A few summers back I took on a shoebox full of snapshots and a decade’s worth of digital pictures and filled photo albums with thousands of memories until the task was finished. Almost. I made it a little more than halfway, the last album leaving the Stiffler family frozen somewhere in 2010. But I’d made 7 years’ worth of progress and every new book filled the hearts of my children with warm fuzzies as they flipped through images of their younger versions with laughter, surprise, disbelief, and frequent, “I remember this!” The nostalgia stirred by the little faces, lovely places, and younger spaces that made my life – that made me – inspired several posts in which various photo styles became word pictures of truth. But I got stuck on ‘the first day of school’ post and ended the series without it. And life moved on.
In fact, life meandered at such an oddly brisk pace, the first day of school snuck up on me this year, resulting in an out of sync morning that felt so ordinary I nearly forgot to take the first day of school pictures. But I captured some good memories for the next picture project: a snarky, ‘get this over with’ half smirk/half glare from my sophomore, a dramatically posed and poised expression from my 7th grader who couldn’t wait for junior high, and a genuine smile from my 5th grader who’s still young enough to enjoy the school routine and the rituals of a proud mom with a camera. And off they went into a new year with new supplies in their old backpacks and new hopes in their older young souls.
Before long, the new year lost its sparkle. New shoes weren’t as comfortable as they had been in the store, dreaded oral reports were assigned, backpacks were heavy and bikes were too slow, the PE teacher was too fond of burpees, and running for class representative did not end in victory. The new had become ordinary – it was the same old grind. The frequent morning sendoff became, “Have an awesome day! Remember, it’s a choice.” One month down with many more to go.
One morning in particular – a morning of many maladies, the type of morning when gentle moms react most ungracefully to complaints of first world problems, the kind of morning when the trivialities are very old and you could easily, unintentionally choose to hate the life you love for want of something (anything) new – I paused. I took a cleansing breath and looked around at the discouraged kids in my kitchen. The images of their younger faces were resting quietly in photo albums filled with ordinary moments, and I’d lost interest in that project and I’d chosen to do something new, but had I also lost interest in ordinary moments? Was disinterest the coward’s way of unchoosing? Because I had courageously chosen this life once, this ordinary motherhood with all its happenings and same old grind, and I would choose it one million times over for the love of these extraordinary children growing up right in front of me. Did they know that? It was a good question.
The words of my own advice caught me: “This is an awesome day, Michelle, so choose.” I could passively choose to let the morning ailments discourage me and perpetuate the already heavy gloom or I could take courage and choose to encourage. I helped re-lace the too tight shoes. I calmly suggested typical hiding places for missing belts and books. I prayed with the taller-than-me child who was petrified of the afternoon’s oral report. I packed Doritos in lunches, not for nutritional benefit, but for the benefit of delight, because jumping lunges and burpees deserve a little reward. I filled bike tires and wore a heavy backpack on the ride to school that morning. I waved goodbye and my children smiled, and it was just an ordinary morning. But it felt extraordinary.
Encouragement is the gift of courage, and whether accepted or not, it’s a gift never wasted. Because encouraging others also sparks a courage deep within us to hold hope and keep going. That little spark of courage pushed me to take a closer look at my ordinary moments for the new and extraordinary I’ve often overlooked by unintended choice. It’s helped me begin the practice of re-choosing my life. It’s been quite a process of asking hard questions, and sorting the answers is much like sorting hundreds of pictures, but it’s reminded me who I am, what I’ve been given, how I can love better, and in Whom I hope.
Maybe you’re stuck. Maybe you need to re-choose your life. Be encouraged. There’s more to come…