Being Present in the Messy

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"Being present in the messy" by Nicole Johnson (CatholicMom.com)

Copyright 2019 Nicole Johnson. All rights reserved.

Dear Messy,

I’ve gotta hand it to you. You certainly have a knack for upping your game during the summer months. There will be no idyllic Instagram posts from this lady even trying to frame a reality of having it all together. Heck, catching me on a shower day is hard enough, never mind photo-ready. You’ve successfully brought my standards down several notches. Sad but true. I guess there’s some element of beauty in humility, but that was never on the summer bucket list.

I’m not even sure what area of my current world you’ve been most adept at clouding the past few months. I guess we could start with the sleep department. You seem to be getting sadistic enjoyment out of robbing me of an adequate night’s sleep. You must know this is the best way to throw everything else off and make it impossible for me to function at full capacity.

I could go on for quite some time about the mountainous challenge of training a new puppy and the many ways it has stretched my once comfortable and clean … oh, how I miss the clean … lifestyle. The anxious moments have been many, but your best work was probably the day I struggled to pry a slimy slug off the mouth of my rain-soaked pup. A close second was the moment I realized why there is even a market for puppy bun wipes. Just really?

Of course all this puppy messiness is a mere side note to the dreaded effects of the “no-schedule syndrome” summer always has on my daughter. I was confident day one that this summer would be different. My daughter is a year older, more mature in many ways, able to play for a whole twenty to thirty minutes on her own: heavenly. The passage of one more year however does nothing to change the reality of her extra chromosome and the resulting need to live by a structured, consistent schedule: the exact opposite of what summer offers.

I asked her special educator to put together some schoolwork we could do at home and envisioned wonderful “mommy and me” time at her cute little white desk in her playroom. Over halfway through summer and I’m not even sure where that packet is. Most days, I’m so frantic searching for that ever-evasive thing called patience, I just don’t have the time to look for all that important stuff.

My two teen guys are growing at mach speed, working and out of the house more than they are in. I looked forward to the start of summer like a little kid looks forward to Christmas, thinking their lives would quiet down enough to absorb more time with them. That hasn’t happened, at least not to the extent I was dreaming of. The end of summer means the beginning of senior year for my oldest, which makes my heart sink every time I think of it.

And then there’s the emotional messiness that leaves my mama’s heart feeling entirely inadequate and frustrated that I’m operating below capacity in all categories. All in all, Messy, you’ve done a banner job at creating a stressful summer. However, before you get all celebratory on me, you should know you haven’t won. I’ve made a decision and I’m sticking to it. I’m choosing to show up — to be present in the messy. And the best part is, I’m not alone. I’ve got my trusty sidekick Faith along for the fight. I’ve enlisted my partner in crime to remind me in the tough moments that there is in fact a time and a season for everything. I’m staying focused on the gifts within this season, trusting I’m exactly where God wants me to be. Looking at you through this lens changes everything and shifts control from you to me. My perspective changes from frustration to gratitude and I am immersed in the truth that there is a much greater goal I’m living toward than any summer bucket list item I could strive for.

Instead of seeing the defiance in my daughter’s eyes when I ask her to do something — anything — everything — I see the vulnerability and innocent attempt (a.k.a. desperate need) to control an environment that has no structure and is therefore overwhelming for her. When I want to raise my voice and make my demands heard, God is there to bless me with the patience I need to remember the real cause of her behavior, take a deep breath, and quietly talk her through her frustrations.

I’d be lying if I tried to claim you haven’t gotten the best of me at all. I certainly have my moments where I lose my patience, but have learned that doing so makes everything worse. So I’m perfecting the art of leaning on the Lord to do for me what I humanly can’t do on my own. His loyalty is unfailing and He’s there to pull me out of the muck every time.

Rather than stew over the annoyances of puppy ownership, I’m doing my best to stay focused on the end goal; a loyal and non-judgmental companion for our daughter. I see the incredible benefit of my little lady finally having something to care for and teach rather than always being the one who needs the attention and support. And, quite unexpectedly, the furball is slowly winning me over with his undeniable cuteness and the near-hysterical excitement he shows every time I walk in the room.

When I have a few moments with my boys, I’m showing up and recognizing it for the gift that is — doing my best to be fully present in it and not focus on how fleeting it may be. When I’m walking the grounds of a campus on a college tour and picturing how my son might fit there, I’m choosing to see the miracle in how he has grown, all he has accomplished, the pure gift of his health and strength and the promise of a bright future before him (even when that means he has to be away from me — ugh — that part I just hate).

When I’m tired and there’s a lot left on the to-do list, I’m trying to remember how fortunate I am to be healthy and able: able to care for a husband and three children that are each miracles in their own right. It is such a refreshing perspective, not necessarily easy to maintain with clarity, but worth the effort every time. Without faith along for the journey, all the beauty seems to get lost in the muck. Inviting God in is like turning the windshield wipers on during a storm and confidently moving forward. The winds are still swirling and the rain is still coming down, but there is understanding and renewed strength in the midst of it.

With God, all things are possible. (Matthew 19:26)

So you see, Messy, with my faithful companion, anything is possible and that leaves you no match for me. Bring your best game. I’ve got this.

Love, Mama J.


Copyright 2019 Nicole Johnson

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About Author

Nicole and her husband of twenty years have been blessed with three children. Introduced to the world of early intervention with the adoption of their daughter who has Down Syndrome, Nicole now works part time raising funds and marketing the mission of the local non-profit that provides early therapies for children diagnosed with developmental delays. She also serves with her husband on the board for the New England chapter of Bethany Christian Services, the national adoption agency that brought their daughter home eight years ago now. Nicole's family works to advocate for life, adoption and embracing children with special needs. Read more of Nicole’s story and her understanding of faith by visiting her blog, Joy in the Journey, at www.nicolejenniferjohnson.com.

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