Sunday, August 28, 2011

Contentment and the Pink Glitter Shoes

We all struggle with contentment. There is always something that you can focus on in your life that needs changing. A struggling marriage, boredom in a job, or just the size of the living room TV. I was often guilty of a certain amount of yearning for things I didn't have, ways I didn't look, and the ability to change my life circumstances at one point or another. Never did I realize that I would learn a very important and valuable lesson on contentment from a simple pair of pink glitter shoes.

Shopping for shoes has been a bonding experience for mothers and daughters for generations. A recent shopping trip with my 6-year-old daughter, Elise, for a pair of new shoes would prove particularly successful. Not long after entering the store, and making a bee line to the shoe department, I laid my eyes on the most gorgeous pink glitter tennis shoes I had ever seen. Holding them up to her feet, I could tell they would fit. I was already daydreaming about the outfits that I would pair them with for school and church. The profoundly sad truth, however, about this shopping trip was that these shoes, fit for a princess, would never be walked in.

When I was pregnant with Elise, I was infected with Cytomegalovirus (CMV), a flu-like virus. I didn’t have any idea that I was infected because I had virtually no symptoms. Almost everyone gets this virus by the time they are an adult, but its impact is most devastating if a mom contracts it early in her pregnancy. Even in her unborn state, Elise was profoundly affected as this insidious virus attacked her brain. She is now 6-years-old, but she has the mental capabilities of a young baby. From birth, Elise has suffered from deafness, blindness, cerebral palsy, epilepsy, mental retardation, and many other difficulties. Her doctors have told us in the gentlest way they know that, on average, children like Elise have a much shortened life span.

After traveling North America for the first two years of her life in search of how to help Elise, it became increasingly clear that there was no magic drug or therapy that could give me the baby girl I so longed for in the depths of my soul. Only then did I realize that my focus needed to move from trying to “fix” Elise, to asking God for contentment in exactly who she is. Maybe I needed to quit praying for God to change my circumstances and, instead, focus on how he could use them to change me.

Well, Elise wore the heck out of those pink glitter shoes. She wore them to school, to church, and with any outfit that matched. For many families with children like Elise, the main concern when dressing their child is comfort. For me, though, it doesn’t get any better than to introduce Elise to the world looking like a regular little girl. I thrive on the comments she gets.

“Oh, look at that beautiful dress!”

“Her earrings are adorable!”

And best of all, “Look at those shoes! They are perfect!”

Now, before you go thinking I am an image-obsessed mom, it helps to understand the position of a mother with a child who is so profoundly affected that there is virtually nothing typical about them. I will never take her rollerskating. I won’t help her with her homework. I will never hear her say, “Mama”. I will not teach her how to make pancakes, about boys, or how to put on makeup. There will be no prom, leaving home for college, or getting married - no one with whom to share my feminine know-how. I just figure, if I can’t put ballet slippers on her feet for dance class, I can definitely make sure that she is wearing a cute pair of shoes as I push her around in her wheelchair.

Several months after buying the shoes, Elise’s cousins came to visit. The youngest one, Abby, was 3-years-old at the time. She is always interested in Elise and how she fits into her understanding of how another child should look and act. One morning, Abby spied Elise’s pink glitter shoes sitting in her closet. Being the epitome of “girly” shoes, she giddily approached me with pleading eyes, asking to try on the shoes. Now, if I’m being fully honest, then I have to say that my first gut reaction was, “NO!” (if only in my head). I got a little pain inside my stomach that crawled up to my heart. “Those are Elise’s shoes. They have never been walked in,” I told myself. “What if she scuffs them?” “What if she stretches them out?” But, seeing how it might look a little odd for a grown woman to enter into a battle of “MINE!” with a 3-year-old, I reluctantly handed them over.

It was as I videotaped Abby in those shoes, pirouetting and twirling so gracefully, while Elise lay in her bed unable to get up, that I realized, “Hey, I’m happy for Abby. I’m enjoying watching Abby.” Just months before, I would have had woeful feelings of, “Oh, how terrible that Elise can’t dance in her shoes. If only I had a daughter to enjoy in this way.” It was then, laughing and clapping for Abby, that I understood that my prayers for contentment had been answered. I was finally able to see the beauty in a child that was born without any problems.

I could see it without coveting it. Without crying for it. Without filling up with bitterness because I couldn’t have it.

I know with all certainty that God answers prayers. It’s just really cool when you can actually put your finger on the moment that he does it. That was this moment. A time when I chose to be happy for a little girl who could dance in my daughter’s pink glitter shoes that, otherwise, would have never touched the floor.

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