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It is Finished. It is Enough.
I’ve been known to joke that I most likely won’t even be able to SEE my mom in heaven because she’ll be so much closer to Jesus than I will be. Far away, at the head of the miles-long banquet table will be Jesus, the disciples, and then my mom, closely followed by all the labor and delivery nurses, because those women too are nothing if not saints.
I mean, what else should the afterlife hold for the woman who, more than anyone else, has shown me what quiet faith looks like? I could tell you the highlights: How once, when I was thirteen and far too old to be cuddled, she crawled into bed with me to keep me warm one night when I was shivering with the flu. She started throwing up the next morning. Or how she consoled me when my first boyfriend broke up with me, even though she’d never been his biggest fan. There were no I told you sos.
These Everest-sized moments of love punctuated my childhood but are perhaps outweighed by the grandeur of the Everyday: how I’d find her sitting in quiet lamplight of early morning with her Bible open on her lap each day, how the basketball uniforms always got washed in time, how she probably spent half her life in the car, giving her children rides all over the county.
Of course, I couldn’t see it then. What
five…. thirteen….twenty-year-old can? But now, at thirty-eight and a mom of three, I can see clearly just how much it all must have been for her. And these memories now serve as my Jiminy Cricket, tapping me on the shoulder after I snap at my own children or sigh heavily while cleaning pee off the floor or skip church again because the laundry is threatening to take over the house. Every day, there are moments when I know that I’m not quite getting it right.
I know I don’t measure up.
It’s not like I’m lazy. I mean, I make my own calendar each year from the clean slate of a graph-lined notebook, carefully measuring out the pages within for the months, weeks, and days, and to-do lists to come. I stay on top of things and stay up late to check each task off my lists. After all, for four years straight in elementary school, my teachers, in succession, handed me a certificate with the word DILIGENT printed on it at the end of the year character-award ceremony.
Even then, I had this Energizer Bunny drive to do more and to do it faster. By nine years old, I was writing New Year’s Resolutions each year in my Lisa Frank binder: Make Bed RIGHT AWAY in the morning. Help with the dishes BEFORE being asked.
I lived this gold-star life of black-and-white boundaries, but internally, I was a like a modern-day pharisee, staggering under the weight of self-imposed expectations; and I knew it too, because it took so little to knock me down completely. Long after the moments had passed, I would brood over being scolded for a smart-aleck response or how I had messed up table two’s order at my first job.
I would love to tell you how those days are behind me, how through years of counseling and by adding kale to every meal, I’ve figured it out. But the reality is, I’ve only replaced my Lisa Frank binders with Moleskine notebooks.
Recently, we were eating breakfast when my daughter asked why I don’t play with her anymore. I took a slow sip of coffee to try to blink back the tears that came to my eyes. I exhaled my defenses silently — how much time homeschooling takes up, how taking her to the zoo is like playing — and instead simply asked her questions and listened to her responses.
That night, like most nights, it was my own voice berating me for the day’s failures – the way I yelled when my son tracked dirt into the kitchen, how I was too busy cooking dinner to greet my husband with a hug, for my role in causing my daughter’s sense of disconnect.
I resolve to do better, to be better.
But I always fall short.
One day this past year, I was given an assignment by my therapist to write down every single thing I did in one day. And from the moment my eyes fluttered open, I listed things like
Poured kids cheerios
Put milk away
Scheduled doctor appointment
Wiped a booty
Researched swimming lessons schedules
Mediated fight between oldest two kids
Played Candy Land with kids
Watched The Office while folding laundry
I recorded every individual moment. My list spanned the front and back of a piece of paper. It was exhaustive. It was exhausting. Still, that night, as I went to bed, I thought about how I hadn’t scrubbed that one scrap of carrot peel off my kitchen floor. It had been there for at least three days.
It’s the carrot peels and the hair on the bathroom sink and the fear that my children will be convicts some day because I am too busy folding laundry to teach them about kindness. It’s the vision of my mom in the mornings, drinking coffee and praying, while my own Bible is left on the shelf each morning in the scurry to feed everyone and find all the boots and mittens. It’s the running shoes in the back of my closet, dusty with disuse. It’s the tulip bulbs that I never planted, the frozen pizza I fed my family while the vegetables got moldy in the refrigerator.
At night, as I try to fall asleep, all of these things clamor for my attention, their voices merging into an angry mob, chanting: YOU ARE NOT ENOUGH!
I think of Jesus, on the cross, kind to the last, forgiving the guy on His right, even as He labored to catch His own breath. I think about His last words, I imagine, uttered quietly, to his Father, to Himself, to all of us:
It is finished.
I hold that idea like an unfamiliar texture in my hand, turning it over and over. It is finished. It is finished. It feels right, but it also feels foreign.
I fight the urge to imagine my own death, but I often picture myself in a casket, makeup poorly done, as my children half-seriously suggest that my tombstone should read, “Here lies our mother. She loved making lists.” There will be jokes at the wake about how I won’t actually be able to rest in peace. Will the carrot peels haunt me in the afterlife? And what about today? Is there peace, is there rest, to be had for the inadequate?
I have to believe that He declared it,
for me, for here, for now:
It is finished.
It is enough.
With His last breath, He presented this breathtaking offer to an easier yoke, a lighter burden, a chance to not just rest in peace, but to actually live in peace, everyday.
Three years ago, I got sick. Really sick. A bacteria, C. Diff., entirely overran my intestines. For days, I was in intense abdominal pain and had to basically set up camp in the bathroom. It was when I started making labor noises on the toilet that my husband gently suggested it was time to go to the doctor. I limped into the ER for some morphine, and they immediately started the antibiotics once they realized what was going on, all of them urgently gowning up like I had The Plague. For the next two weeks, I couldn’t eat anything and barely got out of bed.
In that time, I literally did nothing. I was often too tired to even watch Netflix. My husband and mom took over caring for my house and children; our church and neighbors brought us meal after meal. I felt like a baby again as my mom brought me cups of water and eventually some applesauce, helping me sit up to eat. It was nearly an entire month before I even opened my calendar to see what day it was, much less to make any kind of to-do list. I would just lie on my bed, trying to be as still as possible because movement meant pain, and it was in that stillness that I thought about “the birds of the air.”
Jesus tells us about them; he encourages us to consider these birds, who neither plant fields nor harvest crops nor stockpile food up in barns. They actually do very little, yet Jesus tells us that God sees them and cares for their needs. I pictured myself there in my bed, a bird with broken wings, and for weeks, I neither cooked nor made grocery lists nor did laundry nor scrubbed even one carrot peel off my floor. And it turned out to be true. Through others, God saw me and met my needs. I had enough.
Months after walking through the Valley of the Shadow of C-Diff, I was back at it, handing out snacks and doing the dishes and sweeping the floors. And years later, there are still moments when it all feels like too much, when my failures course through my brain, over and over, like a scrolling marquee, when each rapid heartbeat screams at me to HUSTLE! But in those moments, I am learning to look outside myself, to seek out The God of The Birds of the Air.
I am reminded of this God in the everyday as I care for my own children. Recently, my toddler, from the bottom of his heart, has bought into the belief that he can buckle his own car seat. He yells at all of us: I DO IT MYSELF! On my better days, I give him a couple of minutes to try. He screeches in frustration as he narrowly misses pinching his fingers, trying time and time again to line up the buckle with its intended slot. But his dexterity is literally inadequate for completing the task.
I do not believe that God is sighing and impatiently tapping His foot when I fail. I do not believe that He is ripping the car seat buckles out of my hands after so many failed attempts. Instead, I see His hands gently over mine, guiding the buckles in, smiling, “See? That’s how! You just needed my help.” I remember that God sees me. He knows what I need and what I need to do. He is meeting my needs; He is eagerly offering help beyond measure, and I am learning that that is enough.
Elizabeth lives in Minneapolis with her husband and three kids. Besides writing, she owns a photography business and loves making lists.