Sunday, January 06, 2013

The Year of Being Ordinary

I haven't forgot to blog, I have just been taking a little time off as we battled the stomach flu, recovered from the holidays, and gave my mind and heart a much needed rest.  Dominick has been working incredibly long hours, the kids have been getting in a little work time to earn some spending money, a year was winding down and a new one revealing itself.   I had hoped our vacation time off from school could include a little fun-get-out-of-the-house time, and indeed there were a couple of sledding trips, an enjoyable New Year's Eve that sadly ended in my case of the flu beginning, but not much else as one by one we dropped like flies! Haha!  Four of us down, three more to go...and maybe...just maybe they'll be free of it.

Tonight though, was special.  It was special in the way many take for granted, but for us it was a treat.  Dominick came home, and we all went out to Chili's for dinner, a real rarity to go to a non-dollar-menu restaurant! While that was nice, the real treat came in just being together, all of us crammed in a corner area tightly packed in with 7 around a table designed for 6.  The restaurant was unusually empty, and our waitress was very kind.  I don't even know why it felt so special, it just was.  Our kids are just such fun to be with, the conversation flowed from silly to serious, as we  joked about everything from how long it took 7 of us to devour a platter of chips (3.25 minutes) and laughing over Angela drawling out the word "southern" to add an extra syllable making it "southeren".  Then, in usual LaJoy fashion we somehow jumped to Apocalyptic movies and books, and analyzing the merits of fine salsa.  As the kids grow ever older, I find myself thinking back to the days of Matthew little enough to sit in the shopping cart, conversational as can be as we maneuvered our way through Walmart and thinking even then how much I simply liked my son.  Never could I have imagined having being blessed enough to have four more amazing, beautiful, kind and helpful children to add to that feeling of "Man, I am the LUCKIEST mom in the world!  I LOVE being with my kids!".  Dominick and I talked a little afterwards about the simple joy of having children who delight us in so many ways, who are so incredibly helpful.

We were all sitting there on our 3rd platter of chips (I think we slowed to a pace of about 4.5 minutes per platter by then), and we were all thanking Dominick for taking us out to dinner.  He looked at the kids and said "And thank YOU all for all your help and support.  I couldn't do it without you, you all have worked hard to help out at work, and you all have done without an awful lot as we have struggled at the end of the year."  I laughed and said "I am the only one who HASN'T done anything at work other than a little on Christmas Day.  I am the one who needs to thank all of YOU for taking me out to dinner!" Kenny then chimed in and said, "Yea Mom, but you work harder than all of us every single day...and you put up with us driving you crazy!!"  he laughed and added, "I think you have the hardest job of all." and everyone around the table laughed and agreed as they started ticking off all of my different job titles.

There have been some tough times for me personally this year, and I am struggling to find my way in a few areas.  I am feeling defeated, uncertain of where God is calling me.  Our sermon last Sunday has stuck with me, as it was about our God given callings, and how we all have one.  Sometimes we discover them early in life, sometimes later.  Often too, what we are called to do doesn't have to be earth shattering or attention getting...sometimes simply being us, giving of our gifts and talents no matter how limited they might be, is enough.  How do we know what God is truly calling us to do? Sometimes, it can take the distance of a few years to see how our callings come to fruition.  I know I was called to adopt when I was barely a teenager, it was something I knew was going to be part of my future.  In fact, I can recall having conversations with Dominick in the early weeks we were dating in which I said I wanted to have a couple children and adopt a couple.  Mind you, this was at 15 years old.  But I knew, I just knew.  I didn't know infertility would come into play, nor did I understand the family that would one day be formed solely by adoption, but I knew that somehow adoption would become part of my life...if I had the courage to follow the call.

I was surprised, when I started letting my mind wander back in time, to see that homeschooling was actually a calling as well, a calling God placed on me when I was again very, very young.  I laughed out loud this week when the realization hit me...I was the one who wanted to play school  And I assigned reports, real reports, and I had two different sets of encyclopedias at hand to use, one of which was in my own, schoolroom.  No wonder it was hard to get others to play with me, I was not really playing, I was taking it totally seriously!

I then recalled 4th grade, and a young man I tutored who was Spanish speaking who was in class with me.  Because I was quite advanced in language arts, reading at a college level by fourth grade, there was little my teachers could do with me so they allowed me to tutor this student who had newly arrived from Mexico.  I even remember his name, Benjamin Quintana.  I spent hours and hours teaching him new words, explaining things to him, sitting next to him in class to encourage him.  I also went most days to the 1st grade classroom to listen to the little ones read and work with them on phonics.  Was God preparing me for a future calling to homeschool my own English Language Learners?  I don't know, and in fact most of the memories were deeply buried until this past week when I dredged them up looking for signs of who God wants me to be right now.

One thing I find myself really struggling with at this stage in my life is that I feel I am not contributing in any significant way to the world around me.  For the first time since I was 15 years old, I am jobless and am not contributing financially to our household.  While I never earned enough to make a big difference, at least it felt like I was doing something.  I am not running a business, not moving my way up the ladder, not doing anything notable in any way, shape or form. I am home, and yes, I do know that what I am doing is important, but there are moments when I am reminded of the disappointed comments a former teacher made to me once a couple years post-graduation when she came upon me working in a drug store.  She said, "I can't believe you didn't go to college and make something of yourself.  You were so bright!  I always imagined you'd go on and do something important." if being a decent human being, paying my own way, and being kind to those in the world around me were not enough.  It bothered me on two, that I indeed was somehow not living up to my potential and was somehow letting people down because of it, and two, because I found it profoundly sad that someone would think that living a good, decent life was somehow "not enough".

But God spoke to me through that sermon a week ago, especially when our pastor said, "Are we all geniuses?  No.  Are we all called to greatness?  Yes. Not greatness as the world defines it but a greatness that stems from growing into the people we were born to be, giving the gift that we alone were born to share."

Partnered with that sermon that won't seem to let go of me right now, I stumbled upon an article written in the New York Times this past June.  It is titled "Redefining Success and Celebrating the Unremarkable".  This article was about the direction our society seems to have gone in hailing extraordinary as successful, and failing to see the success in being merely ordinary.  I loved reading this quote, "The problem is that we have such a limited view of what we consider an accomplished life that we devalue many qualities that are critically important."

We do have a limited view of what an accomplished life is...I definitely have a limited view of what an accomplished life is, at least at the moment I do.  I needed these reminders so badly!!  I need to really embrace them for awhile.  For years here on the blog I have tried to celebrate and share the ordinary moments, to find the sacred in that which is often overlooked, because I truly do believe we walk in a world FILLED with the sacred but we have to help the scales fall from our eyes to really see it.  

The ordinary can indeed be extraordinary in its ordinariness.

Tonight, that was what I felt...the reminder as I looked around the table at my so, so happy family doing an ordinary thing, and yet each of us so genuinely pleased to spend time together.  In today's world, that alone is extraordinary I think.  The laughter spilled out over our little cramped corner table, our waitress told us twice what a privilege it had been to serve us and how much she had enjoyed it.  There were no stony silences, no subtle "digs" or passive-aggressive comments.  There were seven people gathered around a table tonight who have no biological connection, very divergent ways of viewing the world and many difficult things that have been overcome or are still being worked on.  But the things we have in common are our belief that Love Wins...every time, our genuine care and concern for each other and those we love who were not at the table with us, and our desire to do good in our own little ways.  

I see that ordinariness all around me every single day.  It may be in spending a couple hours cooking up ground turkey, as Olesya did Saturday, so I could visit with friends. It might be in jumping up to say "I'll help Dad...we'll all help!" when Dominick announces his sudden labor shortage as they all did.  It might be in the way Matthew reminded me tonight, "Mom, don't forget to look the waitress in the eye and thank her. You were looking down in your plate when you said it, and you taught us to always look them in the eye so they know you really see them as a person and not a servant.  Practice your manners!" and he was dead serious when he said it.  Or in Kenny as he sat next to a four year old little guy at church today and helped get his food and coaxed him playfully into eating all his "real" food before he could eat his desert which Kenny then proceeded to play train and airplane and feed him.

It's ordinary goodness, it's not extraordinary or special.  I need to grab hold of the fact that it is enough, that maybe this is all I was called to do, and that it is very important work in itself.  Being a housewife and mom is not glamorous.  I am a jeans and tshirt person, who isn't even all that terrific at the whole housewife thing!  I am not a good cook and I am not a good home interior decorator.  But maybe I am good at love, or at least I try.  However, when I stop and think about it, really, really think deeply about it as Angela and I did the other day during an intimate conversation, the destruction that can be foisted upon the world by having a home in which our children are not taught how to love well grows exponentially with each passing generation, and  THAT can be scary.  Five children who leave our nest as healed and whole as possible, who have children and grand children and great grandchildren who live wholly unremarkable lives but yet do no harm and spread mostly love can potentially touch tens of thousands of lives with little acts of goodness.  When on considers that those same five children could grow exponentially into people who can't parent well, who create bigger and bigger messes with each generation, and all the damage they can cause to every person their lives touch...suddenly what I am doing in admonishing in between loads of laundry or grammar lessons takes on much greater importance.

So while I didn't make any resolutions this year, I think I am going to declare this The Year of the Ordinary, and I am going to work hard at seeing all the good that comes from "ordinary".  I absolutely loved another slice of the New York Times article that illustrated their point, and I'll close in sharing it with you:

“We had come up with the idea of grooming the obituaries and re-creating a life from the people at the funeral,” said Catherine Porter, who wrote the column about Ms. Gordon. “We thought it might be a fun journey.” Ms. Gordon’s obituary stood out, Ms. Porter said, because “a lot of obits read like a résumé — an accumulation of concrete action. Her legacy was in her relationships to people.”
She didn’t have a great job, she wasn’t married and never had children, so she wasn’t successful in either the traditional male or female sense, Ms. Porter said. But people would keep telling stories about her kindness.
“She had a lot of magic in her life, and that’s reassuring,” Ms. Porter said. “That you can live a full, interesting, ordinary life.”

Don't you just love that line..."She had a lot of magic in her life..." and that magic was derived not from worldly celebrated achievements, but from being kind and being in relationship with others.  How much more lovely can a life be than that?


Anna said...

Beautiful. Keep up the good work! " don't become weary in well doing for in due season you shall reap"

Ohiomom2121 said...

My MIL died many years ago, and over 400 people attended her funeral. She didn't go to church, worked as a branch manager for a small bank, and never was involved in community much. What she did do was make every single person she met seem special. She cared. She was adopted, and after she died the family fell apart. She had been the glue and they didn't even realize it! She demonstrated the importance of just being a wonderful human being. We still miss her terribly! You are an inspiration to many, and a fabulous writer. Milestones don't make the person!