My husband was a “fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants” poster child. He lived on what he lovingly referred to as “the leading edge of progress” and was always looking for the next new thing to try. We owned a Tandy 2000 computer, and a couple of Alienware models. In 1999 he spent a week at the Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute investigating whether aquaculture was a more economically viable option than raising hogs, and that summer we had a tank of hybrid striped bass and crappie in our basement. In 2011 it was a SANS Institute boot-camp style Internet Security course. Had NASA or SpaceX called and offered him a spot on the next launch into outer space he would have gone without thinking twice. Me? Not so much. I’m a planner. I need to know what’s coming so I can devise adequate strategies for dealing with it.
But in the blink of an eye that went out the window when we heard those two small words “brain tumors”. Things changed so fast there was barely time to register what was happening, let alone process it. There was no time to plan, and no way to figure out what to plan for anyway. My to-do list morphed from the oh-so-familiar tasks that up to that point had defined my life – bookkeeping, meetings, worship planning, writing and preaching sermons - into an endless litany of Things I’ve Never Done Before, Things I’ve Never Done By Myself Before, Things I Don’t Know How To Do, Things I Didn’t Even Know I Needed to Do, and Things There Are No Words For: If I see a spider now, I have to murder it myself.
Moving brought a desperately needed change of scenery and proximity to my family, yet even as it settled some questions it gave birth to others. The mundane details of my life after the move – those constant trips into rooms asking myself what I was here after and where I had squirreled it away - mirrored the larger landscape of my existence. What was I ‘here after’? Meaning: what was I going to do with my life now that I wasn’t doing any of the things I used to do?
That question was so open-ended, so big, so overwhelming, I didn’t even know where to start to try to answer it. Realizing that I’m not alone in this has been helpful. Life isn’t static. Things change. There are ups and downs, an ebb and flow, (sometimes a blizzard or a hurricane). Stuff happens and we don’t always get to choose which stuff. And loss is part of all of those things, for all of us. We lose loved ones; car keys; basketball games. We lose jobs; houses; our health. We lose patience; our tempers; innocence; trust. We lose our sense of safety and security in the wake of tragic events and natural disasters. And we have to figure out how to move on.
Going back to that ‘what am I here after?’ question and looking at it specifically in terms of priorities – those things that are most important to me – was valuable and instructive. I discovered that while the way my daily life embodies them has changed, my most deeply held beliefs, values, and convictions have not. Faith and family are still at the top of my list, and that’s given me a sense of how to make meaning out of what’s left of my life and contribute to the common good in this new place. I’m not there yet; it’s still very much a work in progress, but I’ve started inching forward.
And here’s where I slap on the disclaimer sticker: Because these experiences and the questions they leave in their wake are so unique and individualized, I realize what is helpful for me may not be for you; feel free to take all this with a box of salt, if necessary.
What about you? What are you ‘here after’? Meaning: what are your priorities in life? What core values and beliefs are at the heart of who you are and what you do?
What things are most important to you? What speaks peace to your soul? What gives you a sense of fulfillment? Brings you joy?
Is there a way to order your days that will bring more of these things into your daily life?
If, like me, you’re still working on this, (and we are all works in progress), know that wherever you are in sorting this out is okay, and you are not alone.