The logistics of parading twins in retail stores is more complicated than it seems. A small thing like the type of entry at a particular store can require a significant amount of creative and critical thinking skills. I usually chauffeur the twins around in a fantastic double stroller (this thing is an engineering marvel!), but despite it being easy to push and turn, it is awkwardly wide. It can fit through most doors, but occasionally I discover mid-way through the doorway that it is about one inch too narrow. Consequently I have memorized the locations of stores with double automatic doors. The stroller has plenty of cargo space underneath the seats, which is how I manage to do the grocery shopping. I always try to make each trip a quick in-and-out procedure, just in case we have a double meltdown.
There is one exception to this near perfect system I have: shopping for diapers. The bulky boxes can’t fit in the stroller’s cargo space, and one box is too heavy to comfortably carry in one hand while I steer the stroller in the other. Recently when I took the twins diaper shopping I came up with the crazy idea of abandoning the stroller. I took a regular shopping cart for Margaret, and carried Elisabeth in a front carrier. Thus I had plenty of space for several boxes of diapers in the cart, and as an extra bonus, the girls could face each other. They were loving every minute of it! I paraded around the store with an air of confidence and pride. I even grew brave enough to leisurely walk around the store, since I clearly had everything under control. I picked up a door gate and gently laid it on top of the boxes of diapers. Not to worry, everything was under control. Shall we check out the latest summer clothing? Sure, because everything is under control. Margaret enjoyed the different perspective and was curiously looking behind her as we passed a couple aisles. She even pulled one knee to her chest so that her foot was innocently resting on the seat of the shopping cart. And then my sense of control crashed and burned as Margaret managed to stand up in the shopping cart seat. I realized too late that I had stupidly chosen a shopping cart with a broken safety belt. As I sat her back down, the door gate teetered off the boxes of diapers onto the floor. Now I had to pick it up with a baby strapped in to a front carrier, while holding onto Margaret in case she stood up again. I got the safety gate on top of the diaper boxes and the leisurely stroll through the store turned into a panic-driven race to the checkout. One hand balanced the items in the cart, my other hand firmly held Margaret’s shoulder, and the whole time my back was in a very awkward position and the muscles strained from Elisabeth’s weight in the front carrier. I don’t remember how I was able to get out my debit card and get through the checkout, but I’m sure a few guardian angels had a role in it.
As I was reflecting on this latest episode of our real-life sitcom, I thought I would use it to describe how the unexpected can suddenly ruin our perfectly planned and controlled life. But Greg suggested another perspective: how often do we unwisely decide to stand up in the shopping cart, because we want to see more, we become over confident, or perhaps because we think we know it all. God sees the dangers we put ourselves in, but we react because we impulsively want. This is not to suggest that God becomes a panicked and frazzled mom trying to fix our problems. On the contrary, God is always in control, even when we are dangerously close to a fall. What I am pointing out here is that we have the power of changing a good environment to a dangerous situation because we think we know better.
Which leads to the thought that has also been in the forefront of my mind lately: being contentedly grateful. Let me explain the context of my recent reflections.
Now that both babies have discovered the excitement of mobility, it is becoming increasing more difficult to help them settle (and stay settled) in their crib at night. Everything will seem fine as I leave the room, only to hear Elisabeth screaming after two minutes. Margaret’s idea of fun is to corner her younger twin into the corner of the crib, usually leaving poor Elisabeth with her face smashed against a crib slat, and sometimes even getting her hair yanked into Margaret’s mouth. The simple solution would be to get a second crib. Unfortunately, our small apartment leaves us few options. Every time I walk into the baby’s room, I cringe. The closet seems to be “oozing” baby gear and clothes. The car seats create a barrier in front of the bottom drawers of the babies’ dresser. It will take a room-rearranging genius to be able to fit that second crib in the room. I put it off because I know how much more cluttered the room will seem, and quite frankly, I become too frustrated to think clearly.
For the past couple of months I have been skimming the advertisements on Craig’s List for 2-3 bedroom apartments in the area, and whenever I take the babies out for a walk, it becomes a compulsive and neurotic examination of every house we walk by with a “for sale” sign. The conclusion is always the same: we simply can’t afford to buy a house right now. We have quietly decided to stick it out one more year in our 2-bedroom condo in order to save up. It has been a huge struggle for me not to give in to the sins of covetousness and ingratitude, but I remind myself that renting a bigger apartment or even purchasing a small house would be like standing up unrestrained in our financial shopping cart.
One recent morning I prayed the prayer of abandonment to God’s Providence. If you don’t know it, it reads:
My Lord and my God: into your hands I abandon the past and the present and the future, what is small and what is great, what amounts to a little and what amounts to a lot, things temporal and things eternal. Amen.
During nap time that same day I sat down to read a magazine, and in it contained an article about real families who get their food from a food pantry. These are educated and hard-working families who have run into hard times, whether it be a lay-off, an unexpected medical issue, or some other unplanned hardship. One family in the article was a husband who, even though he has a Master’s degree, had been underemployed for over two years. Ashamedly, I exited out of Craig’s List and peeked in the babies’ bedroom. I gazed at the two sleeping beauties who are daily growing strong, healthy, and happy. Even though it can be a struggle to make ends meet, I realized I don’t need to choose between food for my babies and paying the electric bill. I don’t have to visit my children in the cancer wing at the hospital. My obsession for a bigger space seemed so trivial, and I started to count the many graces I have been given. Instead of complaining about the low salaries of teachers, I thank God to have a job, and one that I love. Instead of getting annoyed with my husband for leaving his wet towel on the bed, I am thankful that he is truly a team player when it comes to taking care of the kids. Instead of becoming frustrated about the size of our small condo, I am truly grateful that I have enough food to cook in our tiny kitchen. I realized that during my morning prayer I had abandoned my desire for a bigger place (which now seems to be "what amounts to a little"), but I had also had not thanked Him for "what amounts to a lot". Lord, have mercy.
There are days when I still get frustrated by our overstuffed closets. I know there are plenty of families out there who much more than we have. However, I also know there are a lot of families out there who have much less than we have. It’s going to take some time to save for a down payment on a house, but I am going to remain seated in the shopping cart God has for me. Just like the babies, our limited perspective prevents us from seeing the bigger picture. What we immediately want, even if we think it is good, may be detrimental to our souls. Fortunately our heavenly Father knows what is best, and I must trust His protective hand to direct my path.
And whether I live in a mansion or a one-bedroom studio, I can always be grateful for His eternal love, the greatest grace of all.