I’m generally a good sleeper, but I had an unusual experience Thursday night that I can’t shake. When I awoke in the middle of the night, an odd question popped into my head: “Another week of my life nearly gone, what did I accomplish?” I had helped a couple of friends on job searches. I had several meaningful conversations with the girls, always a victory with teenagers. And I visited my parents. A good week, is what flashed through my head in the dark, but not terribly impactful, leading instantly to a more difficult question: “How do you wish you’d been able to answer?” The. Silence. Was. Deafening.
All through my life, I’ve asked myself the question that I assume most of us ask ourselves…what should I be doing with my life? A difficult question to be sure, but one which hasn’t been distressing to not be able to answer. It’s been easy to let myself off the hook with that one. I mean, who expects to know what they’re supposed to do with their whole life, after all. But a single week? Not having that answer was astonishing.
Of course, the irony is that our lives are made up of individual weeks and days and moments. As an organizer and planner, I am fully aware that not having near-term goals makes it less likely that I’ll achieve my longer-term ones. Yet for some reason, I’d never thought about breaking down the enormous meaning-of-life goal into achievable chunks. I don’t even know where to start. But it seems important enough to start figuring out.
“A year from now, you will wish you had started today.” –Karen Lamb
Some days I’m so tired that I can barely think. Some days I don’t know how I’m going to muster the strength to get out of bed and go through the motions at work. Some days I feel like I can’t read one more story about a histio kid relapsing, or suffering through chemo, or worse. Some days I wonder why life has to be this hard and such a struggle.
Then there are days when I can’t believe how gorgeous the sunrise or sunset is. Sometimes I’m in awe of the beauty of the flowering bushes which bloom next to our fence and the hummingbirds which frequent them, amazed that they are now six feet tall when they were only knee-high when we planted them last year. Nearly every day I am grateful for my friends, who seem to know just what I need to hear. And every day, I know how blessed I am to come home to my husband and best friend of 35 years, and our two amazing, talented, funny daughters who make our hearts sing. We are older than most of their friends’ parents, but we can’t imagine life without them. Yeah, some days I can’t believe how very blessed I am.
“This is my family. I found it all on my own. It is little, and broken, but good. Yeah. Still good.” –Stitch
Dear Lu Family,
As always, I’m hoping this finds you happy, healthy, and prosperous. I apologize for the lateness of my letter. During my visit to your home all those years ago to pick up our new daughter, you asked me to send you a picture of her every year on her birthday. I missed last year, and I need to share with you why.
Last summer, our Megan fell gravely ill. She is recovering now, but it was very serious. A common virus triggered a very rare immune disease called HLH. It is fatal if not diagnosed quickly and treated aggressively. Given how rare it is, it took several months of her getting sicker before specialists finally discovered what it was, just barely in time. HLH is not cancer, but the only treatment for it is cancer treatment. It was very hard as her mother to watch her go through that, but you’d have been so proud of her. She displayed a grace and maturity throughout the ordeal that left me in awe. She never complained and found a way to find the good in every situation, making her a favorite of her nurses. She grew up a lot through the course of her treatment, telling us she now knows what’s important in life. She has always been very special, but she is now also wiser.
Thankfully, she is now in remission and getting stronger every day. We are so grateful. Even the highly trained specialists who had seen this disease before still took many weeks to diagnose this elusive illness, something that happens too often with tragic results. We are certain had she still been in China, she would not have survived. God clearly has a purpose for her life.
I’m enclosing a picture of our beautiful daughter so you can see how strong she is to have survived. We love her so much and remain beyond grateful for the care you gave her, which has allowed her to be here with us. Wishing the Lu family health, prosperity, and happiness from the ever thankful McCleary family.
I participated in one of those development opportunities at work this week which good companies make available, but which take great leaders to make impactful. It was held at the end of a long day, in the middle of a long week and an even longer year. I was tired and knew that I’d be taking work home to attend. But I appreciate these two leaders who invest their time in us, and so I went. The content was interesting, but the last 15 minutes hit me hard. They asked us to write a letter to our younger selves. Here’s what I wrote, unedited and written in a stream of consciousness so powerful it shocked me.
Never, never, never forget it’s the people. None of the other stuff you accomplish will ever matter squat unless you do it taking care of those around you. It’s not a competition: it’s a marathon called life, and you only get one race. Run one you’re proud of. You are a neat person–don’t let anyone make you forget that, no matter how they treat you, or carrying whatever baggage they’ve got. That’s about them, it’s not about you. Don’t let their issues and behavior become yours. Stay true to yourself and what matters to you, and it will all work out as it should. Have a blast!
I’ve recently written that I’m at one of those internal turning points we come to infrequently, which force us to choose what to keep and what to discard, what to run toward and what to walk away from. I’ve been struggling with what I’m willing to adjust for this new season in my life, and what I want to cling to. Writing this letter reminded me, in a few short but powerful minutes, of what I can’t afford to forget as I find my new path. I am strong and sure-footed. The future is bright. I will find my way.
“Keep your face to the sunshine, and you cannot see a shadow.” –Helen Keller
As I’ve reached mid-life, I recognize the patterns eventually, if generally later than I should. Every day, every year is different, but some common themes emerge, and so I adjust based on what I’ve learned from the times before. Then there are the “mega shifts”, the really big shifts that happen every decade or so, at the most. Sometimes the trigger is obvious, like having a child. But some are just the cumulation of everything that’s happened in life until then: age, relationships, deep wounds, personal growth. These tend to sneak up on me. For a long time, I only know that everything’s “off”, but I can’t put my finger on why. Eventually, I realize that I’m the one who’s off, and that something has to change.
It’s in the middle of this realization process that people make radical, ill-advised decisions. It’s a temptingly obvious thought: when things aren’t working, change them. But we’ve all seen people we care about run from their problems, only to realize that they were carrying their problems with them to their new destination. Running doesn’t work for me. A reason to make a change may eventually become crystal clear, but I find that I have to first work to change me. Life hands all of us our share of disappointments and curve balls. If I assume that my old perspective and approach will still work in a new, permanently changed situation, I’m setting myself up for unhappiness. Even though things have changed, somehow in the middle of it, I become the frog which will allow itself to be boiled, if only the heat is turned up gradually enough. The trick, as always, is to notice the rising heat before it’s too late.
The changes in my life have cumulated enough again that it’s time for me to adjust. I must focus on not losing any important part of myself in that process and on protecting my relationships with those important in my life. But I must find a new thought process, I must adjust to my new reality. Most importantly, I must choose happiness.
“Life is the continual adjustment of internal relations to external relations.” –Herbert Spencer
I’m torn. Some days I don’t think I can take another post from a terrified parent whose child was just diagnosed with this horrible disease, or a woman sharing the loss of her boyfriend/ mother/ sister, or a mother sharing the name and memory of her lost child with the one group of people who she can count on to understand why that’s so critically important for her to do. My daughter is recovering. She lived. I’m so grateful, and I just want to move back to the time before I’d ever heard of this 14-syllable disease. But I feel guilty, too. My daughter is recovering. She lived. Too many others did not. So many are still fighting the marathon battle I wasn’t sure how I was going to survive. This group of us who understands need each other. We are a lifeline. At least, I know they were to me, and so I stay. It’s my turn to be someone else’s thread of hope…a weak, fragile thread, separated by distance and an understanding that we’ll never meet, joined only by the thinnest shred of a shared and powerful experience. But sometimes that is enough. Sometimes I may be the one with just the right prayer, just the right reassuring word, just the right tiny piece of knowledge. So I stay, not because it is easy, but because some of us must. I hate it, and I dread it, and I am grateful for it, sometimes all at once. It is the least I can do to pay forward the infinite, unrepayable kindness and understanding shown to me, when it was my turn to be on the dark side. I feel an obligation to try to be a sliver of light where I can, and to be a small voice of love where the light can not yet enter.
“Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness.” –Desmond Tutu
My youngest turns 12 today. Where did the time go? It seems like only a couple of years ago a little pixie with a mop of crooked, coal black hair joined our family. No matter how old she gets, I will always think of her as the little toddler who, just a month after coming home from China, sat on the deck in her purple Disney princess chair with her feet propped up, grinning as if she owned the place. She’s always had what her grandpa calls a million dollar smile that can light up a room. She has brought much sunshine into our lives.
But our littlest one is also our most stubborn. We’ve never been able to make her do anything she didn’t want to do. We’re lucky, then, that she’s a good kid. But still, there are times that leave us exasperated. Or puzzled. One year, when she was about seven, she used her sister’s razor to shave half of an eyebrow off. Surprisingly, it took a day for us to notice. When I did, I quickly realized that year’s school pictures, scheduled for the next day, would be memorable. And so they were. It has become a family legend over the years and tells a lot about our special daughter.
I’m so very proud of the smart, beautiful young woman she’s becoming. She’s a walking encyclopedia on science facts, a gifted cook, can design and build almost anything, and has a big heart for animals. I love her to the moon and back. Happy birthday sweetheart – I told you your eyebrow would grow back!
“Today you are you! That is truer than true! There is no one alive who is you-er than you! –Dr. Seuss