Thursday, June 12, 2014

The Art of Contentment.

As a long time follower of the Art of Simple, I read there often. This morning, I ventured into the section on work + productivity just for the heck of it. I had a good 15–minutes to myself having roused earlier than anticipated, so I decided to ingest some casual readings on relevant life topics.

An article (one that I’ve read before) caught my attention because it pretty well summed up several sentiments I have been feeling as of late. I started reading and fell into the rabbit hole—I just couldn't stop.

The article was titled “When Working Hard Gets Ridiculous.” If you’ve never read it, I highly encourage you to do so. The message embedded in those words resonated with me deeply. I have honestly reached a point in my adult life where I have found happiness and contentment just being me. I came to a point where I simply stopped feeling as though I wanted or needed to “keep up with the Joneses,” and I learned that “things” aren't what truly make us happy. But that wasn't always the case. There was a rather superficial time in my life where I felt my worth was measured by the things I had. I would proudly show off these things (most of which I hadn’t actually worked for), as if their mere existence earned me bonus points in the game of life. I took pride in the envy I could invoke in others, and I walked around flaunting this amazing life and this person who wasn't really me. This attitude of materialism—the act of accumulating things for the sake of impressing others—lasted for but a season. And I say season purposefully because times change, as do people. We all go through seasons in life. This just so happens to be one of the many seasons of my life I look back on with fractious antipathy. 

I’ve been through a few things in life that have taught me some deep, lasting lessons on humility. I’ve fallen flat on my face and had to shamefully rise again to start from scratch. I've hit rock bottom. I’ve spent more money than I’ve had, and I’ve had failed attempts at living a life pretending to be someone and something I’m simply not. Along the way though, I’ve learned what’s important. I’ve learned about living life with purpose, intention, and simple satisfaction. I’ve learned a little about finding my element and settling jubilantly and willingly into it. I won't sit and claim that I've learned all of life's lessons, and I won't claim my knowledge to be superior to that of anyone else. I'm still learning and still making mistakes every day. 

Now, I also say all of this with the understanding that there is absolutely nothing wrong with wanting nice things for yourself and your family. But working hard to chase those dreams is a far cry from the materialism that often consumes and defines what it means to be “happy” and “successful” by mainstream society—the one that tells us we have to have stuff just for the sake of having stuff (and I don’t look down on anyone who wants more and is willing to put in the work for it. Go get it, friend. That’s not the method to my madness here).

It really wasn’t until Lukas' diagnosis that I found myself at a cross roads. I had stated this mantra as my modus operandi, but I wasn’t often living it. I wasn’t picking up what I was putting down, so to speak. When Lukas was diagnosed with his heart defect and my world turned upside down for a short time, I learned to live more simply—more presently. In the months following his prenatal diagnosis whilst in the middle of fetal echos, twice weekly appointments, NSTs, and tough conversations with the numerous physicians orchestrating mine and Lukas' care, I found myself partaking in—and enjoying—some of life's simpler pleasures. Taking a walk around the block in my neighborhood where I had the opportunity to quietly reflect on the day and the many that lie ahead. Crocheting blankets that would someday soon cover my newborn boy—the ones Riley and Hayden would sneak peeks at in the drawers of my desk. Waiting impatiently for school to release so I could take Riley and Hayden to the park and listen attentively to their nonsensical conversations and deep laughter. Taking a bath in the evenings and rewarming the water until my skin pruned deeply just so I could finish reading that one last chapter. Sitting down at my computer late at night and just writing whatever thoughts spilled from my fingertips. Those moments were my element. Those moments made me happy amongst the cloak of chaos. I felt content in these somewhat simple dealings, but I also felt peace I had never previously appreciated or fully understood. The kind of peace we wish for when we feel like we just can't keep our heads above water. I reveled in the simplicity and approached it as my beautifully serene respite. 

Those moments taught me about really living.

I found myself in a place where the amount of money in my bank account became an increasingly trivial pursuit. That may sound silly, but as long as I had enough in there to pay the bills, keep a roof over my family’s heads, clothes on our backs, and food on our table—I was good. I stopped caring so much about that shiny new car in the parking lot of the dealership I longed for because there was absolutely nothing wrong with the car I was driving. I said my thanks to the lovely home I was sitting in and stopped looking at houses that were far beyond our price range simply because they were big and pretty. I've said previously that Lukas changed me. And he did—in many ways. But it was him who really helped me to understand that I no longer wanted to be that person who felt they needed to have material possessions to show off—the person who always compares her life to someone else's and wishes she had something different or something more. It's not who I am or who I ever want to be again.

My parents always used to tell me that you couldn’t take it with you when you go. And they are right. You can have everything in the world, but when it’s all said and done (life, that is) what does it all mean? You can't take the gigantic house and that fancy car with you to the grave. And all that money of yours is just going to be a source of argument and contention for those you leave behind because everyone wants a piece of the pie. It's funny hearing my mom say those things now because she wasn’t such a simple person until much later in my life. And I say that in the most loving way possible. Like me, it took her longer to see it. But my dad? He's a simpleton at heart. It's one of the things I respect and admire most about him. He doesn’t live in Taj Mahal and he drives a 20-year old truck with less than perfect blue paint and rust spots. His wardrobe consists of mainly hand-me-down t-shirts and shorts (or jeans). On any given day he'd much rather be out in the woods or working in the groves down on the farm. And you know what? He doesn’t care. He doesn’t define his worth or his happiness on the perception others have of him. The thought never crosses his mind. He does his own thing and he lives his life. And my mom? Well, she’s come to the same conclusion. "Who cares?" Life is not and should not be measured by the success and accumulation of “stuff” that society deems appropriate. “If you don’t have all this stuff to show off and you can’t brag about all the things and money you have, how on Earth could you ever be happy?” It’s flawed logic and a failing mentality. You shouldn’t be ashamed of what you have or who you are. Sadly, society and many of its members at large make us feel that way if we don’t have all of these material possessions to show for it. 

So, today I am publishing my credo—my manifesto, if you will. The things I believe in and the things I promise to live each day—with purpose and intention.

1. I'm not super mom nor will I ever pretend and/or claim to be. The notion of the "supermom" is a fallacy—a farce meant to make other moms feel inferior about their strengths and abilities. No offense, but there is not a single human on this planet that is capable of doing it all, being it all, and knowing it all. You know what I am, though? I'm just a mom. I'm a mom who loves her children more than life itself and who does her very best every single day. And that's more than enough. My house is rarely spotless and on any given day you are welcome to witness the overflowing laundry baskets that I'm too lazy to sort through or piles of clothes that I’ve sorted that haven't quite made it to the washer (and may not for a few more days). I have forgotten to check the boy's homework or gasp—not helped them with it at all because maybe they wanted me to read them a book or wanted to snuggle and in that moment, their needs were more important than their homework. The kids eat McDonald's when I'm too tired to cook dinner. It doesn’t make me a bad mom. It makes me human. But everyday my three boys are loved and they never have to question that undying love for a single moment. I'm not supermom, and I'm more than okay with that.

2. I don't live in a mega or mini mansion or even a large house. In fact, our family lives in a very modest ranch-style home. I'm not embarrassed by it or ashamed of it in the least. Most of our memories have happened in this house. We brought our youngest home to this house, and watched our children grow up here. No, I don't have a gourmet kitchen and no I don't have luxurious hardwood floors throughout. But, who cares? It's not just a house. It's our home. It's our shelter from the storm, and our safe haven. Every night I get to pull in the driveway, park in the garage, kick off my shoes, and rest. That's more than some people can say, and every single day I vow not to take that for granted. It’s no Kennedy compound or sprawling estate, but it’s our own perfect little slice of suburbia.

3. I don't drive a brand spanking new, fancy, expensive car. I drive an SUV that is a couple years old. I've put some miles on its tires and its once pristine white paint is peppered with the evidence of door dings and scrapes from rambunctious children whose bikes have gently (or maybe not so gently) kissed its sides. There are crayon marks on the leather seats, and more than a few melted Skittles nestled in its crevices. But I love that car. It transports my family safely from point A to point B, and I wouldn't trade it for any other car on the planet. I love it because it's mine. I love how perfectly imperfect it is and how I know no one else on this Earth possesses one with its unique brand of personalization.

4. My bank account will never resemble that of Oprah's, and you know what? I'm cool with that. I don't need exorbitant amounts of money to make me happy or make feel like I have a place in this world. I have all the money I need. I work hard everyday to earn that money, and I am proud of what I've built with it. I don't need to pretend I live a life that I don't. I'm proud of where we are and what we've done. There is no designer handbag or pair of shoes, no amount of makeup and lip-gloss, and no amount of “stuff” that can drown out true dissatisfaction. Until you are happy with yourself and the life you live, no amount of money or material possessions will improve upon that. Change comes from within, not from "stuff."

So, do me a solid. Stop comparing and contrasting your life to those of others, and start living for you. Find what makes your heart beat a little faster and what makes your cares melt away. There, you will find happiness. There, you will find purpose. There, you will find unadulterated contentment.
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