I saw misty days, my daughter riding her bike on a stretch of road along the Puget sound, somewhere that seemed familiar yet unknown. This was in my mind’s eye. I imagined it vividly enough that it felt in some ways real. To a very small and limited extent, I neared it, never really getting close enough, though, to turn that dream into a real memory. Instead, a bend in the road turned me very much in the opposite direction, and I was deposited right back in the house I’d left in Maryland just over nine bewildering months before. Instead of planning family camping trips and exploring the Pacific Northwest with my husband and kids, I was looking for a job. A shocking plot twist left me a single mom, facing a devastating season of loss and an ache so deep that it still lingers. That wasn’t how the story was supposed to go.
A week or so ago, I was reading through some writing I’ve done over the past year and came across one document titled “What I Know So Far.” I opened it up, curious to find whatever sage wisdom I’d left for myself, only to discover it was blank. I had myself a good laugh and updated my Facebook status to share in the humor. One friend commented that the book might just be a best seller because so many people could relate.
Unlike you, (insert snicker) I’ve always wished I was smarter, more politically astute, more educated, more talented, more well-traveled. I’ve wished I was more patient, more humble, a better mom, friend, and the list goes on . . . . and on. I don’t know enough about social justice, or theology, or history to impress anyone. I don’t know so very many things. I’ve aspired to more dreams that have fallen flat than I care to share, including the loss of my marriage and plans for a future I’d imagined was going to be pretty picture perfect.
Then life handed me a lemon—one so sour that I’m still mastering the recipe for making lemonade. My plans, my expectations were altered in what felt like only seconds, and all those ideas about what was next crumbled around me when my life took a very different turn. Among my expectations had been all sorts of good things, good ideas, healthy hopes.
When I was a kid, I can recall laying in bed one night, listening to an animal screaming outside my window. A fox or a dear, maybe a raccoon–whatever it was, it wailed in a way that sounded as if it was troubled. I didn’t know animals, so unsuspecting they are during the day, could make such sounds. In the darkness, though, there it was, its voice shrill and intent on drawing attention to itself. In the darkness, it found its voice.
Some days I would love to change my story up, to feel less disappointed by plans that have now fallen by the wayside and more sure of what I have to offer. Yet, all any of us really has to give is ourselves, no escaping the thoughts, habits, and experiences that have made us just who we are at this very moment. When we try to be anything else, people can smell it.
What is it that you’d re-write if you could? Look there. Listen for the wail, trying to get your attention. What is that voice telling you about yourself? What does that voice know that in real time you struggle to accept about yourself because you’d rather be more of something else? Could it be the very thing that punctuates your unique narrative, turning what may have been unsuspecting about you by day into a groan of sufferable wisdom by night? Are you willing to speak on behalf of that voice, instead of the one in your head that tells you that you need to be more of whatever it is you think will make you more impressive, sound smarter, look cooler? For that’s your story. That is what you know.
What I am confident of now are the truths that surfaced after hitting rock bottom. I did not want to find my voice through hardship and loss, but in the darkness, the call began.The wail that emerged has become a rally cry, reminding me that I am strong; that God is still good; that I will, indeed, be ok; and that I want to inspire the same hope in others when they aren’t so convinced. For now, that’s enough. It’s what I know so far.
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“Listen to your life. See it for the fathomless mystery it is. In the boredom and pain of it, no less than in the excitement and gladness: touch, taste, smell your way to the holy and hidden heart of it, because in the last analysis all moments are key moments, and life itself is grace.”
― Frederick Buechner