I remember my first three cups of French press. I was a senior in college, new to this magical bean juice. I stopped in a coffee shop across the street from campus for a cup of a particular blend I loved. The barista told me he wasn’t brewing it that day, but he could French press it for me. I acted like I knew what he was talking about, dropped fifteen dollars for the hot beverage, and settled into a corner table where I downed three mugs through the evening. I didn’t go to sleep until 5:00 am, but I got a lot done, which made the list-maker in me proud.
I love a good list. I will make mini-lists extending from a master list, just to satisfy that illusion of control that comes from checking off those little boxes. The list gives me power — it’s a method of reigning in all the happenings of my life. I can create it, rearrange it, rip it up, and throw it away. I’m not bound to its order, and if there’s a task on there that doesn’t get accomplished, I can move it to tomorrow’s list. There has been one instance, however, where the list has failed me, and that is in taking care of my newborn baby girl.
Laundry was a four-day process. A half-eaten sandwich sat neglected for hours before I remembered to finish it. Drafts of text messages and e-mails lingered, waiting to be sent for a day or more. Wet diapers didn’t always make it to the trash can immediately. Most tasks were lucky to be given a thought, much less a strikethrough on the list. Now that my girl is three months old, I’ve been able to maintain a decent level of order in my house, though I still have far to go. I have even rejoined society for the most part — going out to dinner with my daughter and husband as a family, visiting the weekly farmer’s market and, when I’m occasionally feeling really gutsy, venturing to the grocery store. I'm learning that life is not a matter of to-do's to be mastered, and it's a lesson I didn't really have to learn until I became a mother. So much of my success was measured by how much of The List was completed.
The giving of myself to another person can’t be quantified — it is a constant outpour of time, love, and grace. Sure, there are plenty of things I do to take care of my daughter, but she needs me. I’m reminded of this when she fusses after I’ve fed, changed, and burped her. I lay her on her back so she can see my face, and she stops crying, giving a smile that absolutely melts me. Sometimes I don’t have to do anything — she just needs to know I’m with her.
I had a similar realization on a recent Sunday morning. My husband had already left early to play music, and it was now twenty minutes after our church service started. My baby and I were still in our pajamas, and I planned on staying home since I couldn’t get everything together for us to get out the door on time. I thought about what was keeping me from going: Lena didn’t eat enough, so she’ll probably get fussy. We’re already late. I’m tired. I thought I had to make sure my daughter was perfectly happy and that I was in mint condition to go to church. Then I realized these people are like family and they want us there. Not only that, but most of them have come through the season of life I am now in. They understand. So I got the two of us dressed and sort of hobbled into church, forty minutes late, overstuffed diaper bag on my shoulder, car seat bumping clumsily against my legs as the room filled with melodies from the banjo, piano, and voices of our friends. And everyone was glad we came. We were with them, and that was enough.
I’ve been taught since my youth that we don’t have to perfect ourselves before coming to the Lord. He wants us as we are and loves us too much to let us stay that way. It is His grace that grows and renews us. How quickly I forget. All too often, God seems only transcendent. He is somewhere in the ether sustaining my life, keeping it in motion while I blindly stroll through, barely noticing the daily graces of sunsets and bursts of color from the earth that both whisper and scream: God is imminent. I need to know He is with me, and He is sweet in reminding me.
Love is not an equitable exchange of deeds. Lena can’t even roll over, much less do anything for me, but she has my whole heart just by being present in my life. I can’t offer much to my church family on Sundays except for a cute baby at whom to gaze and grin, but I’m learning that my faithful presence is enough. It’s enough for my husband, my child, and our community. There’s plenty I can and cannot do, but my family and friends are glad to enjoy me, just as I am.
Those first weeks of mothering had me in an undead shuffle about the house, eyes heavy, hair sloppily pulled back, last night’s plates still in the sink, sheets in the wash for the third time that week because of my little one’s contributions. I felt totally inadequate, as if nothing I could manage would be enough. The feeling rises as if to drown me at different times for so many reasons, but there is rest in knowing I am not the sum of my accomplishments on a list.
Erica Crotts works as an administrative assistant for a bow tie business. She is involved in Friday Arts Project, a local affiliate of International Arts Movement. Erica, her illustrator-husband Stephen, and their newborn daughter live in a red bungalow near Winthrop University in Old Town Rock Hill, South Carolina. Together they enjoy working their garden, playing music, and spending much of their time with dear friends and neighbors.