Finding Joy

I started today as I do most days… with a mile-high To-Do list and a stockpile of good intentions. And some 15 hours later, I find myself staring at my computer screen, unable to respond to one more email, return one more phone call, or tackle one more project. I’m. Simply. Spent.

Here lately it seems that the hyphen in between my “work-life balance” has grown to the size of a strikethrough bar that more closely resembles, “work-life balance. I’m in the middle of a busy season, both in my career and my personal life. And try as I might, somedays my capacity to handle it all with grace and composure leaves a lot to be desired. Today was one of those days… Let’s just say, in the words of Oprah, I had myself a good ‘ole Ugly Cry.

This morning started like most any other day — I rushed to shower before the kids woke up so that I could dance the “Mommy Mamba” from one child to the next until everyone (husband included) was out the door dressed, fed, and prepped for the day. I then squeezed as much work-from-home multi-tasking as I could into the next two and a half hours, needing to leave by 10am to meet my son and his kindergarten class at their Easter Egg Hunt by 10:30. Which would have been great if, (A) I actually stopped working at 10 (and not 10:15) and (B) his party actually started at 10:30 (and not 10:00). <sigh>

Realizing my mistake too late to do anything about it, I headed out the door. On the way I sent a few texts (via Siri…) to other parents who were likely already at the party asking them to please tell Drew that Mommy was running late but was on her way. Only then did I realized that I forgot to check with the host moms about the foods being served and I forgot to pack his usual assortment of safe party foods “just in case.” (FYI, My son has a severe milk allergy, so I try to bring safe alternatives that mirror the foods being served during special occasions.)

Well, needless to say, the eggs had all been hunted by the time I arrived. And I had to call in reinforcement from my husband who saved the day by meeting me there with a safe cupcake and chips before snack-time. (Thank goodness my big aviators covered the tears welling in my eyes at this point. Those, I-rearranged-my-calendar-weeks-ago-to-make-this-party-and-somehow-miss-it tears. Those, I-pray-he-wasn’t-glancing-around-aimlessly-wondering-Where-Is-My-Mommy? tears. Those, What-if-he-feels-left-out-because-he-won’t-have-a-snack-like-all-the-other-kids? tears. Those, I-absolutely-stink-at-balancing-it-all tears.)

Those, however, were not The Ugly Tears. No, they came a few hours later.

After the party, I headed back home, worked for another hour and a half, and then changed clothes to attend a funeral service for my uncle’s mother who passed away on Monday. And what a beautiful service it was. My uncle (by marriage) is one of seven children. His mother was 83 years old when she ended her battle with bone cancer. As I waited for the service to begin, all I could think about as I sat in the pew were the events of my morning: Rushing. Feeling overwhelmed and caught in between work and life. My overrun To-Do list. The stack of emails awaiting a reply. The deadlines. The Easter egg hunt. The cupcake. Needing to arrange Spring Break and Summer childcare. Meetings, conference calls, webinars.

When the service began, my mind was racing. That is until a beautiful poem was read about motherhood across the lifespan. About the special relationship between a mother and her children. Not two stanzas in and, as we say in the South, I was A HOT MESS. I could not stop crying. I’d regain my composure, we’d sing a hymn, and I’d lose it again. But when one of my uncle’s brothers, who is a minister, began his portion of the eulogy — this inspiring tribute about his mother who lived to love and serve others — I had to pull another tissue from my purse. And then it hit me: This was a legacy story. Not one of riches or fame, but a living legacy. More tears, more tissues.

My tears were in part for the family and their loss, but also tears of personal reflection. Cathartic tears of stress and chaos, and of a million and one unresolved thoughts circling around my head. Again of the Easter Party mishaps — yet not about my rushed entrance, but about the sweet little five-year-old who tightly wrapped his arms and legs around me when I arrived, just happy to see me and show me his egg-filled Easter basket. Not one mention of what I’d missed, just happy to have me there.

Thoughts of my job flooded my head too — not of the pressures, deadlines, or demands, but of the blessings of getting the opportunity to live out what I love. To teach and mentor students. To serve and strengthen families. To build community. To network with amazing professionals who work to make the world a better place, a place that’s emotionally and physically sustainable for future generations.

Throughout the service, the phrase “This is a celebration” was repeated over and over. A message of inspiration, hope, and love. A message of joy. And, while not in these words, a message about the legacy we’ll each leave behind.

As I sat there, tears flowing, mind reflectively racing, I felt affirmed — a much different feeling than I’d felt the hour before. I felt loved. I felt like, in my own way, I was beginning to see glimpses of the living legacy that I’ll leave behind some day. How it’s not the mishaps that will define me, but rather the culmination of successes along my journey. A legacy crafted by the investments I make in others, the most important of whom call me Mom.

When the service ended, I couldn’t help but smile at the irony of the situation. I attended the service to show support for my uncle, cousin, and their extended family. When I left, however, I realized that I had been encouraged, finding reassurance in a most unexpected way. A gentle reminder of making time to find joy in the journey. It was, indeed, an inspiring celebration of a life well-lived.


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