So I decided to just go ahead and write.
If you are still reading, would you make me a promise? Will you read this entry to the end? Because my biggest fear right now is that you will get halfway through and think "This girl is way too depressing. How quickly can I press that little "x" box that will get me out of here?" And if you do that, I will be really, really sad. (okay, I won't even know that you did that, so it's not true that I will be really sad, but you will have missed my point if you stop halfway, and I really don't want that to happen). So if we have an agreement that you will read until the end, then you can continue reading . . . :-) . . . here it is . . . my own personal "mess" and the sense I have made of it so far . . .
I'm pretty sure I might be having a midlife crisis. I haven't gone out and bought a new sports car, or scheduled a facelift. My crisis is more internal . . . you see, I've been thinking a lot about death. There, I said it out loud. Well, actually, I wrote it, which is the same as saying it out loud. . . or maybe worse. . . anyway . . .
I envision some of you wanting to stop reading now. Perhaps even deciding, subconsciously, not to ever go to lunch with me again, at least until I'm over this little preoccupation. And that's why I haven't written about it before now. But it has gotten to the point where I can't not write about it. (does that mean I'm actually becoming a real writer?)
As I reflected back on where this preoccupation began or was coming from, I thought back to one of the first psychology classes I ever took. The teacher had us take a bunch of personality tests and quizzes, and one of them was Hans Selye's stress scale. You may be familiar with it -- you are given a long list of life events each assigned a point value based on how stressful they are perceived to be. You end up with a final total that gives you a numerical idea of how stressed you are.
I decided to evaluate the last 18 months or so of my life in light of specific events I have experienced. Here are some of the things I came up with -- some are wholly positive, some wholly negative, and some a mixture. (This may seem slightly self-indulgent -- but bear with me, I do have a point. And remember, I'm having a midlife crisis, so if you stop reading now, I may cry, throw something, or go ahead and schedule that facelift.)
1. January 2012 -- I turn 50 years old. Enough said.
(by the way, somewhere around my 50th birthday, I told my husband I thought I might be having a midlife crisis and his loving reply was "Well, technically, you're already past midlife." Gotta love a good reality check.)
2. May 2012 -- Our only daughter graduates from junior high. Not a big deal for some families. For us it was big. She had attended the same small school from Kindergarten through 8th grade and literally grew up with the same group of kids, families, and teachers. Graduation meant many good-byes for her and for us, and the closing of a chapter of our lives.
2a. The decision of where she would attend high school was not clearcut. There was some significant stress involved in thinking through and praying through where the best place for her would be. God has proven incredibly faithful in guiding us in this area.
3. June/July 2012 -- my husband underwent extensive testing for a rare muscular disorder and the diagnosis was confirmed. I camped out in denial for quite awhile . . . and I must admit I still visit my campsite there every once in awhile when things get a little too hard.
4. Feb./March 2013 -- my Mom moved to a beautiful retirement community. We are in the process of going through belongings and memories in the house where we grew up and where she lived for over 40 years.
5. Feb./March 2013 -- my dear friend Wendie was diagnosed with cancer and began treatment. She is one of those friends who you can go months without talking to, and then the second you hear her voice, it is like no time has passed at all. She called to tell me she had undergone a hysterectomy and was getting ready to schedule chemotherapy and radiation. She has three young children. I told her "If you need me to come and help you, there is no place I would rather be." I meant it.
5a. On my way to the airport to spend a week with Wendie and her family, I realized that I have developed a pretty significant fear of flying. I started telling my husband that maybe I shouldn't get on the plane, maybe I am not supposed to go. He calmly tells me that I am supposed to go and that I need to get on the plane. While sitting waiting to board the plane, I came pretty close to having a complete panic attack. More about that a little later . . .
6. March 2013 -- my brother-in-law undergoes surgery. A call on a Monday night informed us the surgery went well. On Wednesday morning of that week, there is a message on our machine from his daughter that says "It doesn't look good." My husband leaves work to go to the hospital . . . Tim is unconscious before John gets there and he passed away a few hours later. Tim suffered from the same genetic disease that John has been diagnosed with. He had several other significant health issues that John does not have, so at this point, it seems that those difficulties played more of a role than the disease itself. This may be the complete truth, or it may be complete denial on my part, or it may be a mixture of both. In any event, it is my way of surviving and I think I may be entitled to a little denial if it helps me keep going. (Sorry if that sounds dramatic . . . )
I went to my writers' group the night Tim died. I knew things did not look good at that point but had not yet learned of his passing. Every week, we are asked to journal about the topic of the sermon from the previous Sunday. This week's topic was about dreaming. When I had listened to the sermon the Sunday before, I had been inspired . . . dreaming big dreams for God . . .it all sounded good and hopeful and happy.
But that had been before this last blow. Now things felt hard. And I found myself dwelling on things like disease, death, pain, goodbyes. And, honestly, I kind of wanted to shake my fist at God and ask Him "How dare You ask me to dream when there is all this mess going on?" I wrote in my journal: "My heart doesn't feel much like dreaming tonight. Too much heaviness around me, too much sadness, too much pain . . . Dream, you say? Sorry but I am finding that difficult."
Then I turned my thoughts to My Father. He is always as close as the air I breathe, even when I am shaking my fist at Him. I wrote: "God, You became a man and walked this earth. You know what it is like to feel Your heart breaking, to watch loved ones suffer. To see pain almost everywhere You turn. But I believe You are a dreamer. So show me how to continue to dream. How did You do it?"
I heard Him nudge me. "Start writing down reasons why you can still continue to dream. Just start writing. You can find reasons if you look for them."
(One of my current favorite worship songs is Matt Redman's 10,000 Reasons. One of the lines says "For all Your goodness, I will keep on singing . . . 10,000 reasons for my heart to find." I have been intrigued by the idea that reasons to be grateful and dream do not always just jump out at us . . . . sometimes we have to search for them.)
So I began to search my heart and mind for reasons to continue to dream. Here is what I came up with . . .
-- I can dream because I know my Father's heart is always good and always loving. He holds my future in His hands.
-- I can dream because I have a beautiful 14 year old daughter who is a dreamer herself. She has a gleam in her eye and a brightness in her voice whenever she talks about her future. She needs me to keep dreaming too.
-- I can dream because I know ultimately, there is a Home we are headed toward where there are no more tears, no more pain, no more disease, no more sucky phone calls, and no more sorrow. no. more.
-- I can dream because I know the Author of this story. And I know He wins. And I know He brings good out of everything.
You see, if I choose to focus on what is wrong and difficult and painful in this world, I can easily, very easily, get stuck there. When I was trembling with fear that my plane was going to crash, I was thinking about all the things that could go wrong: the engines could fail, there might be a terrorist on board (because L.A. to Denver IS one of those frequently traveled terrorist routes), there could be a blinding snowstorm, etc. etc. etc. At some point in the midst of my panicking, I realized this one thing: God has already determined the exact number of my days. If I had chosen, out of fear, not to get on that plane, but it had been my time to go, I would have gotten hit by a car or dropped dead of a heart attack. And if it wasn't my time to go, there was no way there was going to be engine failure, or a terrorist on board, or any of the other crazy scenarios that my mind was rehearsing at the time. He is in complete control over how long each of us is going to live here on this earth. And it is the EXACT right number of years or days, no matter how it might appear from our perspective. How comforting is that?
So maybe this preoccupation with death isn't such a bad thing. Because in addition to giving me a new glimpse of His sovereignty, it is also teaching me how precious each day is. What a gift this life is. I don't want to miss anything . . .
And don't get me wrong, I intend to live at least another 30 or 40 years. But whether I die tomorrow, or end up holding a world record for longevity, I want to be ready . . . ready to live and to grasp each wonderful moment . . . and when He does call my name, I want to run to His arms, and sit at His feet and gaze forever into the face of the One who has captured my heart, redeemed my life, and made every moment worthwhile.
Trusting Him with every tomorrow,
"He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end." Ecclesiastes 3:11
"Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom." Psalm 90:12