I had big plans for this week, and good reasons for planning the week carefully.
We had a birthday to celebrate on Tuesday, extra commitments every day of the week, a mandatory lacrosse team meeting for spring play (can someone please explain why THAT had to happen in November?), Parent/Teacher conferences at the Junior High, a Christmas party, a baby shower to host on Saturday, etc. I planned to clean and decorate the house for Christmas this week, and that schedule was crucial to all the other things that need to be accomplished in December.
And then my three year old got sick… again. And then another daughter got sick. And then, on my son’s 11th birthday I got sick too, so sick that I was not one tiny bit helpful in any way. I barely managed until my husband got home from work, getting in the car to drive when I had to, then coming home to go to bed until I had to drive again, unable to care about feeding my family, getting homework done, or anything else. I pleadingly sought the help of my teenagers until their Dad got home.
And so the least exciting birthday in the history of our family came and went with the cake unfrosted and untouched in the pan and a fast food dinner for those well enough to eat. By Wednesday we had six of us sick. I watched my poor husband trying to work and play nurse while he also managed to move the laundry through their cycles over and over again. I sat on the couch watching what seemed like every old movie we own while holding one or another of the little ones who felt as lousy as I did.
Sometime in the night my stomach decided to feel normal again and a massive headache hit instead. This on the day when I had to be well again. On the day when I had to pile my little ones in the car and drive far from home in 60 mph winds to pick up a bulk food order that is late coming in, to be divided and delivered to a couple dozen people who wanted it two weeks ago. On a day when I really needed to be able to think, organize, and have my eyes properly focus.
Isn’t it funny how something so small as a stomach bug can feel so huge when you’re staring it in the face, then looking around at the carnage that spreads across your house as everyone feels too crummy to do their part and no one feels well enough to enforce any of the rules? Saltine crackers get ground into the floor by toddlers, books and blankets and movies end up strewn all over the place, and we won’t even talk abut what happens to the kitchen. As our family has grown both in size and age I’ve also found that the stress builds, too. The stress of knowing how many people it has yet to hit, being torn between hoping a few escape it entirely and hoping everyone will just hurry up and get it over with so you don’t have it hanging over your head – or your plans – anymore. The stress of knowing that six students will be behind in homework, knowing that there are more commitments to be broken than there were back when they were all toddlers and all you had to cancel was a playdate. And, this week, the stress of mentally gauging the distance between today and the day of the baby shower you’re hosting, weighing how much time it will take to whip things into shape and sterilize the main floor before the event. Hoping the rest of the family will be well enough to just go do something for a couple of hours instead of having to corral them all upstairs, half healthy and half not, while you entertain mostly strangers. And why, may I ask, is the stress doubled simply because today the calender says “December”? And why does it bother me so much that the house likely won’t be decorated for Christmas before Saturday like I’d planned? The baby gift I’d planned on making for the shower will certainly not be completed and I need to find time to go buy something instead. Grrr.
I’ve been feeling these feelings all day. Fighting back tears of frustration and exhaustion; the only thing keeping a good cry at bay is a determination to NOT allow the headache to get worse. Could it? I suppose my head could explode. And yet I’m also fully aware that we’re incredibly blessed and that none of my worries really matter. Everything will work out just fine, even though I’m worried about it. How fortunate we are that this is the most serious health issue we’re dealing with this week, that none of my concerns are matters of life or death. How blessed we are that we have a roof over our heads, a furnace that works, warm blankets to wrap up in, each other to hold.
I think back over the day, how tense I felt while driving in high winds to a place I was completely unfamiliar with. I remember my silent prayer and how I was able to drive safely and directly to my destination. I was so worried the children would be grouchy, or need to use the bathroom, or get sick… but they didn’t. They were so good. And when the car was packed full of cases of food I prayed again, knowing I needed to be stronger than I felt, knowing my emotions were irrational and largely a result of exhaustion, but also knowing I had to get home safely. I know the Lord has much bigger problems to deal with, much more important prayers to answer, but although the headache got worse it was as if He made me a little windless tunnel to drive through on the way home.
I remember laying in bed last night so worried that I would forget something essential because I’ve been sick, but somehow the details came to mind in time to take care of them.
For the first time in my life, I missed a Parent/Teacher Conference. I couldn’t get my headache under control in time to go and I knew it would be pointless to try. Being in that overcrowded Junior High gives me a headache on a good day! I feel so overstimulated every time I go inside and leave marveling that so many people can be talking at the same time and that none of those kids seem to notice or be even slightly bothered by the volume. I’m amazed at how much noise they can handle and it makes me feel old. Was I like that once, too?
And then, in perhaps the least intelligent twist to the day, I decided to go to a sewing class I’d signed up for – impulsively – before I knew about the Parent/Teacher Conferences. I guess it was the thought of money down the drain and nothing learned that got me to go. That, and knowing there would be no more classes offered on this subject until after Christmas while I stared at the stack of supplies and recalled that this project was on my Christmas list. Maybe it was to escape the continued persuasive efforts of a teenaged son who cannot see how a sick family should slow down his social life even a little – and especially on a Thursday. Whatever it was, I went. To my amazement my head cleared enough to understand what was being taught and even finish my project. (Simple, but a big deal to me. I’ll share soon.)
Then the texting started. First to notify me that another child just got sick. (Seven down, three to go?) And then a curve ball from my husband: the baby’s body is covered with a rash, looks like it might be chicken pox. Suddenly I feel ready to throw up again. But this is different; this is 100% STRESS.
I race home. I snatch that little one into my arms and inspect her. We circle a few of the spots to see what changes in the night. No fever. In fact, she doesn’t seem the least bit bothered by the blotches covering her body. She already has two skin problems; we’ll see what happens. We read the scriptures as a family. We pray for help through our minor problems that have ruined our week. We thank God for our blessings. We tuck children in bed. I listen to my baby say her prayer, and after she finished she starts praying again. I hear my little angel say, as she’s covered with ugly red splotches, “I’m so sorry my pretty Mommy was so sick.” The tears prick again. I hug and kiss her and tell her she’s too good to be true. I lay by my five year old son for a little while, who throws his arms around my neck and tells me how much he loves me. Oh, how can life be so good and so hard all at the same time?
I believe God knows how to stretch us past our limits so he can plant seeds in the holes that appear in our hearts. Sometimes He does it through really big things, things that break our hearts wide open. And sometimes He does it through a thousand little things, little things that wear us down, humble us. For me, this is a week of a thousand things.
Instead of doing something rational, like maybe cleaning up the dinner dishes, I went to the basement and hauled up the so-artificial-it’s-almost-embarrassing Christmas tree I bought last year as a consolation prize for us when we knew we’d be out of town for the holiday. We’ll see what becomes of our plan to go cut a tree on Saturday. I decided this tree could be my little creative experiment in the living room. Right now it stands a few feet away from me without a single ornament, the lone evidence of a holiday approaching, casting it’s white glow across the room. It was the glow I was craving. Do white lights do that to you? Do they ever make you feel like everything is better than it felt before you turned off the other lights and curled up near the tree?
It’s long past my bedtime and I know I’ll pay dearly for it in the morning. But sometime, weeks or months or years from now, I’ll be so glad I typed instead of sleeping. I’ll laugh at all the things I’d forgotten about a week that seemed unforgettable at the time. And perhaps, if I’m good, I’ll see that I’ve grown or that some of those seeds planted in the gaping holes of my week have bloomed. But if, instead, when I read this again, I’m experiencing another thousand things, I’ll be grateful for this reminder: His grace is sufficient for the day. The day wasn’t pretty, but it was enough. It will pass and everything will be ok again, all because of HIM.
And that’s why Christmas matters. So I guess this week is an adequate start to the season, after all. It’s reminding us how much we need Him.