I woke up yesterday morning with the usual impossible to-do list already forming in my head.
“Today will be different,” I told myself with firm resolution. “Today I will complete everything on the list. I will get all the groceries, run all the errands, clean the whole house, do the laundry, FINALLY put out the rest of my Autumn decor that I’ve been putting off until the house is in better shape, and prepare a dinner all before I leave to go teach piano lessons this afternoon. Maybe I’ll even have time to write a little! And when my husband and I both return home this evening, everything will be in ship-shape.”
Perhaps that was the beginning of my downfall. As usual, I had heaped too much expectation upon myself, and somehow convinced myself that THIS time it would all get done. Granted, most days start out this way with an “optimistic” to-do list, which gets hacked down throughout the day to a “realistic” size. But I was particularly resolved that day. I was feeling productive, and gosh-darn-it, I was going to deliver!
All in all, I was motivated.
A big part of my motivation no doubt came from the fact that my husband and I are currently in the middle of some extensive home renovations. Nothing earth-shattering, granted. Thankfully, when we bought our house it was in great condition. So the only thing it required really was some color injection and upgrading. Because it’s white. Everywhere. Walls, tile floors, counter tops, ceilings, everything is sterile white. But it’s basically a blank slate, allowing us to do whatever we want to make it “our” home. Still, the process requires a lot of planning, researching, coordinating, shopping, organizing and cleaning.
We recently completed the first step: all our white counter tops were replaced–kitchen and both bathrooms. Shiny new dark granite! I was ecstatic. The difference new counters makes is amazing. Already there’s a little color, with more to follow. 🙂 The granite looks GREAT. So much so that for the first few days I would find every possible excuse to go to the kitchen just to admire my beautiful counters.
The only problem afterwards was clutter. EVERYTHING had to be taken out of the drawers/cabinets to avoid getting covered in dust or broken. So our living room floor was covered in kitchen dishes, small appliances and random piles of miscellaneous odds and ends. Likewise, everything from our bathroom had currently made camp on our bedroom dresser and floor (I still don’t understand how we ended up with so much stuff).
This meant that everything had to be put back once the counters were done. And I figured, since everything was already lying around, I might as well take the opportunity to go through and weed out the junk and better organize things. A great idea, with the only drawback being it would take a little longer to get everything put back. So we had to live with cluttered rooms for a while, which was starting to drive me crazy–especially when it was taking longer than I would have liked.
All in all, I was getting frustrated with myself.
It didn’t help, certainly, that my schedule is rather busy right now. And there have already been unexpected disruptions to said schedule, which only adds on more stress.
There were all the extra responsibilities building up at my job too: First, I gained several new piano students all at once. Which is great! But it also meant several trips to the music store for new books, plus trying to learn new routes (since I travel teach) and learning new behavioral/learning patterns.
Then, I have several veteran students all preparing to enter the solo festival, where they will play a piece from memory for a judge who will critique their performance and grade them accordingly. For all but one student, this is their first time participating in the festival. Aside from trying to help each student be the utmost prepared so they can be confident and have a positive experience, there is still that quiet voice of doubt that lurks constantly at the back of my mind. After all, the students might be the ones getting “judged,” but it’s possibly even more pressure for the teacher, because in a way it’s my reputation on the line. I spend a lot of time leading up to the festivals worrying: Will they all be ready in time? Have I done everything I can to help them be at their very best? Did I challenge any of them too much? Is there anything I could have/should have done differently?
Finally, there is also that slightly panic-stricken realization in the back of my head that I need to assign recital music soon for all my students. That’s a lot of music to go through, and a lot of decisions to make. Because I want my students to enjoy their pieces, but I also work hard to pick pieces that will challenge them and help them grow as musicians.
All in all, I was busier than I wanted to admit.
There had also been several emotionally trying circumstances that seemed to come one after the other. Some I look back on and realize they were kind of silly–like the particularly negative feedback I received from someone on the Prologue to my story that sent me into the depths of despair, bemoaning my inadequacy as a writer. A bit of an overreaction, I admit (a special thanks to my awesome friends Abby and Heather who were so quick to encourage me when I came crying to them with my problems and helped me see the bigger picture).
Mostly, it was the timing that had made it seem worse than it was. When my schedule gets busy, it’s usually my writing that suffers and I haven’t been very productive lately in that area. So I thought getting some feedback would at least make me feel like I was doing something with my writing. But I was already stretched thin with all my job and household responsibilities and the feedback I did get back only made things worse.
All in all, I was beginning to feel useless.
That brings us to yesterday. The day that started with me feeling productive and energetic. Mostly because I was tired of being unproductive. So I showered and fixed a thermos of coffee and headed out to buy groceries and run errands first thing.
That alone took longer than expected and I was already realizing towards the end that I was running out of time to finish everything else I had planned. So with the last of my errands done, I rushed home to put up the groceries, mentally checking the next items on my list: clean house, do laundry, prepare dinner, practice violin (did I mention my orchestra has a concert coming up in about a week??), and hopefully go through that pile of recital music.
Then it happened. Upon retrospect I realize how silly and pointless the following event is, but it was one more frustration heaped on top of many more.
I opened the trunk of my car and started pulling out grocery bags. As I pulled out one bag in particular, it started a chain reaction that I wasn’t prepared for. The bag with the eggs had settled on the edge of that bag while I was driving–a detail I failed to notice. So as I pulled the first bag out, the bag with the eggs slid right over the edge of the trunk (and because the car is a hatchback, there was no wall to stop it).
Yep. I watched in horror as the bag with my precious eggs plummeted in slow motion to meet its doom. With both my hands already full with groceries, I did the only thing I could do: I desperately stuck out my foot to try to stop it. Alas, the bag fell past my foot and there was a sickening crunch on my driveway. All eighteen eggs flew out of the carton and smashed onto the pavement. Some even rolled down into the middle of the alley behind my house.
And I stood there. With my hands full of groceries and my to-do list falling down around me–and now my eggs had literally fallen down around me. Several frustrated, angry words were partly yelled, partly mumbled from my general direction. Fuming, I marched my groceries into my house with thoughts of “why me? Why TODAY?” screaming in my head. And not wishing my neighbors to have to quite literally “walk on eggshells” past my house, I spent the first few minutes of my return home picking up slimy, dirty, gross egg pieces out of the alley.
“Great!” I thought to myself. Or maybe I said it out loud. I don’t even remember. “Now I’ll have to go BACK to the store just to get stupid eggs after my lessons tonight. Lovely. Just what I need.”
All in all, I had reached a tipping point.
But even as I was putting away groceries, another small voice inside me was already speaking up. This voice grew louder, drowning out the voice of self-pity and anger.
My conscience told me I was reacting sinfully. Deep down, I had known it all along. I just didn’t care.
I stopped a moment, breathed deep, and preached to myself a simple truth: in the grand scheme of eternity, a carton of broken eggs doesn’t matter at all. Why should I dwell on it then? Why should I feel resentful or angry? There are people in this world suffering far more at this very moment. And what about Jesus Christ? He suffered FAR, FAR worse than a few broken eggs and a busy schedule on my behalf, but never once did He complain or react sinfully.
I’m so thankful for God’s grace and that He sent His only Son to live perfectly and die in my place. If my salvation was up to me, I’d be doomed. Because I can’t even handle an extra trip to the grocery store.
All in all, I was ashamed.
Needless to say, my to-do list basically went out of the window. I threw together something in the slow cooker for dinner and managed to pick up a little bit before I had to turn right back around to go teach. I left the house and made my way to my first student’s house, saying a prayer of repentance as I went and asking the Lord for His mercy and guidance in the rest of my day.
Interestingly enough, He answered.
By my last lesson, I felt an overwhelming sense of gratitude. I had very productive and enjoyable lessons the whole day, which left me greatly encouraged. My first student and I sang the “forte” section of her song together in our loudest, most ridiculous “opera” voices. So we got to learn about dynamics, but have fun doing it.
My second student was one who is preparing for the festival, and he had made major improvements on his song, which greatly alleviated my pre-festival stress level. Plus, the first thing he said to me when he arrived at the piano was, “I’m awesome at my song now, Mrs. Stephanie. I’ve been practicing all week! Can I play it for you?” And while I generally take my students’ self-evaluations with a large grain of salt, I at least got a kick out of his unswerving confidence–not to mention his incredibly cute pep-talk he gave himself before playing for me: “Come on, man!” he whispered as he ruffled his hair, “You can do this!” 😀 He’s a hoot.
Then I taught his equally cute little sister, whose understanding of how to read notes has grown by leaps and bounds lately. I particularly loved how she’d stop to think about a note, then with a gasp of excitement she’d play it and exclaim its name while looking up at me with wide eyes for confirmation. And then she found a pattern in her song all on her own, and pointed it out without any prompting from me. We finished the lesson by playing “Music Simon Says” together, and I let her be Simon for a couple of turns. She tried so hard to trick me into playing something on the piano without saying “Simon says.” Each time I’d reach for the piano just to see her lean on the edge of her seat, then I’d pull back and say, “Hey! You didn’t say ‘Simon says!’ you trickster!” And each time she’d laugh harder. It made my heart melt.
My last student was a very quiet girl who reminds me a lot of myself. And even though she didn’t say a lot, she laughed at all my jokes and worked diligently on all the parts of her festival piece that needed improvement. And many times when I pointed out a spot that needed correcting, she corrected herself almost immediately each time. In addition to her easygoing personality and great work ethic, whenever we meet for her lessons she always greets me with a bright smile that lights up my day. Yesterday was no different.
All in all, I was reminded of why I love teaching so much.
Yes, I returned to the store for the eggs. But I no longer felt resentful. If there was one thing the Lord taught me yesterday, it was perspective.
Really, the store’s like five minutes away from our house. It’s not like it’s that much of an inconvenience anyway. However, instead of offering up my worries to God in prayer and trusting in His control, I let it all get under my skin. And yet despite my sin, God patiently but firmly turned my thoughts back to the things that matter. He reminded me that He’s in control, not me, and that’s where my trust should have been. He even blessed me with an encouraging and delightful afternoon that I didn’t deserve.
I came home to an already-done supper thanks to my handy slow cooker, which gave me time to do some more cleaning. Not everything got done on my to-do list yesterday. But mercifully the eternal state of my soul does not depend on my ability to complete checklists. So while I strive to improve in my daily responsibilities, I hope even more to learn from my mistakes and, with grace from God, to grow in holiness and sanctification, and to glorify Him in all aspects of my life. Because that’s what really matters.
So as I sat down last night with my husband to eat supper and relax, I thought to myself,
“All in all, it was a pretty good day.”
“Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?…But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.” (Matthew 6:25-26, 33)