The older I get, the more weary I get. I don’t know how to fully explain it, and I don’t mean that I’m more tired (though that’s true, too). I mean weary, like not just in my bones but in my soul, too. It’s not a good feeling, yet somehow it’s not totally bad, either. It’s almost familiar, even though it’s new, like somehow it was inevitable. I’m at the stage now where I’m working to decide what it means, and more importantly, what to do with it.
While I think that a small part of it has to do with the realization that I’m now unquestionably in the back half of my life, this isn’t a mid-life crisis. I have a precious family that means the world to me and a meaningful job I love. I’m healthy and active, and I’m in the best place I’ve ever been in my life spiritually. No, it’s more than that. It feels the most like more of a vague realization that life is just flat out a struggle, and there’s too much suffering in the world. This loony election season hasn’t helped any, but this is way bigger than any political outcome. I just get weary.
I get weary of the polarization and seemingly unreconcilable divide in our country. I get weary of the need to hand money and a blessing out of my car window to the homeless. I get weary of seeing the photos and hearing the stories of especially children fighting horrific diseases for their very lives. I get weary of politicians acting in what is clearly their own best interest over those who elected them to serve them. I get weary of layoffs and domestic abuse and addiction and racism. It becomes overwhelming.
Yet when it seems like just one more all-too-human story may knock me down, another story…an offsetting story of hope… shines through. The amazing part is it usually only takes one of the good ones to counter many of the bad ones. That’s the power of good, of love. From those small, shining nuggets of hope, I get the strength to carry on. Even though I am weary.
“And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.” –Galatians 6:9
When our son–our oldest–was a toddler, our local newspaper included a parenting column. I got one of my most valuable parenting lessons there: when a child is acting the least lovable is when they actually need the most love. It’s so powerful not just because I found it to be utterly true with my kids, but because I’ve also realized that it doesn’t apply only to children.
Children misbehave when they’re tired or bored or frustrated or scared. So do adults. This tip has helped me check my own reactions to others’ behavior on countless occasions. I can’t say it’s always worked, but when I remember it and respond with gentleness and love instead of anger, the outcome is usually dramatically better. Love defuses negative emotions; I’ve come to believe that it can fix virtually anything. In Disney’s Merlin, the title character called love “the most powerful force in the universe.” I believe it.
As I’ve matured in my faith journey, I think I know why love is so powerful: God is, fundamentally, love. Showing love is a little like having our own super power. And there’s simply no downside to responding in love–it always leaves me feeling better when I do. It has taken me much practice and self-control, especially sometimes as the mother of two teenage girls. But it’s worth it, they’re worth it. And I’m worth it, for my peace and for my relationships.
“There is only one happiness in this life, to love and be loved.” –George Sand
This Christmas was different. We did all the traditional family stuff: put up our tree and the family momentos, made gingerbread houses and sugar cookies, and drove around to look at Christmas lights. It’s always been one of my favorite times of year, and it was again this year. But it was still different, with a whole new layer of meaning I hadn’t experienced before in my 50 years.
You see, I’ve never really understood Christmas. I can recite the familiar story about as well as anyone can. I understand its theological meaning: that God Himself chose to walk among us, suffer for us, and in so doing, save us from ourselves. I understand all of that, but I still feel like I don’t really understand. It’s always been just a story to me, no different than other stories unrelatable by the great distance of time and an element of the miraculous. I’ve long understood the story only with my head, but never my heart.
But this year was different. For a lot of reasons, this year I came into Christmas needing hope. I needed to believe, that in spite of all of the dark and pain and ugliness, there will be a happy ending. I desperately needed hope…I was looking for it. But the funny thing is that the Bible says that that’s all we really have to do: to look for it. There’s no magic key to life or to peace, only to have the desire to seek God. This year, simply by seeking Hope, I actually found it, and in so doing, I also began to understand the true meaning of Christmas.
“Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you. For everyone that asketh shall receiveth; and he that seeketh, findeth; and to him that knocketh, it shall be opened.” –Matthew 7:7-8
There were two especially dark times when Megan was ill. The first, unsurprisingly, was when she was sickest. You can tell when doctors aren’t sure your child is going to make it from their pained facial expressions and the careful words they choose when they answer your desperate questions seeking reassurance. The other bad time was after she came home the first time, when the worst of the crisis had passed for the moment.
For the first time in the two months since our wee hour race to Little Rock with only the clothes on our backs, we could all eat dinner at home together and sleep in our own beds. It was almost bliss, marred only by the knowledge that it could end at any moment. The next few weeks were a much needed relief, if not exactly normal. There were the grueling, twice a week Little Rock trips for chemo, including one sudden trip by ambulance: a fever is dangerous in someone whose immune system has been wiped out. But otherwise, we were together and home, beginning to recover, physically and emotionally…until the call. I knew by then what a bone marrow transplant meant. It meant splitting our family in two again, only this time for up to a year. A year of significant uncertainty and risk. A year of juggling holidays and birthdays and school and work. A year of trying to keep things normal for our other daughter. A year of trying to keep myself together, shaky as I was after what we’d already been through. It was a blow that nearly knocked me down. But you do what you have to do, especially when it’s your child. I picked myself up and sadly packed for a year. We drove the 600 miles to Cincinnati and did our best to settle in.
A month later, with Megan improving, her doctor shocked us during a routine check – she could go home! This time the packing and long drive were joyous. We were home, together again. We ate dinner together. We spent the holidays at home. And I told myself that I would never take these simple privileges for granted again, though I sometimes have since then. On this second anniversary of our long drive into the frightening unknown, I am thankful. Thankful for my daughter’s remission. Thankful for the meals we eat together. Thankful for laughter and sharing the small talk of the day. Thankful to sleep in my own bed. My teenage girls already know, from having had their lives suddenly blown up, that boring is good. I am so very thankful for this boring day together.
“If the only prayer that you ever say in your entire life is thank you, it will be enough.” –Meister Eckhart
I pulled up the last prolific pepper plant this Thanksgiving week, after the second hard freeze finally took it out. The freezer is jammed with this year’s haul; they should last us all winter. The last tomato plants came out the week before, but we still have a few green ones to enjoy before the long wait for next year’s crop.
It’s always sad to see the garden go, and I think about the next one I’ll plant all winter long. My absolute favorite is the tomatoes. Everything’s better with home-grown tomatoes: hamburgers, salad, BLT’s, even tacos. I’m now down to growing only peppers and tomatoes, after years of growing lots of things. After all of that practice, my garden is down to a science: 3 hours of ground prep and planting in the spring, then just 30 minutes a month of maintenance through the summer, after a friend’s painfully obvious recommendation of black fabric to keep the weeds down. More tomatoes than we can eat and peppers all winter for very limited effort and cost–it’s a great return on investment.
I garden now just like I live: increasingly stripped down to the bare essentials, with years of experience to guide me as to what matters and what can be put aside. I don’t need more zucchini or cucumbers than my whole block can eat, and I sure don’t need the work it takes to grow them. Just like I don’t need a lot of the junk that I chased for too much of my life. In the same way that I’ve honed my gardening to minimal effort for optimum gain, I’ve also honed the way that I spend my precious, limited time. I now spend more time investing in people…it’s the only thing I’ve found that makes this long, hard life worth living. I find time for family, for friends, for coaching others. I spend far less time than I once did on housework, on watching TV, and at work. There’s limited meaning in those. My house will be too clean…and too quiet…someday soon. And for the first time in my life, I am spending a little time trying to make the world a better place, even if it’s only a tiny drop in the bucket. My stripped-down life means I now have a bit of time to be a voice for the voiceless, to support the targeted, to add one more voice for tolerance. I may no longer grow a big garden, but I’m eager to see what my new harvest will bring.
“A garden requires patient labor and attention. Plants do not grow merely to satisfy ambitions or to fulfill good attentions. They thrive because someone expended effort on them.” –Liberty Hyde Bailey
I find the older I get, the better I seem to see. I’m not talking about my eyesight…I finally had to get bifocals last year. What I’m talking about is real vision: how I see the world, and what I believe that I understand about it.
I don’t remotely have it all figured out; I still feel like I’m picking my way through life in a dense fog. But each year the fog lifts a little, and I feel like I see a little more clearly. And those things that I can now see better may seem obvious to many, but they’ve been hard-won lessons for me:
• Nothing is more important than my relationship with others, except my relationship with God.
• Most people are good.
• Dogs are love.
• Exercise and brush your teeth religiously.
• Material things mean nothing except for the memories that some of them help us hold onto.
• Grow a garden.
• Eat at home.
• Prayers are answered.
• Miracles happen.
• I’m worthy of love.
What do you now see more clearly?
“Worship is a way of seeing the world in the light of God.” –Abraham Joshua Heschel
“Forgiving is not forgetting. It is remembering and letting go.” -Claudia Black
I’m making progress on this one. We’ve all been hurt to the quick by people in our lives. Some of these scars are drive-bys: a passing but cutting wound inflicted by someone who’s otherwise a minor player in our lives, except for that moment when they’re inflicting a lasting wound. We remember, often for years. What they did or said hurts, generally because they poked a spot already soft and sensitive inside us. It’s hard not to internalize these reinforcements of our deepest fears. Sometimes these are one-off inflictions which scab over, but sometimes they cumulate, one on top of another, and never fully heal. Either way, we take these blows and carry whatever part with us that we seem unable to set down.
Then there are the slow motion injuries, delivered by someone not easily steered clear of: a bully at school or work, someone in a position of authority, a family member. These long-term assaults on our psyches are a whole other thing altogether. Each one is unique, depending on the relationship, the giver’s intentions, and the relative power of each party. If we’re not careful, these experiences can erode our humanity, turning us into someone we wouldn’t otherwise be. Heaven knows, I’ve struggled with that at times over the years.
But I’ve turned a corner. As I’ve put more years on the odometer, it’s getting much easier to let go. Not fully easy yet (I’m not sure I’ll ever get there), but definitely much easier. I’ve lost too much of my life carrying around baggage that only poisons me the more more tightly I hold onto it. I’ve decided I’d rather be happy. And so, I now work hard at letting go much faster. Sometimes that means walking away from a situation or a person or even a whole chunk of your life, if that’s what it takes to move on. But more often, it just means taking the thing in your hands, turning it over and studying it for a short while to mourn or to learn, having a good cry, and then setting it down and walking away. And not looking back.
“The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.” –Mahatma Gandhi