I broke my baby toe trying to avoid a Lego.
I was barefoot, nine months pregnant and in the grip of perfectionism.
It happened one night while my four children were sleeping in their beds and I was attempting to set up a quasi- nursery area in the only spare corner left in my bedroom. In my arms were two dozen, brand-new, puffy, pristine and precisely stacked cloth diapers.
FYI: When you’re nine months pregnant, carrying anything larger than a bread box compromises your perception. Look at the front of any pregnant woman’s shirt. There will be multiple food stains. When a woman gets a baby bump she is suddenly looking at life through a new set of lenses with the words “objects are closer than they appear” written at the bottom. A pregnant woman is either dribbling food onto herself or missing the mark altogether resulting in half of her meal shlumped into what used to be her lap.
Back to the Lego incident, but first a little backstory.
Our house in those days was very small. It was super cute, but we found out years later that parts of it used to be a chicken coop. This was before the trendy re-claim-all-things-wood-and-metal scene, so it was somewhat embarrassing to learn this little fact, however it explained a lot of weirdness we discovered about the house after we moved in. I grew up on a farm and I know chicken coops. You don’t want to live in one. Remember, I was in the throes of perfectionism.
By the way, you don’t need to have a lot of money to struggle with perfectionism. It is not a disease reserved for the upper middle class. It is a disease of any soul that is compelled to compare itself to everyone else. Some of us are born with it, a sort of learned genetics. Maybe our mothers or fathers were perfectionists…our grandmothers or grandfathers. You know. What will the neighbors think?
Maybe we latched onto perfectionism because someone didn’t like our teeth or our legs or our voice or our coloring paper or our science project. Maybe they didn’t like where we lived. Or, maybe they DID like our teeth and our legs and our voice and our science project and where we lived. So we learned how to keep it all propped up.
Back to my small house. Trust me, there is a point.
In this house, I could take three steps in any direction and be in three different rooms. I could stand in the kitchen and my girls’ bedroom at the same time. This meant I became Master Of Storing All Things. Anything left out in the open was an invitation to disaster. If you were running around the house for any reason you were likely to knock over a chair in the dining room, which would then domino-fall into the living room tipping over the one good lamp that didn’t have a crooked lampshade. Jumping off the side of the short set of stairs leading to the loft could result in pulling the Christmas tree down, taking the framed Jesus collage with it.
To avoid massive injuries in a middle-of-the-night walkabout to the bathroom, it was imperative that the floor be a toy-free zone at the end of the day. The kids usually did a good job picking up their toys before bed. I made sure of that. I was a maniac.
However, toys cannot be trusted. We have seen Toy Story.
I saw the Lego lying on the rug, all red and innocent as I walked Tim Conway old man style through the dining room, the diapers making me smile because they were so…neat.
I won’t go into detail describing what it feels like to step on a Lego while barefoot.
Let’s just say the pain is attached to some very specific language. Language that would make the characters in a Martin Scorsese film turn fifty shades of pink. Even if you manage to keep this sort of language from escaping your mouth because you love Jesus and your children, there will be screams, which again, if you have ever stepped on a Lego barefoot, these are the screams of one who has been suddenly shot through with a blow dart and no one just says “Ouch” when this happens.
So… the Lego.
Thinking I could just step over it, I shifted my weight and lifted my foot. The white pillars wobbled. NO! NO! NO! My twenty four beautifully bleached, baby bottom covers! I had to protect this architecture of perfection from falling into a pile of un-folded chaos at all costs!
My belly surged forward, I raised my arms high still holding the swaying diapers, and to avoid the Lego, I shifted wrong and brought my foot down backwards on itself.
A word AND a scream came out of my mouth. My baby toe was broken.
In agony I hopped three times to my bed and lay the still-perfectly stacked diapers on the comforter. Injured, but triumphant. I turned to grab my foot in an attempt to massage away the pain. I couldn’t reach past my shin. So I cried.
It’s what perfectionist pregnant women do.
Especially near the end when they want everything to go perfectly; instead they have to figure out how to construct a make-shift trundle bed that will go under the crib they shoved under a window, so three girls can fit in a bedroom made for one. The house worked perfectly fine with two children, but now there is going to be five. Does anyone know how many Legos this means?
Perfectionists cry because they think people are laughing at their outdated wagon wheel light over the dining room table that hangs so low all the tall guys at bible study keep bumping their heads on it just to reach the onion dip.
They cry when their husband runs a garden hose through their bedroom because it’s the only way to siphon the water out of the basement after it flooded. Again. What will friends think back home?
They cry when they discover the new puppy has torn from the kitchen wall an entire sheet of new wallpaper that took months to save up for and it wasn’t even top of the line paper.
And they cry when they cook and clean and decorate and exercise, the whisper: “It must look like this…You must look like this,” in their ear.
When you’re pregnant, things look closer than they appear. The imperfections of life, like the stretched skin of a pregnant belly, seem more pronounced. What isn’t working, what can’t be done, what is always lacking. They have a way of zooming into the broken places when you’re in a season of waiting, or when life has you off balance.
Perfectionism hides the good thing that is right in front of you.
Like the husband who has a way of figuring things out and making you laugh out loud when he comes up from the basement covered in what he hopes is just mud.
Or when the guys who bump their heads on the wagon wheel pray for you and your family when things get hard. Or when you hear the giggles of three little girls in a bedroom made for one.
Then there is the time you watched your wallpaper eating puppy who had grown too big for your house lick the face of a little boy who lost his dog in a blizzard and has come to adopt yours.
When you try to avoid pain by covering it up with perfectionism, this is when you really fall.
Perfectionism tells you to get it all right for everyone else’s sake. Perfectionism says that life has to be lived under certain expectations that no one can ever possibly meet. It tells you that you are standing up straight when you are really falling down.
Perfectionism lies to you and everyone around you.
It says that your house, your face, your voice, your writing, your music, your art, your whole life is under the scrutiny of a hard taskmaster, when the truth is your whole life through Jesus Christ is actually under the smile of God who calls you his poema, his masterpiece, created for good things.
Perfectionism is a religion; it’s just another way of way of pretending.
God pried my fingers one by one from perfectionism many years ago. Much to the relief of my family and much to the relief of me. It was an exhausting, soul-killing way to live. Thankfully, God took my perfectionist heart and re-shaped it into what He intended it to be. Real.
Last week I heard someone say how they would describe Jesus in one word.
“Jesus is relaxed.”
Such a simple thing, but it turns out these were holy words for me. And they’re true. Once Jesus began the un-hurried, non-stressful and merciful work of releasing perfectionism from my grip, I became a more relaxed person who is learning to see God in all things.
I still clean my house. I still wash my face. I still write and I still create art somewhere. I still keep an eye out for the rogue Lego. And I have not relinquished my title of Master Of Storing All Things. I call it Container Art.
But now, instead of wondering what someone else might be thinking how I should be doing these things, I do them because they bring me joy. I am learning that when I am more whole-ly myself, I am more present to God. Like this geranium, I am good with the fading parts and the budding parts.
I am thankful for all that God has done and is doing with me in this place.
And I am so #grateful it all happened before Instagram.
It’s a good thing, because these pictures are blurry.
“We need to review frequently the truth that our performance and our acceptance by other people has nothing to do with our dignity and value, since this is determined by God and not by the world. When we suffer rejection and indifference, the pain will be real, but it need not destroy us, since we have made the radical decision to look to God and his resources alone for our true and unchanging identity and worth.” –Kenneth Boa
Photos of diapers, chicken coop and wagon wheel light fixture courtesy of Google Images
Photos of Legos and flowers are mine.