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When will my life begin?

It’s a catchy tune.

And to be honest, I’ve always been a bit jealous of just how much she gets done before 7:15.

7 AM, the usual morning lineup:
Start on the chores and sweep ’til the floor’s all clean,
Polish and wax, do laundry, and mop and shine up
Sweep again,
And by then
It’s like 7:15.

Mandy Moore voices the young lady Rapunzel who sings this song when we first meet her in Disney’s 2010 movie Tangled. Through this song we are introduced to how Rapunzel spends her days and what is the deepest longing of her heart.

And so I’ll read a book or maybe two or three
I’ll add a few new paintings to my gallery
I’ll play guitar and knit, and cook and basically
Just wonder when will my life begin?

Then after lunch it’s puzzles and darts, and baking
Paper mache, a bit of ballet and chess
Pottery, ventriloquy, candle making
Then I’ll stretch, maybe sketch, take a climb, sew a dress!

And I’ll reread the books if I have time to spare
I’ll paint the walls some more, I’m sure there’s room somewhere.
And then I’ll brush and brush, and brush and brush my hair
Stuck in the same place I’ve always been.

And I’ll keep wonderin’ and wonderin’, and wonderin’, and wonderin’
When will my life begin?

The song came to mind yesterday as I was taking a brief get-up-out-of-this-chair-away-from-the-computer-screen-and-get-some-sun-and-fresh-air walk around the parking lot at work.

Because it came to mind that next year marks a decade since I graduated from seminary.

A decade.

And I’m not where I thought I would be. I moved back home after graduation. At the time it seemed to make sense. When I had been diagnosed with fibromyalgia after my freshman year of college, there was only “try and manage symptoms” and “do what you can while you can”… so I did. I got through college and headed to seminary to study theology and arts. And while there I found a new doctor with a protocol that was supposed to help me reverse (though not “cure”) symptoms so that my future could actually be better, healthier, more vibrant and active than my past. But I wasn’t progressing very quickly on the protocol. And while Southern California may have been a better location for doing the mime and arts theology that was my goal, I was floundering financially, having been unable to get a decent job my last year of seminary (after losing the one I had). My health was a major reason for this. So I thought it made sense to move back across the states and move in with my parents until I was able to get on my feet.

I mean, my small town here in south-central PA isn’t ideal for starting a mime team or making a living doing “creative arts consulting.” But I had some ministry contacts on the East Coast and figured that would give me a start and I could expand from there. And once I got on my feet (and/or got married), I’d probably move to some place more appropriate/central to what I was doing. This was supposed to be temporary.

But here I am.

Ten years later.

Now don’t get me wrong, the issue isn’t that I’m still living at home. (Although my tendency to care too much what others think makes me feel awkward about it at times… well, too often.) My parents and I have a great relationship. We operate as a family unit of three adults, loving and taking care of one another. The original plan was that I would get “room and board” in exchange for doing the meal planning, grocery shopping and cooking. Which worked well for all of us. And that’s still basically how it is… except when my health gets in the way…

The issue is the dissonance between where I expected to be and where I am.

After ten years.

I’m still at home, still single, still only working part-time and still struggling with my health…

And though I know I shouldn’t compare myself to others, the contrast is sometimes so stark that it is hard to ignore and thoughts come unbidden and unwelcome.

Watching others live “real” life. Folks who are my age (and sometimes the “kids” I worked with in youth groups and ministries) are celebrating a decade’s worth (or more) of anniversaries, have children who are teenagers, own homes, have proper full-time jobs or run their own businesses, are involved in their communities, churches and more. Things we associate with real life.

Even more, I see friends and acquaintances who are “living their dreams” – dreams which were the same or similar to mine. They are doing mime and drama and arts… they are reaching and encouraging others through ministries… they are teaching… they are doing tea events… they are writing and publishing books… In short, they are blooming.

And I don’t begrudge them this. I am happy to see them getting to do these things. It makes my heart happy when such dreams work out for them.

And yet there’s a part of me that wonders if I’ll ever get the same.

When will my life begin?

Because from my viewpoint, my life is shrinking, not expanding. My dreams are dying, not being fulfilled.

True, there has been a series of shifts in my dreams and at the time of each shift (and even now for the most part) I see those as being God-directed. From performing mime to teaching mime and arts theology to teaching the Bible and arts (and less mime) to the tea room dream… and all along this story that pursues me that I’d like to finish and publish as a book…

But I couldn’t tell you the last time I performed or taught or even practiced mime. Or taught arts theology…

And though for a time I deliberately stopped saying ‘yes’ to new involvements at church, I then slowly backed out of other commitments at church except for teaching for one class once a month… but even then I found that my unpredictable health kept causing me to have to find last-minute replacements and so I’ve turned even that small task over…

I haven’t hosted or planned a tea party in ages, I go to few teas now and I’m drinking tea even less because of its effect on my medication (not to mention the effects of the carb-heavy “tea foods” on my blood-sugar and health)…

And though I had a decent streak for a few weeks, most days my allotted “writing time” is spent in bed or struggling through symptoms rather than working on my book…

One by one these things are fading.

As for social life and relationships, I’m really only in regular contact with my parents, my co-workers (3 of them) and the folks at church -when I’m able to make it there. And whatever relationship I can manage with other friends on social media…

Okay.

So despite the fact that my eyes sting a bit with salty wet tears as I write all this out, I’m not saying it in order to throw a pity party for myself and invite readers along for the misery.

I’m saying it because yesterday when Mandy-Moore-as-Rapunzel’s voice went through my head, I had a thought.

When will my life begin?

Who says it hasn’t?

Why must life always be something more?

“Real life” doesn’t start with a full-time job. Or marriage. Or having children. Or owning a home. Or being healthy. Or attaining titles or being published or getting promoted… or having dreams fulfilled.

Ideal life, maybe, but not real life.

Real life is simply living, breathing and walking day to day in the reality in which you find yourself.

The thought that struck me as I walked yesterday was simply that my life is now.

I am alive.

The circumstances of my life may not be what I was expecting. Or what I wanted. Or what my culture promotes as normal, accepted or celebrated.

But my life is now.

This is real life.

And that is not a battle cry to “seize the day” or “follow my heart” or “chase my dreams”…
It is simply a call to realign my perspective.

(And maybe another day I’ll get around to processing through my struggles on how our culture defines “full life” and what Jesus meant when he said that he came to give “life, and have it abundantly.)

Saturday morning storm

15 years ago this past week I received my “temporary” handicap placard in the mail. It brought tears to my eyes. I thought I’d only need to use it to get me through that “rough patch” as I progressed and healed. But I still have it. Renewed twice. And I’m still struggling with figuring out what’s going on with my health and how to handle it. I’m not where I thought I’d be…

This morning’s plans of breakfast, writing, errands and Chamberfest have been dampened by severe thunderstorms that required the computer to be shut down, Cali to have special care and comfort and “running around town” to be postponed or canceled. It’s not like I thought it would be…

Yet this morning I spoke with the Great Physician, Creator of my body, of storm and sea, the One who calms the storm and is present with me in the midst and when plans fail. Statements of faith, of trust and of commitment were spoken and sung in prayer as I sought wisdom, provision and guidance, re-setting and re-affirming my very core, my every breath, my focus and my wherewithal was seeking, loving and obeying Jesus.

And those words shall not be in vain. Even in grieving losses. Even in failed plans. Even when I’m not quite sure what is next. Actually, I suppose that it is then they are most important. So I will hold on to the One who is my vision, my treasure, heart of my own heart – whatever befall – and stand still or go forward with His presence, one day, one step at a time.

So be it.

It’s still a gift

Just because a gift is not exactly what you want doesn’t mean it is not a gift and not worthy of gratitude.

For example, I would much prefer complete healing. For my symptoms to be non-existent. Or even for them to be negligible, where they may still be present, but only in the periphery, not intruding or requiring constant care and maintenance.

Today, however, my symptoms are manageable. With medications and limitations, thought and wisdom and care required. I do not feel as well as I would like, but I am quite functional and today can be a good day.

And this is a gift, too. It truly is. And I can (and will choose to) be grateful.

And not with some sighing resigned “I’ll take what I can get” attitude. I don’t want to see this gift as anything less than what it is. Without caveat or addendum or excuses.

I want to walk this day as it is. To breathe it in and walk in grace, acknowledging and experiencing the presence of the One who walks with me – no matter what kind of day it is.

And that is the choice I am making here and now this morning.

Enough any day…

It’s amazing, really.
Then again, grace is…

Were you to ask me how I’m feeling on a scale of 1-10, I’d probably say a 6. I’m still a bit feverish, my throat still hurts, the headache is dull and hovering, neither my energy nor mental capacity is at full bars and I’m dealing with dizzy levels 2 & 3 in frequent (though not constant) bouts. So I feel I’m at the upper end of “surviving.”

And yet I feel worlds better than yesterday. The vastness of the difference rather makes me want to get up and do flips or dance around… except I can’t because I’m too dizzy and don’t have the energy. Still, the difference in astounding.

But regardless of how I feel, the fact remains that I am sustained. And that’s grace.

I clearly remember thinking last evening as I turned the dial on my antique desk calendar – after an unusually rough day of exhaustion and tears, one of those days where you can’t remember any good days before it or see the possibility of any good days yet to come – even in that moment at close of day as my fingers held the cool metal knob and my mind struggled still and again to focus on Jesus, I knew without a doubt that He was present… sustaining… enough.

Even though the day seemed more loss than victory… through the struggle and the grief and the runaway emotions and the spinning… and at day’s end even though I felt hedged in, pressed hard, perplexed, unable to find a way out, pursued (by fears and anxieties) and struck down, I was still breathing and Jesus was still there. I was not irreparably crushed, I was not completely despairing, I was not abandoned and I was not destroyed.

It was not the joyful, victorious living that I too-often prefer and picture in my head, full of pushing through and Eye-Of-The-Tiger accomplishments… but I was sustained.

And that’s grace.

Jesus is enough.
And because I know that Jesus was enough on a day like that,
I know Jesus is enough on any day.

The question

Do I love, desire, long for and seek Jesus more than I love, desire, long for and seek to drink tea freely, to be free of pain, to have good health and abundant energy, to sleep well at night and wake refreshed, to finish my book, to have ample resources, to have support and companionship, to jump back in with involvement at church, to mime and teach and share tea with others?

Is Jesus truly my All in All?
Will I allow Jesus to be enough even if I never get those other things?

The voice on the other end of the line is cheerful, “Your blood work came back and everything is normal!”

She is dispensing good news. Yet tears well up within my eyes.

What should be a relief – what used to be a relief – is now a dreaded and haunting statement. Years of tests and “normal” results while being ill and getting sicker have hardened me.

If everything is so good, why am I so sick?
It’s a question I’ve asked countless times.

I think how it would be nice for once to have sometime show up as wrong and be fixable…

Caedmon’s Call is playing in the background, “And I’ll walk with grace my feet and faith my eyes.”

So… onward I go.

Ashes to Ashes

Ashes to ashes and dust to dust.

I wasn’t at an Ash Wednesday service this evening and yet it still seemed rather appropriate where I found myself…

Dimmed rooms and quieted voices and tears and grief and mourning. The rituals of how we mark the passing of life. Casket surrounded by flowers and loved ones and photos and tangible pieces of memories.

A shillelagh. Of all things. A shillelagh.

And I open the little memorial card, accented with Celtic design.
Inside is the Irish blessing, “May the road rise to meet you…”
Of course.
I smile and tears come to my eyes.
Of course. I would expect no less.

And I look up and there she is…
But the body is just a shell.
Emptied now of breath, of life.

Ashes to ashes and dust to dust.

I trace my fingers over larger, italicized words of the blessing,
“And until we meet again…”

We will.
For the life that is no longer here is now elsewhere
fuller, truer.

It is my understanding that Ash Wednesday is set apart to acknowledge our frailty and our sinfulness and to begin a Lenten journey towards the cross. A time to remember the sufferings of Jesus, to somehow enter into that reality and to confess our need for a Savior.

She understood suffering.
She understood her need for a Savior.
She clung to the cross.
She clung to Jesus.

And now this journey we make she will make no longer.
She is on the other side.
With the One who suffered and died and prepared the way for her.
And for us.

And so I journey.
And I acknowledge.
And I cling.
To Jesus.

(This began with intentions of a short little poetic Facebook status, but as I processed and remembered it quickly grew into a longer reflection.)

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