I wrote a poem once, just after my mother died, that began with the line, “grief is a strangeness of being”. I have returned to that line time and time again since then. Because I’m deciding that life is actually a strangeness of being. Relationships, which make up the core of life I think, are such interesting, funny things. I reached this time of my life, the “middle age” part of life, and as I look back and I look forward and I try to decipher what it all means, who I am, and what God is doing…it all just feels strange and weird at times. :) I recently read an article where the gentlemen was speaking about this very thing, the strange bits of reaching 40 and how life is such a mix. Hitting the age where I can look back and recognize so many things I didn’t know back in my teen years and my twenties. Things where experience is the only teacher. Suffering and grief. My ideals of what I imagined life could be and how my desires could possibly play out…take marriage and children for example. On the one hand, those are beautiful gifts that some are given and are a wonderful treasure. A beautiful part of life that should be cultivated and prayed over. But along with those comes the also true reality that they are HARD. I have friends and acquaintances who are walking some really hard roads in those areas. Or take family life. Imagining I’d have my parents around to walk beside and help and ask questions…suddenly that’s no longer even a possibility… What does one do with that in our culture? It feels odd and “other”.
I just got back from a week in northern Idaho, a state I’ve never visited before. (I did drive through a portion of the southern bit as a friend and I drove from Washington to Yellowstone a long many years ago, but that hardly counts as “visiting”.) It was beautiful! It truly is a beautiful area, with mountains and pine trees, a huge lake and big sky. I thoroughly enjoyed seeing that part of this great big country of ours. But I also faced the awkward, uncomfortable feelings of spending time in close proximity over the weekend part of my trip with people I’d either never met before or didn’t know very well. I don’t know that I’m absolutely a full on introvert, but I do have a great many tendencies that way. So facing the uncomfortable bits with no one I knew super well to fall back on and knew I could cling to of sorts and they would understand me…in crowds that can be a bit nerve-wracking to say the least. And I’d forgotten just how much walking through experiences in the midst of that uncomfortableness wears on me. How easy it is to doubt myself when I’m there. How easy to fall back on old, bad habits of assuming what I perceive as my weak points seem even more glaring and obvious to others. Which means pride and a misunderstanding of who God created me to be come to the forefront and can overtake my thought life. Ah, but now with a bit of time and a sweet conversation with a friend who simply “gets” me and loves every bit of me that she’s been witness to (and goodness has she witnessed a lot through the years! :), I’m seeing the trip and myself a bit more clearly.
Why is it all the things God works in and through us seem to dissipate when we’re landing face first in the midst of whatever thing makes us uncomfortable? As I sit here in a coffee shop, happily sipping on a Mexican mocha and simply taking a bit of time to sit back and ponder life…to write something…anything really…this is my element. I treasure these moments of just being. Sitting in the midst of people, where I could interact if I choose…or not if I choose…instrumental music in my ears and my laptop open before me…words flowing (though who knows if these words makes sense to anyone but me)…this is one of my top happy places. And I forget that. I forget that I need to find ways to incorporate this kind of thing when I’m heading somewhere I’m going to be uncomfortable. To at least make time for it after the uncomfortable experience is over…so I can remind myself that the uncomfortable situation really, truly wasn’t as bad as the awkward that my brain lingers within. Much of the time that uncomfortable was super good for me, number one, and number two, it was likely much more enjoyable than I feel like it was…
Why is it so easy to get caught up in the negative feelings and forget all the good ones I’ve felt? Because that trip had SO many good ones. It’s just that the harder ones rise to the top of the pile of feelings so quickly and linger there…linger so long that I can almost forget there are good ones down underneath! Our enemy is far too good at what he does…but praise Jesus HE is greater. And He brings the friend conversation, or the time to journal, or whatever means He chooses to use to remind me that I am far from forgotten and that the truth of my feelings, the truth of what I’ve experienced, the good things He is doing, the good things He has already done, the transformation He is working inside me exists and is real and true!
“I am the recipient of someone else’s choices, someone much younger and less mature. I am the inheritor of a previous generation’s foolishness—and also, the fool…I am both alive and dying at the same time, keenly aware of the end and lucid about what has been. Anne Lamott once wrote, “I am all the ages I’ve ever been.” Anyway I’m not sure if it’s possible to ever feel the age you are, when in fact, you are all of them.” – Jeff Goins
I feel that way, I especially felt that way in Idaho. Feeling the weird juxtaposition of who I am now and who I was in my teens and twenties, which I always carry with me, but was confronted with more fully as I saw people who I don’t really know but saw a lot at different points in my youth. Looking at people I remembered from back then, people I didn’t know then either but assumed a whole lot of incorrect things based on my limited perception of their actions and who their friends were. Recognizing how I have changed in the intervening years, having forgotten that they were doing the same outside of my sphere of seeing, and now viewing these same people from this perspective. Seeing different ones from the different eras of my life. Some who were completely new and I was seeing through the eyes of a forty-one year old. Some who I first viewed through teenage eyes and now trying to figure out who they are in this time and place (likely parts of who they’ve always been only I didn’t really know them then either). Some who were part of the intervening years between my teens and my forties, the twenties and early thirties that I spent growing up and figuring out who I thought I was…and now viewing them through the eyes of one who has since experienced suffering and grief which has changed and shaped who I am now and how that has shaped me and how it has changed my perception of them again…
I carry all my ages with me now. And as I learn to navigate the me of now, carrying all the me’s of before, allowing God’s continuing work to transform them all…my perception of others has changed. It’s that strangeness of being I talked about before. Recognizing my own strangeness of being right alongside of other people’s strangeness of being and learning to accept and love all of us, including myself. Growing more compassionate, more committed to prayer and lifting those I have contact with, even limited contact, up to the throne of grace. Becoming more aware on the daily that this one life we get is hard. Who we are in a human sense is always changing…yet who we are in the glorious eyes of our Heavenly Father never does! He has loved and is loving and will continue to love each and every single bit of all the me’s from then to now to eternity! And He draws me to love myself as He loves and from that place of acceptance and wonder to then love others with unselfish abandon. To see them through my ever changing eyes which rest on our unchanging God and allow both views to bring me to love and love and love, ever and always.