It is easy to become distracted or discouraged, forget truths we once knew, or begin doubting ourselves and the path we are on. But sometimes life (and I believe, God) uses events and people, a word fitly spoken, and even books that come at just the right moment, with a beautiful and awe-inspiring synchronicity, to help us return to a place of anchor and clear direction. To smooth the way in times of transition.
Awhile back, I wrote this post and meant it. The response was amazing and humbling as so many people expressed resonance with my words and a deep-seated desire to finally, once and for all, just rest. To accept who they are and how they are knit together. To let go of the striving or comparison or feelings of not being enough. But recently a few conditions conspired together to throw me off-kilter.
I have a few siblings who are studying and this simply stirred up my long-held desire to obtain my Masters degree; a desire which I laid aside two decades ago to build my beautiful family. My little sister who is working on her second degree, and who I love completely so this is not a judgment against her, recently posted something on Facebook that unintentionally on her part made me feel very devalued. Like I am “just a mom”. My pride began egging me on and I began craving some little ego-affirming letters after my name to somehow prove my worth to the world.
But I am also at a point of transition in my life.
I have been 20 years at home, raising and educating my kids – a huge part of my identity – and this is about to shift. My oldest is currently finishing up his second year of college and my middle child has but one year left at home. I love these people and want them to fly and go on grand adventures. But I will miss them. And after 15 years of homeschooling, my youngest is heading to public school in the fall, years earlier than we would ever have anticipated.
So I tearfully confided my angst to a girlfriend who gently offered back to me a question that I have used with her and others countless times before.
She asked me, if I were to return to school next year, would it bring me joy?
And the answer was a very clear and immediate, NO! It absolutely would not bring me joy. It would increase stress and distract me from being present and feeling connected to my daughter her last year at home (one of my Mind-Body-Spirit Intentions). Less emotionally available to my youngest who will be heading to public school for the very first time. I already wrestle with stress and know that I still have work to do to support my body in balancing and regaining full health after my diagnosis of Hashimoto’s. And just as I remind clients, we need to give ourselves permission to do what is necessary to heal. To take the time and open up space to do the work. And not only that, but I miss reading and learning just for pleasure, not to jump through hoops or because I am on a deadline for a project.
Later that evening my oh, so wise, 16 year old also spoke up and affirmed that if returning to school, as much as I love to learn, would not bring me joy, then I should just let it go. At least for this season. But then she suggested that I take a Gap Year. She explained that a Gap Year is generally used to describe the year of transition between high school and post-secondary. A year to decide who you want to be or explore or gain life experience. (We should really listen to our children more often!)
As soon as she explained the idea to me I KNEW, deep in my soul knew, that a Gap Year is precisely what I need to gift myself.
And that evening or the next she happened to ask me to read an essay she had written for English class and there was a line in there, that unbeknownst to her, just lit me up. It proposed something to the effect that in order to discover our identity we need to be challenged and in doing so we learn who we are not. And it struck me that I am still in this process. Of discovering and peeling off layers and becoming. And that the challenges I have been experiencing, whether through unkind blog comments or pride-provoking FB posts or facing my decades-old insecurities, all serve to help me get clear on who I am not. And then who I choose to be or the life I truly desire for myself. A beautiful, quiet, gentle life. These challenges to my identity are gifts.
And then, in yet another synchronous turn of events, a regular reader on my A Life in Progress FB page suggested a book to me. And there, in the yellowing pages of this simple book about the author’s journey of self-discovery, I read two quotes that affirmed my need to rest and breathe and surrender to the season that I am in. To simply “live the questions now.”* And which affirmed that I am in a place of important transition. And it is good.
“I think it was Picasso who said he spent the first half of his life becoming an adult and the last half learning to be a child.”
~ A Year By The Sea
On the verge of 45, I can fairly safely assume that I am at around my half way mark, yes? And the truth is, I have never, in my almost 45 years, truly rested. My childhood and teen years were marked by depression, substance abuse and suicide attempts. My 20’s and 30’s full of angst as I wrestled unworthiness and eating disorder, grief and pain. That is not to say that I was miserable all the time – I loved being mom and sharing life with my husband. I poured myself wholeheartedly into motherhood and homeschooling; but I was always striving, seeing my ineptitude, and doing the hard work of growing up.
My 40’s have been amazing as I have begun the work of emotional healing and living with greater freedom but they have also been very, very hard in some ways. Physical pain, walking through the process of my dad slowly succumbing to cancer and saying goodbye to several other beloved family members, crashing emotionally and physically and uncovering my autoimmunity. Hard years but also beautiful years and I would not exchange a day.
So I will take a Gap Year next school year. I will not quit my business but neither will I strive to grow it. I will continue to write because it makes me happy. I will be mom and wife and sister and friend. I will laugh and read and go for long walks. I will keep my home in decent order as I have always done and prepare real food for my family as I listen to my daughter play piano or while I enjoy podcasts, but hopefully with a little more bounce in my step knowing that there are no deadlines or exams or others things I ‘should’ be doing. No where else I’d rather be. I will watch movies with my girls and drive to the city to visit my son. I will meditate and practice self-care and go on dates with the man I share my home and bed with and perhaps a little more tenderly support him in caring for his needs as he works to buy groceries for his family. I envision my life as calm but full.
Like Joan Anderson in A Year By The Sea, I am an “unfinished woman” – my life yet full of possibilities. I want to learn to be a child: to play, and wonder and laugh with abandon. To speak honestly, with a little less filter. To trust and rest and contentedly live the questions now.
*From Letter To A Young Poet, Rainer Maria Rilke (read in A Year By the Sea, Joan Anderson)
Photo by magpie3studio.com