The first of our Monarch butterflies emerged from its chrysalis, and man did we need it. While our days have been filled with so much good, there has been a ton of stress too. I feel it in my jaw, the angry words that I don’t say when no one helps with anything around the house. The shouts that I hold in when I have put the tiny down to sleep thirty-seven times and still she calls to me. The frustration I feel when I am at the end of my rope and it’s still early in the day. I’ve always carried the tension here. When I was pregnant for the first time my Bradley Birth instructor advised me to pay attention to where I carry my stress. She let me know that I would need to be able to release all of my muscles, including the ones I tightened without realizing. This is when I discovered that my back would be fine, but my jaw? Not so much.
Because I’ve been stuck with these headaches from grinding my teeth in my sleep, and clenching my jaw to keep from saying something I’ll regret, I have decided to pay more attention to my gratitude. Seems wonky logic right? Well, hear me out. It started with the gift of the butterfly. We didn’t see the butterfly emerge from it’s chrysalis, it was simply there as I came in from shouting out into the yard about a snack for my littles. So the four of us sat on the front stoop taking turns allowing the beautiful creature to rest on our hands. Later we took it back over to our neighbor’s yard -we found the caterpillars over there- and let it finish the becoming process. As I sat and watched the wonder in the faces of my children at being able to hold this precious creature in their dirty little hands, I allowed myself to release some of the tension I was holding onto.
The caterpillar to butterfly life cycle is pretty cool. For those of you who don’t know, I’m going to give you the basics. Monarchs travel North each Spring from Mexico to Minnesota (and other places too), they land on the milkweed plant to lay their eggs and then, typically, die. The eggs are minuscule, beyond small. They are most often hidden on the underside of the leaf and a teensy, tiny caterpillar will crawl out and start eating away at the milkweed -good plan momma Monarch. It grows, sheds it’s skin, eats…then one day, it climbs as high as it can get and hangs upside down for awhile. When you’re not looking it will suddenly shed it’s final skin revealing the chrysalis beneath, ten-ish days later that chrysalis opens and you’ve got yourself a butterfly. If you’ve never tried it I highly recommend going out to check the milkweed plants in your yard or on the roadside, it’s breathtaking to experience, and you still have plenty of time to do it this summer.
As I was recounting my gifts the next morning, my teeny cried out with glee that; “ALL of the butterflies came out!!!”. Three of our Monarchs were hanging from their shed chrysalis, allowing their wings to begin to work. This felt a little over the top. Like, what an amazing thing to be spoiled with three butterflies in one day. I was grateful and I wrote about it in my thankfulness journal.
After a note from a friend who is feeling overwhelmed by all of the goodness in her life and a few sweet pictures of a family who recently brought their triplets home from the hospital, I was questioning how all of the good can somehow turn to bad. Or at least it can be too much good, too much to be thankful for. Because at some point the blessing of good might just become a whole lot of work. Work that can be isolating, frustrating, exhausting. We don’t become bitter or clench our jaws because of the gift itself, but because of all of the hard that comes with or from it.
Too much of a good thing is not always wonderful. Too much of a good thing can actually make you ask a lot of questions that may not have answers right now. In my own life I know that when I am feeling most overwhelmed it has typically started out from a place of abundance. Abundant energy from my littles when I am running short of ideas, Boundless questions from a teeny when I just need to make dinner, endless toys and books to pick up when all I want to do is fall down on the couch and read to myself. So, I get it. Too much can be hard.
But does it have to be?
I’d suggest that we make it so. Several years ago we were really broke, struggling to make ends come close together, we did not have too much of much. In looking back almost all of the things that we had were gifted, found, or upcycled. My teen-aged daughter still mentions how “I never pay for anything”. In my book, free is always an option, if you’re willing to wait and watch and work. While I did have some serious anxiety during this season of life, I didn’t have the stress of too much. I didn’t worry about finding the time to put up my tomatoes because I wasn’t over-scheduled. I didn’t freak out about cleaning the house because the house was small, and the things that filled the rooms were few. I didn’t cry over spilled milk- wait, yes I did. Milk is expensive dang it, put a lid on that cup! I wrote about this forever ago.
My point is simply that with the accumulation of much; whether it is too much space, too many activities, or too many raspberry plants; there will be work and that work has the potential to bring stress banging at our mental door. I’d whisper softly that it doesn’t have to friend. If we are looking we can see the one who will help us pick and process berries, we can see the grandma thrilled to come hold babies and make lunch, we can skip an activity that demands too much of us.
It is important to me that I pick all of the raspberries in my yard and so I let other activities fall. I could just as easily let those berries fall though. The birds will eat them, the bugs will eat them, I could invite friends over to eat them. I will possibly regret it next Summer or in December when there are no berries in the freezer. I need to know the cost though. If the cost is a net loss of my joy then picking berries is not worth it. If picking up my children’s rooms one more time is an exhausting and angering prospect then perhaps it’s time to weed out some of the junk, or let go of the need for tidy spaces that I barely use (or, possibly I should just go live in my 35 foot long camper!). If I can’t handle all of the words my teeny spills out at me while I’m trying to make dinner, then maybe I need to make a more simple dinner and give her more of my attention.
While not all things can bring joy; we do have to eat, we need a relatively sanitary place to live, we must care for those babies even though we are exhausted. I’d propose that we have a choice as to where our energies go. We need to choose more wisely I think.
Those butterflies, they use a lot of energy in the becoming, but they also rest. When a caterpillar becomes a chrysalis it stops. I mean, outwardly, anyway. Obviously the hard work of turning from goo to a Monarch is, well…hard. The chrysalis at least has the good sense to be still, to not make a fancy dinner while it’s going through metamorphosis. The chrysalis just “is” for ten whole days. There is nothing more important during those two weeks than the hard inside work. Could you and I do that?
Could we look at the week ahead, at all of the things that we have scheduled and planned, the normal day to day items that should be checked off of our to-do lists, and just delete some of those things? It seems taboo to say so, to even think that I could say “Nope! Not doing that.” to something that should certainly be done. If it will save some stress, some clenching of my jaw though, if it will allow space for more joy to slip in…I hope that you’ll try it too friend.
Look for those places to rest. Accept the kindness of those who love you. Give yourself the most grace that is possible. Take a tiny lesson from a Monarch.