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Drops of Awesome: How to stop feeling guilty about every failure in your past

Published: Tuesday, Oct. 8 2013 12:40 p.m. MDT

Kathryn Thompson shares what she has learned about progress.  (Shutterstock) Kathryn Thompson shares what she has learned about progress. (Shutterstock)

Editor's note: The following post originally appeared on Kathryn Thompson's blog, Daring Young Mom. Kathryn is releasing a book based on Drops of Awesome with Utah-launched Familius for fall 2014. This post has been shared here with the author's permission.

This post has been in my heart and on my mind for over a year now. I’ve talked about it. I’ve prayed about it. I’ve taught about it. I was waiting for the right time to post about it and now feels like that time. It’s a post about a tiny little moment that completely changed the way I see myself and others. As I think about it and act on what I learned, I find that I am changed in significant ways every single day.

It was a sunny school morning and I was walking Magoo to the bus stop. I don’t often walk him to the school bus. He’s in second grade and pretty independent and I’m usually busy getting myself and his sisters ready. I’m semi-nocturnal and I sleep later than I should most mornings.

When it’s time for school, he says goodbye and heads up the hill to the bus.

As we got half way to the bus, Magoo reached out and grabbed my hand in an uninhibited way that I knew wouldn’t happen many more times. He’s 7 now but growing, and how many 12-year-old boys do you see still swinging hands happily with their mommies?

I squeezed his hand, felt the rare Seattle sun on my face, and told him I loved him. I was nearly perfectly happy.

Nearly.

Just at that moment, the thought came into my mind, That’s awesome that you’re walking him to the bus stop and putting on this “mother of the year” act today. What about yesterday and the day before that? You hardly ever walk him to the bus. He’s probably holding your hand because he’s so desperate for the love and attention you haven’t been showing him.

My bubble had burst. I am a crap mom, I thought, as I looked down into his smiling face.

Then another thought came. Kathryn. What is wrong with you? You are being an awesome mom in this moment. Your child is happy. You are loving him and caring for him. He’s well fed and dressed. You’re walking to the bus stop in the early morning and you’re already wearing a bra for heck’s sake. Do not rob yourself of this moment’s joy because of what you failed to do yesterday or what you fear you might not do tomorrow.

This started me thinking of all the times I do something good while beating myself up for all the times I haven’t been perfect.

You’re worshiping in the temple? Woopty freakin do! How long has it been since you came here last? When are you likely to come again? You’re not good at this. This is a fluke.

Wow. So you cleaned the kitchen today. Want a cookie? That dirty rag has been on the counter for a week, and those dishes you so righteously cleaned are from breakfast three days ago. You are embarrassing.

That was really nice of you to offer to watch your friend’s kids while she had surgery. Remember last week when you knew your neighbor was suffering from depression and you drove right by with a wave because you did not want to get sucked into the drama? You don’t really care about people. Not all the time.

How destructive are these kinds of thoughts?

As I said goodbye to Magoo and started to walk back home, my mind started to shift.

Drops of Awesome! I thought. Every time you do something good, something kind, something productive, it’s a drop in your Bucket of Awesome. You don’t lose drops for every misstep. You can only build. You can only fill.

I walked Magoo to the bus. Drop of Awesome!

I fed him fruit with breakfast. Drop of Awesome!

I told him I loved him. Drop of Awesome!

I wore a bra and brushed my teeth before schlepping it up that hill. Two Fat Drops of Awesome!

All day long I chanted these words in my head. I picked up that Tootsie Roll wrapper off the front porch instead of stepping over it for the eleventy hundredth time. Drop of Awesome! I unloaded one dish from the dishwasher when I walked through the kitchen on my way to the bathroom. Drop of Awesome! I texted my sad neighbor to say I was thinking about her. Drop of Awesome! I had a critical thought about one of my kids, and I brushed it away and replaced it with love. Drop of Awesome!

When I started thinking about my life in terms of adding these little Drops of Awesome for every tiny act of good, I found that I was doing more and more of them because it’s a lot more fun to do good when you’re rewarded with joy, rather than being guilted about every failure in your past.

By the end of the day, I had realized something important. If I was spending time with my kids, really listening to them with attention in the moment, then I was a good listener, regardless of the 50 other times I’d brushed them off or multitasked while they were talking over the past week. If I was engaged in sincere prayer with my Heavenly Father, really communing with him and seeking his will, then I was a person who engages in sincere prayer, regardless of how my prayers were (or weren’t) yesterday and the day before that and the day before that.

As I added up these Drops of Awesome, I found that in those moments I actually became the person I had always wanted to be.

Have you ever said any of these things: “Well, I guess I don’t work out anymore,” because you missed one workout? Or, “I always fight with my brother. Our relationship is broken.” What about, “I’m kind of a nag to my spouse.” Or “I gossip, and I always end up hurting people I love.” “I can’t stop spending money. We will never get out of debt.” “My house is always a disaster.”

These things are lies, depending on the next decision you make, the next Drop of Awesome you put in your bucket. You may have done these things or have a hard time with them but they don’t define you and you can change this very instant. You may not think you can change permanently but you can change the next choice you make. And as you change that one next tiny choice, you may think, I got this one Drop of Awesome but I may never be able to get another one again.

And that’s OK.

You made the right choice once. And in that moment you were the person you want to be and that is a triumph. For one night, you were a person who went to bed early. One morning you woke up and the first words out of your mouth were positive so you were a morning person in that moment. Bam! Drop of Awesome.

You do not need to wait three months to be who you want to be. Pick up 10 things right now and say, “Drops of Awesome! I am someone who takes care of my house. That is who I am. I have proof.”

In the end, it’s really about allowing yourself to feel joy and allowing yourself to be proud of the small victories of life. This builds momentum and you want more drops in your bucket and when you don’t get as many, you pick yourself up and say, “What can I do next?”

Now, there are a whole lot of religious implications to this because, as a Christian, I believe that you are not the only one adding these Drops of Awesome to your bucket. Christ commanded us to be perfect, but through his atonement, he is with us every step of the way.

As an object lesson when I was teaching this to the teenage girls at church, I gave them each a small dropper and I put a 2-quart bowl on the table. I told them that throughout the lesson they would get the chance to put drops in the bucket for every Drop of Awesome they could think of that they’d done. I promised them that we would fill the bowl to overflowing by the end of the lesson.

With about 5 minutes to go, we had barely begun to fill the bowl and the girls were looking around at each other nervously. The promised overflow did not look likely. Were they not awesome enough?

At that point, I pulled out a large pitcher labeled ATONEMENT and poured water into the glass bowl until it was spilling out all over the table and the towel the bowl was resting on. The class went silent.

When we are in a relationship with Christ, striving as God’s sons and daughters to do his will, he pours more into our buckets than we can ever hope to imagine. He can fill us to overflowing with peace, with joy, with perfection, with Awesome. And then what do we do if our bucket is overflowing like that? Where does the Awesome go then?

I pulled out an identical bowl, twice the size of the original. Our capacity for joy and light increases. And we just keep working, one tiny drop at a time. And we don’t compare today’s drops to yesterday’s or tomorrow’s. And we live and we love and we repent when we do wrong and we allow ourselves to be glorious, beautiful, and dare I say perfect in Christ, children of God.

I believe in a God who loves us and roots for us and cheers for every Drop of Awesome we can manage. Our victories are his victories and he wants us to feel joy. Not later, when we no longer make mistakes, but right now.

I’m gonna close this uber long post out with a scripture from the Book of Mormon. I know many of you do not share my faith, but I think you’ll find truth in these words:

“Now ye may suppose that this is foolishness in me; but behold I say unto you, that by small and simple things are great things brought to pass; and small means in many instances doth confound the wise.” (Alma 37:6)

Small and simple. Tiny drops. Go forth. Be Awesome.

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