We’ve all heard that expression “comparison is
the thief of joy.” It’s generally used in reference to shiny, glowing social
media pages, as a reminder not to compare our lives to the curated glamour we
see online. Let me tell you what else comparison
is the thief of:
Sanity. Peace. Rest. Confidence.
I know this, because I’m sitting here at 1 am,
taking a break from what I affectionately call “second shift”– the hours after
my kids go to bed when I sit down at my computer again to systematically work
through anything on my to-do list for that day that isn’t crossed off.
I am maniacal with my to-do lists. I go all
cold and clammy without them. Sure, they keep me organized and on track, but
they also rule my life sometimes.
How did I get to this point of letting a slip of paper, designed to make life easier, make me miserable instead? My obsession with my mountainous, masochistic to-do lists was born of comparison.
Let me explain.
I have a pretty sweet job in marketing for a
software startup that is growing by leaps and bounds and doing some really cool
stuff in our industry. I love it. It’s challenging and creative and forces me
to jostle the dust off of corners of my brain that I haven’t touched in a
while. And please pardon me a brief flash of ego, but I believe I’m very good
at it most days.
Sounds great, right?
Now let me tell you what else I have:
An equally busy husband who is navigating his own job stuff.
A freelance writing career on the side that is
producing more work than I can handle most days.
Two bio kids and three stepkids.
An acre lot with a home that never fails to
produce a “This Old House” sort of project.
A cherished role as the pianist in our worship band at church.
A commitment and desire to read my Bible and pray and do the same with my children.
Two dogs, two cats and nine chickens who
follow me around like a little gang, alternately making demands and rewarding
me with undying love.
A chronic GI illness that I’ll have for the
rest of my life.
And then add to these “big list items” all of
the things that float in around the cracks and fill in any spare moments like lava—volunteering,
family time, running, cleaning, cooking…
Nearly every one of these things is a huge,
audacious gift. (minus the GI thing, obviously. That guy is a jerk.) But some
days, I feel like I’m failing at every single line item. Why? Because I compare myself to everyone
Let’s start with the fact my “everyday life list”
is so long. Could I whittle some stuff down? Sure, on paper. But in reality, my
life would not be my life if every one of these things was not a part of it.
I love my husband and my children beyond words.
My high-maintenance, mid-century home is cozy and warm and original–nothing cookie cutter about it.
Music and my relationship with God are part of my very being. Non-negotiable.
Our pets are a three-ring circus on a good
day, but let me tell you– until you’ve been heralded like a returning war hero
by a flock of chickens when you return from a run around the neighborhood–
well, you just haven’t lived.
The GI stuff…well…that’s my Biblical
“thorn in the side.” Whatever. I’ll survive.
And writing. Writing and I have the classic
love-hate relationship. I believe that the ability to write well is a gift. I
cherish it. But as of late, I’ve written myself into an odd corner with my
repeat clients. No joke, I have somehow earned the reputation of being the
foremost authority when it comes to whitepapers and blogs about the following:
Personal injury lawsuits.
The supply chain industry.
Doesn’t get any sexier than that for a writer,
folks. So why not quit? Here’s the thing: I am obsessed with having a fallback
plan in case something crazy happens with my day job. I need to know that if I
wake up tomorrow and my company closes its doors, that I can still feed,
clothe, and house my family. Writing is that assurance and insurance.
Yes, I believe wholeheartedly in the truth
that “My God shall supply all my needs.” He does. He has. He always will.
However, I teeter on an incredibly fine line between that truth and “God helps
those who help themselves.” (Yes, theologians– I know that’s not in the Bible.
God gave me the ability to write about propane
safety and get paid well for it. So, write I do. Onward and upward. Next time
you fire up the grill and don’t go up in a mushroom cloud, you might just have
me to thank.
So here’s the comparison part.
No one else on my marketing team seems as…stark, raving mad as I feel on any given day. Oh, I never let on to them that I’m one conference call away from losing my ever-loving fluff. But some days, I am so very close that the dogs even steer clear of me– having seen the glint of momsanity in my eye (I work from home full time– you may either insert pity or jealousy here. Either works).
I honestly don’t understand how everyone else
seems so calm about their to-do lists
and I am just one flu bug away from flying off the rails (Which totally
happened this week. Another story for another day.).
But do you know what I realized tonight? Just
NOW? I am constantly comparing myself to
people who aren’t living MY life.
(Don’t go. I promise there is an actual epiphany coming. You’ll like it.)
Here’s what hit me like a ton of bricks. No
one else on my marketing team is raising young kids. Or even old kids. Or any
kids in most cases. No one. And let me assure you that not a blessed soul on my
team has a needy 1950’s house, nine chickens, or is running a burgeoning side
hustle as a propane expert.
When my colleagues book a business trip, they saunter into the home office refreshed, like they just emerged from a spa vacation. I, on the other hand, have split the space-time continuum, solved at least nine of the great mysteries of the Earth, and broken 17 Guinness World Records just to keep the plates spinning while I’m gone.
(And the litter box still won’t be clean when I get back.)
By the end of my trip, I fall exhausted into
my window seat, too tired to work on the flight home, but still dreaming about
work as if I had. And then I get home and I jump right back into my life and my
to-do lists and I wonder and obsess about why my co-workers seem so much more
in control of everything.
Please don’t misunderstand me– I know they
all have busy, full, rich lives. They are wonderful people. Their brand of
chaos just looks different than mine and they manage it privately, just like I
When I compare my inward definition of chaos
to their outward appearance of calm, it amplifies everything that seems to be
swallowing me whole. I let comparison whisper lies that weave into my brain
like the tendrils of a weed.
“I should be able to manage ‘it all’ without
feeling like ‘it’ is managing me instead.”
“I’m not doing enough for my family…my
“I’m not good enough at any of it and someone
is going to find out and call me a fraud.”
Comparison is the bully behind it all. It
doesn’t just steal my joy. It steals my light and my lightness. It makes me
heavy and sluggish with dread and fear.
You don’t have to have a list that looks exactly
like mine to fall prey to comparison’s trickery.
Maybe you are taking care of aging parents.
Maybe you have a family member with special
Maybe you’re struggling with an invisible
Maybe you’re a stay at home mom trying to keep
a busy household afloat.
Maybe you’re struggling to make ends meet while
the bills keep rolling in.
Our lists are different, but our human tendency to compare ourselves to others and imperiously declare to our own minds that we are not enough is exactly the same.
Enough is enough. I am enough. You are enough.
Comparison has stolen far too much from us
My seven year-old daughter wears her heart on her sleeve. Unfortunately, wearing your heart in such a vulnerable place leaves it open for getting damaged, broken, or lost. In most pockets of my life, I keep my heart safely tucked away, where no one can find it and hurt it. Not my girl. She puts it right out there, showing it to and sharing it with anyone who needs it.
She’s the girl who cries when cartoon animals are mistreated.
She cries at the thought of squirrels being cold in the winter.
She cries at funerals for people she doesn’t know.
She cries when she hears an ambulance, for fear that a stranger is terribly hurt.
She cries when she thinks of Jesus’ love for her.
But, with all of those tears, and all of those feelings, she is not deterred.
This past weekend, we celebrated my youngest stepson’s birthday. My daughter is crazy about birthdays. She plans and obsesses over them, wanting each detail to be perfect for the birthday boy or girl.
She labored over which decorations to buy, and which gift he wanted most. She spent her money on two very thoughtful gifts and wrapped them with love and the great delight of one who loves to give more than receive.
She meticulously hung streamers and filled balloons, all the while, chiding him like a mother hen to “not come out until it’s ready.” She asked me a dozen times “do you think he’ll like it, Mommy?” with her eyes shining at the thought of making his day special.
When it was perfect, and she was ready to reveal her hard work, she led him by the hand, begging him to keep his eyes closed tightly until she told him to open them. When he did, she exclaimed “Happy birthday!”
He looked up, surveyed her work and said: “Can we go play now?” Now, you have to understand—he is seven, and he is a little boy. He wasn’t trying to be rude or hurt her feelings. He was just in the middle of something and was annoyed at being pulled away from it. Not an unnatural response—and not a response I haven’t had myself, more than once.
I gasped a little and looked at my daughter, expecting the tears to come. Instead, she hopped from foot to foot, grinning widely and said “I knew you would love it! We wanted it to be perfect!” The gift of her heart and her love for her brother didn’t leave any room for hurt feelings, or bitterness or feeling unappreciated.
When he unwrapped his gifts later, she could hardly wait for him to unwrap hers. He thanked her, and it was as if he had handed her the keys to a brand new car. Here I am, sitting there wondering why he isn’t more aware of how much thought she put into his birthday, feeling offended on her behalf, and there she is—fearlessly putting her heart out there.
As a parent, I worry about what I am teaching my kids. Am I teaching them to grow in their faith? To learn the value of hard work? To be kind? In my worrying, I completely miss what they teach me. I’m envious of my daughter’s heart. While I work so hard to protect it for her, she just opens it more and more. It scares me to know how deeply she could be hurt with such a tender heart. How quickly I forget that Jesus is watching over her and blessing her sweet love for others. When her heart does get broken, He gently picks it up, as only He can, and makes it new again.
I want a heart like that. Covered in the scars of loving people. No room for feeling unappreciated or rejected or misunderstood. Consumed by love for others, no matter how much it hurts.
I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. Ezekiel 36:26
I was in New York City this week to meet with customers. I love NYC—especially this time of year. The storefronts on 5th Ave are brimming with Christmas cheer, and there’s a crispness in the air that signals the subtle change from fall to winter.
As much as I love the city, I always empty my purse of all but the necessities, just in case. Hey—I don’t want to replace my prescriptions, my Costco card, and every single discount card I own in the event of a mugging. Nope! Ain’t nobody got time for that. I carry my ID, my corporate card and the earbuds that I always have in place (but with nothing playing through them so that the solicitors leave me alone. Oh, yeah. Midwesterner street smarts, you guys. I got ‘em.). Go ahead and steal my purse full of zero things, muggers. Joke’s on you.
This visit came on the heels of the terrorist attacks on Paris. I talked to my children about what had happened. They were fearful that terrorists could come to our city. I agreed that it’s possible. Wide-eyed, they asked what we can do about it. I told them that all we can do is just live our lives and refuse to let fear take hold. We know who holds our future, and He wants nothing but the best for us. Even it is something we can’t possibly understand in this lifetime, we don’t need to understand it. We aren’t meant to.
While I was in New York, I had meetings in Times Square. I met a friend at a restaurant packed with people. I walked around Manhattan enjoying the sights and sounds and peculiarities only found in New York. Even in the midst of uncertainty, life goes on if you allow it.
One of my customers is in an office across the street from where the World Trade Center once stood. When I visit them, I sit there, looking out the window and wondering how they ever got the courage to come back to work–to that building, across from two charred, empty holes in the ground. I am not sure I could have been so brave so soon.
I had one moment of panic when I walked from my hotel to grab a slice of pizza in Hell’s Kitchen. I was walking through one of those dimly lit, graffiti-addled construction labyrinths when I came around the corner, and someone grabbed my ankle. I screamed, but no one came running. I was all alone in the dark—I thought. I looked down, and a homeless gentleman (clearly as panicked as I was) stared up at me in surprise. I woke him up with my loud footsteps, and he was afraid I would step on him in the dark. We didn’t exchange a word. He let go of me, and I kept walking. He has no idea how close he came to getting kicked in the face. (B and I are avid Walking Dead fans, and I was channeling Rick Grimes for just a split second. You go for the brain stem when someone grabs you. It’s just what you do.)
I took the long way back to my hotel, and my heart pounded for what felt like hours.
When terror is thousands of miles away, it’s easy to tell your kids that even in the worst case, if tragedy finds its way to our doorstep, we will awake in the presence of God. It’s another thing if it actually finds your family. Would I be able to hand my children over to God without resenting Him for taking them? I thought a lot this week about what I tell my kids about our confidence in the future and the contradiction that is often in my heart.
My last night in New York, I decided not to take the long way around the construction walkway. I walked right through it, with the intention of finding that man, not stepping on him, and apologizing for scaring him half to death. More for me than for him, honestly. He wasn’t there, but it didn’t seem quite so terrifying when I walked into the darkness with intention instead of trepidation.
I want to be smart in this life, but I want to be brave. I want to trust Jesus so completely that no matter what comes, I walk through it with intention, compassion and confidence in His plan for my life.
(I’ll still empty my purse when I need to, though. That limited-edition MAC lipstick isn’t going to replace itself.)
I’ve played the piano since I was 4. It started as a way to make my older brother look bad. He also played, and hated practicing. I, too, hated practicing, but you’d never know in those early days. I’d grit my teeth and exclaim “Mommy, can I play some more? I loooooove to practice!” while my brother would roll his eyes and pantomime threats in my direction.
As I got older, I realized that I genuinely did love to play the piano, and I stuck with it. It was my talent during my years of participation in the Miss America program, I’ve been the pianist for both churches I’ve attended in my adult life, and it’s still the most liberating, cathartic outlet for the blues that I have ever found.
I’m often asked to accompany singers and other musicians for various things. I’ll labor over the music, keenly aware that one wrong note could throw off the whole thing. I want to do a good job for the person who asked me to accompany them, so I worry, and I fret and I practice my fingers to the bone. Even with 30 years of experience as a pianist, and with the love I have of music in general, I still worry that my accompaniment won’t be good enough, and I’ll somehow disappoint the person who is depending on me to perform to the best of my ability.
As is the case with most accompanists, I make it through the performance fine, pleased with the way it turned out, and proud to have been part of it. This moment is when I have to remember consciously that despite my hours of practice and worry, and despite the investment I may have in the music—right down to my soul, that I am just a player in the background. My job is to accompany the person who needs me, step back, and applaud along with the audience when it’s over.
I can choose to feel like chopped liver, or I can choose to cheer for the people who need me.
As a stepmom (and as a parent in general), it’s so tempting to feel slighted when you’re working so hard for the good of your family, and it seems to go unrecognized and unappreciated. When you plan and fund an activity you know will create lifelong memories for someone, and they don’t even want to you to be there to enjoy it with them, it hurts. When you plan meals you know someone will like, and you are met only with sharp, nitpicky criticism, it hurts.
At those moments, I can either choose to be resentful or relentless. As a musician, I will never stop striving to be the best accompanist I can be for the person who needs me. As a mom and stepmom, I will count it a privilege to have people who truly depend on me—even when I might want to shake them a little bit. I don’t need the applause. I need my kids to have the confidence that they are loved, cared for and worth working hard for. At the end of it, when they are grown and making their own way through life, I’ll be standing in the background, applauding for them more loudly than anyone.
Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. I Corinthians 13:4-7
Sometimes the accompaniment is the most important part. You are doing good work, parents.
4th grade is a whole new world for us. Not that Kindergarten through 3rd grade was a cakewalk for W or anything. The teachers at his school don’t mess around. They run a tight ship, and they are excellent at what they do. I can’t imagine a better learning environment for my kids. We’ve just noticed that 4th grade suddenly feels very…grown up. He’s spelling words like “omniscient” and “camouflage” and doing research projects online. It feels like we’ve turned an academic corner to the uphill climb from here to graduation. Bittersweet for this mama. 12th grade will be here all too soon.
Currently, we’re working on his “Bug Collection” project. Can I just take a moment to say how much I hate bugs? Hate. Them. He is tasked with collecting at least ten different insects or spiders or centipedes, etc. He is supposed to study what they are doing in their natural environment, write down where and when he found them, draw a picture of them and then brutally murder them. Okay, okay. The instructions don’t include the word “murder” but…let’s just say they are supposed to take a trip to the freezer, after which they’ll never be the same. After they are…no more, he is supposed to put them in a plastic tackle box (formerly one of my earring organizers–not anymore. I intend to burn it and its contents on Friday at 4 pm sharp).
So, here’s the problem. My tenderhearted boy does not kill things. He is a vegetarian. A staunch defender of all creatures, no matter how disgusting. For this reason, we are only collecting dead bugs for this project. Less murdery, but more challenging to find bug corpses in good enough condition that they’ll work for the project. So far his diary looks like this:
Name: Common Wasp
Where did you find it? In an old birdhouse. My mom killed it with Raid. I didn’t kill it. She did.
What was it doing? Nothing. It was just curled up all sad and alone under its nest full of dead offspring where my mom ambushed it and killed it. She killed them all.
You guys, the struggle is real with this boy. He is one bucket of red paint away from an anti-fur rally. We smuggle meat into our house like drug mules. I’ll distract him with a plate of soy nuggets while the rest of us crouch in the corner, stuffing steak in our mouths, shooing the cats and dogs away while we guiltily savor each cholesterol-laden morsel.
Why don’t I drop the hammer, and force-feed him some meat, you ask? Because he means it. It’s not a show. It’s not an act, or a means for attention. He is truly convicted that eating or killing animals is not something he wants any part of. He has stuck to his guns for nearly three years, despite our cajoling and ploys of tempting him with hot dogs (used to be one of his favorites). He knows that God put animals on the earth for our use, but he chooses to go the veggie route, and that’s okay. He’s extremely healthy, his eyesight is perfect and he’s an honor student.
Go on with your bad vegetarian self, W.
I am confident that his compassionate heart for all of God’s creatures doesn’t go unnoticed by their Creator.
Back to the bug collection. While he was at his grandparents’ lake house this weekend, he and his dad found an obscenely large, incredibly crunchy, disgustingly horrifying grasshopper. It was alive. He couldn’t bear to kill it for the sake of science.
Everyone, meet our new pet grasshopper “Lonely.”
I figured it would survive a day or two at the most in captivity. Oh, no. It is thriving under W’s diligent and loving care. Thriving. I swear it’s getting bigger. I threaten it. I show it the tackle box and assure it that it’s “only a matter of time before it joins the others.”
It won’t die.
I emailed W’s teacher today to ask if we might have a stay of execution for our stupid grasshopper so that he can use it as part of his collection but spare its life. If I were her, I would not want to set a precedent of my students (no matter how convicted) bringing live bugs into my classroom. Nope. In her benevolence, however, she has graciously chosen to humor our plight. Lonely is going to 4th grade.
As much as I don’t want a grasshopper in my home, and as much as I would like to eat meat freely in the light of day with the rest of the carnivorous world, I can’t help but admire my son. His compassion is real. It’s honest. As he grows, and that compassion takes root in things besides the sparing of grasshoppers and the avoidance of chicken nuggets, I imagine the difference he could make in the world.
Empathy is in short supply these days. You go ahead and save the planet one bug at a time, my boy. I could learn some things from you.
Now, if you’ll excuse me—it’s time to feed the grasshopper.