The parable of the Ranch dressing

I had a meltdown yesterday.  A put-my-head-down-on-the-desk-and-cry kind of meltdown.  I also cried in the kitchen and again in my bathroom, and up and down some stairs and halls.

I’ll tell you why.  (This may sound a little bit like complaining or self-pity.  That’s because it is, but I’ll get over it by the end of the story.)

I went to bed too late and my children woke up (as usual) too early.   I lay in bed listening to them crack each other up with jokes you have to be in kindergarten to appreciate.  Grant came to my bedside to tattle that Clark was playing the game downstairs that they’d been grounded from yesterday.  I sent him back to deliver a warning, and a few minutes later I could hear them both playing that same game.  I heard (and felt) bumping, laughing, wrestling, fighting.  They finally progressed to breakfast and scavenged around in the kitchen because I was so out of groceries.  The noise, scuffling, and lame jokes continued.  I tried in vain to hush the boys so that they wouldn’t wake up Natalie.  They did.  It was one of those mornings where I dreaded getting out of bed and starting the day.  (This happens occasionally when the day begins out of control before I’m even awake enough to face it.  It usually fades once I get up and start moving. This time it didn’t.)

Dishes in the sink. Cottage cheese on the floor, table, wall, door.  Grant couldn’t find his library book.  Hurry, you’re going to miss the bus and I’m not taking you. It’s so cold outside and I’m in a constant state of chill, even in my house.  No food, no milk, can’t put off grocery shopping any longer.  If I’m going out to the store, I should go to the Post Office too (dread, dread, dreaded task) to mail Christmas cards and a package that I’ve been meaning to send for at least a week.  “Matt, is the printer working yet?  I need to print the address labels for my cards?”  He’s been studying for finals and couldn’t get it to work since our Internet went down last week.  On his way out the door, he handed me a network code on a post-it note and claimed it would be easy for me to punch it in somewhere and make the computer recognize our printer.  I was bathing Natalie and told him to put it on the desk.

As I walked downstairs, I passed the waist-high reminder of laundry that needs to be done.  Sigh.  And, oh great, look what the boys did to the playroom this morning.  Where’s that blasted post-it note?  Not on the desk.  Called Matt.  Finally found it on my bed.  Tried, tried, tried to get printer to work.  No clue.  Frustration.  Called Matt again.  He can’t really help me over the phone.  Frustration again.  I tried a few more things and somehow managed to disconnect the Internet all together.  Huh?  Tried again to fix it.  Nope.  No Internet.  No printer.  No labels.  No Christmas cards.  Too late, will never get mailed on time.  I spent too much money on them.  No internet?  Now I can’t even transfer money to my account to go grocery shopping either.  That’s it.

I hit a wall, dropped my head on the desk and cried.  Pretty  hard.  Clark wanted to ask me some questions and I answered the best I could, but I wanted to get away.

The phone rang, and I composed myself.  It was my neighbor who wanted to borrow some Ranch dressing for her boys’ lunch.  A wave of frustration set over me because I remembered I had NO GROCERIES.  I told her I didn’t know if I had anything, but I’d check.  She assured me it was fine if I didn’t.  I opened the fridge and found some.  I told her I had less than a quarter bottle.  And it wasn’t even regular traditional Ranch, it was the three-cheese kind.  I sort of apologized I didn’t have more or the right kind, and she said it sounded totally fine.  We agreed Clark would drop it off when he got on the bus for kindergarten.  Then Matt called and asked about the printer.  I started to cry again and he (wisely) decided he’d just call back a little later and promised he’d help when he got home.  I managed to keep my tears to a minimum while I fed Clark and Natalie a piece-meal lunch and got him out the door for school.  I put Natalie in her room for quiet time, and the flood gates opened again.

There was no place to hide.  Every room had some glaring pile or reminder of something else I needed to clean or do or wrap or fix or fold or put away.  More crying.  I thought about my grandma who had a nervous breakdown once, but she had nine children and lived in an old drafty home and had no money to buy groceries.  My life is so much easier than hers was.  What is wrong with me?  All my thoughts started with “I can’t . . . I can’t . . . I can’t . . .  I  just can’t.”

I was melting down.  I stood at my window and stared out across the street.  I saw into my neighbor’s house where she was feeding her children lunch at the table.  With my ranch dressing.  This is what my brain said (and I know it’s dumb, but this is really what I thought):  You know, Stephanie, maybe you’re like that ranch dressing.  It didn’t seem like enough, and it wasn’t the “traditonal” kind, and you assumed it wasn’t what was wanted or needed.  But it was.  It accomplished exactly what it was needed for, and everything’s fine.  It was enough.

I took a deep breath and thought, “What does Satan want me to do right now?”  (It seemed a little more concrete at the moment than “What would Jesus do?”)  He probably wants me to crawl into bed and never get out. I did get in bed, but I said a prayer.  I told Heavenly Father I can’t do this on my own– even stupid laundry and wiping cottage cheese off the door.  I needed help outside of myself to get this stuff done.  I sat up and the first thought that came to my mind was, “Start with the red coat.”  I looked at my coat on the floor by my closet for a minute and felt grateful that God gave me a place to start because I just felt too overwhelmed by the amount of stuff I needed to do.

And little by little, I made progress.  When the kids got home from school, I had some warm banana chocolate chip muffins waiting for them, and a long list of chores and three dice.  They rolled dice and did the chores with the matching numbers.  We all worked together for a couple of hours, and we got a lot done.  I felt lighter and lighter, and by the end of the day, I was myself again.  I felt silly about my meltdown.  It’s only happened two or three times since I got married a full decade ago, but it happened.  And it might again, but God helps me crawl out when I finally break down enough to admit how much I need Him.

And I don’t think I’ll ever see a bottle of Ranch dressing again without remembering that no matter how little I have to offer or how different I feel from what I think I should be, I am enough (with God’s help) to accomplish anything that really needs to be done.