scooped him up and gave him choices to help him feel empowered, cheered him up, and sent him off to bed happily to be tucked in and tickled, instead of letting the day end ugly.

An increase in love, they say (D&C 121:43).

We work really, really hard for an increase in love.

Especially babies who end the day like they started it, this time crying to bed fed just as I sat down for a hot meal with my husband.

Because that’s what babies do.

And my day?  That’s what moms do, even when it’s messy.

Even when it’s not perfect.

Because maybe today was a little better than yesterday, which was a little better than the day before that.

So maybe it wasn’t perfect, in a no-mistakes kind of way, because half the kids went to bed crying, almost.

But maybe it was perfect, in a whole-and-complete kind of way, because you gave up the evening to help each one work through it until they got to the other side, and because they are here – alive and well and home, and because even though most of them yelled at you today or hit you at some point or threw some kind of tantrum in the last twenty-four hours, you still sat in the rocking chair with that crying-choking baby and sang them all songs until they fell asleep.

Even if that wasn’t perfect, either, because you are a convert so some of your lullabies are a little protestant-ey sometimes.

And then maybe you come out of the trenches trying to convince yourself it really is better than a year ago, that they are better than a year ago, that maybe there is progress, that maybe you will learn how to be a real mom, and maybe you come out to open the mail and find a parent-teacher conference letter talking about how your kids are the most polite kids in the school, “just perfect” …

And then you laugh, and laugh, and laugh.

Because you know.

You know that the kids are better than you, that they teach you more than you teach them, that families are part of the plan because nothing else teaches us so much about the atonement, because it is how we are organized as people, and how we become more like the God who is our Father.

President Monson said once (back in 1997) that children are born through the “valley of the shadow of death” (cross-referencing Psalm 23).

They are the death of us, for sure, but that’s what it’s supposed to be.  Children aren’t the end of our lives, but the promise of it.  To live a consecrated life, willing to give even your very life if necessary, is to let go of all we hold on to so tightly that it suffocates the things of God.

He said:

Every smile is noted, every fear comforted, every hunger abated.

I suppose that can’t happen if I don’t smile, or comfort, or nourish them.

Truth was not held slave to expedience.

It doesn’t matter how many songs I teach them, or scriptures I help them memorize, or how many FHE’s we hold from week to week, if they cannot feel the Spirit of the gospel.  They will not have testimonies if they cannot feel the Spirit, even if I tell them all the right things.  They need to practice it for themselves: saying their prayers, being kind to each other, and participating in a relationship building even while they mourn so many relational losses.  The same goes for me, in that teaching and modeling these things takes far more time with greater intent than just pushing facts or not even trying.  Intentional parenting is exhausting!  But I am not sure anymore that parenting without intent actually counts as parenting.

Elder Holland spoke to parents in the years of many young children, and said (also in 1997):

Do the best you can through these years, but whatever else you do, cherish that role that is so uniquely yours and for which heaven itself sends angels to watch over you and your little ones…

… May I say to mothers collectively, in the name of the Lord, you are magnificent. You are doing terrifically well. The very fact that you have been given such a responsibility is everlasting evidence of the trust your Father in Heaven has in you. He knows that your giving birth to a child does not immediately propel you into the circle of the omniscient. If you and your husband will strive to love God and live the gospel yourselves; if you will plead for that guidance and comfort of the Holy Spirit promised to the faithful; if you will go to the temple to both make and claim the promises of the most sacred covenants a woman or man can make in this world; if you will show others, including your children, the same caring, compassionate, forgiving heart you want heaven to show you; if you try your best to be the best parent you can be, you will have done all that a human being can do and all that God expects you to do.

… When you have come to the Lord in meekness and lowliness of heart and, as one mother said, “pounded on the doors of heaven to ask for, to plead for, to demand guidance and wisdom and help for this wondrous task,” that door is thrown open to provide you the influence and the help of all eternity. Claim the promises of the Savior of the world. Ask for the healing balm of the Atonement for whatever may be troubling you or your children. Know that in faith things will be made right in spite of you, or more correctly, because of you.

Rely on Him. Rely on Him heavily. Rely on Him forever. And “press forward with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope.” 11 You are doing God’s work. You are doing it wonderfully well. He is blessing you and He will bless you, even—no, especially—when your days and your nights may be the most challenging. Like the woman who anonymously, meekly, perhaps even with hesitation and some embarrassment, fought her way through the crowd just to touch the hem of the Master’s garment, so Christ will say to the women who worry and wonder and sometimes weep over their responsibility as mothers, “Daughter, be of good comfort; thy faith hath made thee whole.” 12 And it will make your children whole as well.

Whole.

As in perfect, even when we are not.

About Emily

I am a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints since 2009. I serve as a Chaplain, and work as a counselor. I got bilateral cochlear implants in 2010, but will always love sign language. I choose books over television, and organics over processed. Nothing is as close to flying as ballroom dancing - except maybe running, when in the solo mood. I would rather be outside than anywhere else, especially at the river riding my bike or kayaking. PhD in Marriage and Family Therapy, and currently doing a post-doc in Jewish Studies and an MDiv in Pastoral Counseling. The best thing about Emily World is that it's always an adventure, even if (not so) grammatically precise. The only thing better than writing is being married to a writer. Nathan Christensen and I were married in the Oklahoma City temple on 13 October 2012, and have since fostered more than eighty-five children. We have adopted the six who stayed, and are totally and completely and helplessly in love with our family. Nathan writes musical theater, including "Broadcast" (a musical history of the radio) and an adaption of Lois Lowry's "The Giver". He served his mission in South Korea, has taught song-writing in New York City public schools, and worked as a theater critic for a Tucson newspaper. This is not an official Web site of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

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