Traffic Jam at the Intersection of Chronic Sinus Infection Avenue and Swamped Street

traffic jam

Hello, my name is Sarah, and I am a planner. You might call me OCD. My husband rarely makes plans without asking me first, for fear that I’ll lose it if my plan gets sidetracked. This particular piece of the Sarah puzzle doesn’t always fit nicely with the rest of the pieces. But on the up side, I’ve always known what I wanted. As a seventeen-year-old high school graduate, there was absolutely no question about what major I would claim in college: English, obviously, because I love to read and write, and I was well on my way to becoming a published author who would make enough income to support herself and her future family.

Fast forward to reality: at almost thirty-five, the only books I’ve published were paid for by me, and the income I’ve made as a writer is hardly steady, much less supportive to the family budget. I still love to write, but it was with a heavy dose of humility that I finally admitted that, if I didn’t want to watch my husband work himself to death from the sidelines, I needed to find something profitable to do. Having a traditional, full-time job was never a part of my plan. But after I stalled for years and accepted it, I have found satisfaction and even a joy I never expected by first teaching and now crunching numbers, of all things.

Have no fear: I am still a writer, and even though I am much less active than I once was, this blog keeps me accountable. Although I’m going on three months without a post, it’s not that I’ve lost my passion for writing or run out of things to say; I simply haven’t been able to wrap my mind around a cohesive topic in a while. Or more accurately, I haven’t had the time to so much as think about it. What with going from the “let’s look at houses” to actually buying one and moving in in exactly one month, being busier than ever at work, getting and staying sick for almost three months running, and becoming an independent consultant with Thirty-One Gifts, I feel lucky to remember my name.

But it happens to be spring break, and I consider it a God-thing that inspiration finally struck right when I had the time to nurture it. It happened Monday while reading my daily devotional. Some mornings, I absorb it, while others I’m lucky to remember what I read five minutes later. But this particular entry seemed to be speaking to me:

Lately, as I’ve been skimming financial advice books, I’ve noticed an interesting trend. While almost all such books have good advice, many imply that the primary reason to cut costs is to live like millionaires later. But one book offered a refreshingly different perspective, arguing that living simply is essential for a rich life. If you need more or fancier stuff to feel joy, the book suggested, “You’re missing the point of being alive.”

—Monica Brands, “The Point of Being Alive,” Our Daily Bread (read full entry here)

This struck me because I’ve been following one particular financial method for over a decade, and it is absolutely based on the idea of sacrificing certain pleasures now in order to enjoy them after retirement. Now, I have no argument with saving for the future. And really, is being fiscally responsible and living within my means a bad thing? But I don’t think that’s what the author of the devotional was getting at. There has to be a balance between wasting what we earn on instant gratification and becoming misers who save for a tomorrow that might never come.

Years ago, I met a woman who had looked forward to her husband’s retirement more than anything else in her life. They were retirement saving pros, their goal to travel during their golden years. But mere weeks after he retired, he was diagnosed with terminal cancer, and their retirement dream died right along with him.

I am usually not one of these people who dwells on death, but I have been sick for 11 weeks now—the perfect storm of chronic sinus infections, allergies, and barely enough time to rest every night. The same day I read the above devotional, I had a CT scan to ascertain what, exactly, is going on in my head. My ENT expects to find a reason behind the congestion, but as soon as he said, “scan of your head,” I thought about my friend who lost her life to a brain tumor at 32.

Wouldn’t it be just like Life to give me a major detour? Health problems are a nightmare to planners like me—I don’t have room for that nonsense! But while I seriously doubt that my results will show anything that serious, just the idea of it has been enough to make me look back over my life and consider my regrets. Well, I’m not a bestselling author… and that’s about it. I married the love of my life, and we have two children whom we adore. My family in itself is blessing enough, but I have more: we’ve taken great trips and made lots of memories. We read to our children all the time and tell them stories of our own childhoods. We instill in them the values that we hold dear, and I hope I’m not too boastful in saying that they’re good-hearted people (even if the older one is snarky and the younger one is a hot mess).

When I was younger, I assumed that everything I wanted in life would fall into place as easily as my marriage: I would land a literary agent, get published, play Scrooge McDuck in my mountains of earnings, and then write more novels from my office while watching my children play in my perfectly manicured backyard. I have the husband and children, so why is the rest so unattainable? It’s frustrating to say that I’m a writer—that I’ve written novels—yet have little to show for it. I was jarred by my ungratefulness when a friend who is successful in her career and seems to have it all told me she admires me for being a mother. She doesn’t look down on me at all because the career I’ve always desired remains out of reach.

It’s easy to get lost in the belief that life doesn’t begin until [fill in the blank]. The problem is that if we have to achieve x before life is worth living, we could travel down that lonely road forever without reaching the destination.

While the lure of a perfect someday can blind us to the imperfect joys of today, if we follow the (annoying, frustrating, life-changing) detours without fighting to stay on our original path, we’ll likely end up right where we need to be… with many (worthwhile, unexpected, fulfilling) stops along the way.

When Easter Seems Far Away

Storm clouds over swifts creek

Storm Clouds (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Easter is coming, one of my favorite times of year. I love both the sacred and secular aspects. I get a kick out of watching my kids hunt eggs, and every year, I look forward to preparing myself for Easter joy by first attending my church’s Maundy Thursday service. It doesn’t just commemorate the Last Supper but the events of Good Friday in the form of a service of tenebrae (darkness).

For me to truly appreciate Easter, I must first immerse myself in the grief of the disciples during Jesus’ last hours. No matter what you think or believe about him, Jesus was certainly real and suffered a terrible death. Imagine how his followers felt – people who had hope that he would put the Romans in their place and bring God’s kingdom as only a holy monarch could do – watching him be mocked and put to death in such a humiliating fashion. They must have lost all hope, unaware that Easter was coming.

Holy Week encompasses the lows and highs of humanity, much as some days or weeks stand out in our own lives. Life doesn’t wait for a time when you can handle it to fling you off your mountaintop into the valley. It’s only appropriate that I had one of those “stand out” days on Maundy Thursday.

It was a busy day. My kindergartner had his school egg hunt and Easter party, and his school day ended on a high. In the afternoon, I had to rush to get all my grocery shopping done and get through my usual chores, so I could go to church. As my children were splashing and giggling in the bathtub, I received the unexpected and numbing news that our family, with whom we just spent a wonderful vacation, had experienced a terrible loss. My heart ached, and I wished I could be across the country to comfort them. I felt helpless, confused. How could this happen? And during Easter week, of all times.

Because life goes on amidst tragedy, I went to church as planned, reminded that there are many people for whom Easter never seems to arrive – or is pulled right out from under them. I don’t mean the specific Christian celebration of Easter; I mean the rainbow that follows that storm, the light that banishes the shadows. Hope.

Everyone spends time in the valley, whether it’s losing a loved one, going in for a routine check up and leaving with the knowledge of a mortal illness, or being knocked flat by a sudden life change. During these times, our Easters are slow in arriving. We can become lost in the whys and trying to make sense out of something senseless.

As a writer, I often explore my feelings or try to work through a difficult situation by writing. Painters may lose themselves in acrylics and a blank canvas. Songwriters create some of the most moving melodies and lyrics. I’m thinking in particular of the stories behind the hymns Precious Lord and It Is Well with My Soul. These songs have brought comfort to generations of Christians, even though they were written from the depths of grief.

Enjoy your Easters, your mountaintop experiences. Unexpected joy is a gift that balances the dark times, the tenebrae of our lives. But don’t get so high in the clouds that you become deaf and blind to the darkness that still consumes others. Your own valley experiences can help you be the quiet listener, the compassionate friend, the comforter for someone else in need. You may not even realize that working through your own grief has helped the sun rise for someone who is still lost in the valley.

 

Precious Lord, take my hand.

Easter Lily (Animated)

Easter Lily (Photo credit: ClaraDon)

Lead me on, let me stand.

I am tired, I am weak, I am worn.

Through the storm, through the night,

Lead me on to the light.

Take my hand, Lord. Lead me home.

                                                                 – Thomas A. Dorsey

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