A blank page staring back at me is a gift or a curse, depending on the moment. Depending on whether I have anything to say. On a day filled with inspiration, it’s clean and new and ready to be filled with crisp black letters, lined up evenly, contained in a set space, but limited only by my overflowing brain. It’s hope and promise and all that’s good in the world. But on a day void of ideas my point of view flips – a blank page is endless and plain. Not lovely in-and-of itself, but wanting. Lonely and desolate.
Really, a blank page isn’t good or bad or anything but blank. It’s all about perspective, like everything else in the world. I tell my kids this all the time. Luke complains about dinner, we point to the photos on the wall from Marc’s trip to Africa – the kids with yellow eyes from malnutrition and liver disease. Lily whines for every item in the toy store, and we point out the kids outside the homeless shelter on our way home.
But even more, I have to remind myself about changing my own perspective.
During the school year, evenings are rough. Making dinner, feeding the baby, monitoring homework and piano practice, throwing the kids in the bath and running in to wash a bit of them from time to time, putting the baby to bed, all the while being yelled at (my children are so excited about all things in life that they yell everything they say) by two voices at once to “watch this” and that “he’s copying me” and “she hit me in the face with a car”, and asking me scientific questions about spiders and black holes or correcting me on which Disney princess wears yellow. Was that sentence long and exhausting to read? Exactly.
But on a good day I can see these things differently. On a day where I’ve woken up with a decent amount of sleep, or I’ve had a bit of a break, or God has graced me with inexplicable patience and energy, I can see the flip side of life with three kids. Yes, I’m making dinner, but I am doing so with quinoa from South America that I have simply purchased at Costco for a reasonable price, instead of digging up potatoes in my field and cooking them over a fire I made from sticks. Boo-hoo. On a good day I can see that the baby I’m feeding is so patient and sweet and dimpled, she is the easiest part of my day, and she will only be this way for a moment. My son rocks at math and is tending to his super-brain in the dining room. We can afford piano lessons. Bathtime – well, I guess the upside is we have running water. My children’s minds teem with creative questions and ideas – everything is new and exciting and full of promise, as it should be.
I’ve taught my kids a phrase that we recite when one of us is being ungrateful, which is most days. “Let’s have an ‘attitude of gratitude,’ guys.” I heard it on the radio once and loved it. It rhymes, which kids like and makes it easy to remember, and it sums up the frame of mind we need. I remind them of it from time to time, but I also need to remind myself. This crazy life is a gift. Crazy means it’s full. Of people we love, and things to do, and the resources with which to do them. If I am sitting down writing a blog, if you are sitting down reading a blog, I can assume we are in a mutual state of having been fed, sheltered and blessed with an internet connection. We are not suffering from starvation, or dying from the record-breaking temperatures, or being sold into the sex trade. We may have our problems, but there’s always something worse. Always something to be grateful for. Always others to worry about more than ourselves.
I started this post the other day with a blank page, and a blank mind to match. I had nothing to say, except the bit about blank pages, because that’s how I felt. During my three hours of writing time I put my head down a lot, checked email, updated my shopping cart on Amazon, and I ended up with one paragraph and two sentences. Not a success. But today I have some ideas rolling around up top and my blank page has changed. It is full. Whether it was a mood swing, an energy burst, or the yummy bubble tea I’m currently drinking, something shifted my perspective of this empty page to a space full of potential, waiting to spill over with words. I’m grateful for that. Sometimes it takes more than a couple days to see a situation in a different light. Some things are just plain hard and you need serious effort, and prayer and caffeine to be able to change your point of view. To see how anyone else has it worse. Those days do come. But the rest of the time we can keep on truckin’, looking at the flip side, having an attitude of gratitude and teaching our kids to do the same.