Wednesday, February 24, 2010

what i figured out

The past couple of months have been difficult for me. I have spent a lot of time doubting every major decision I've made and, looking at my course over the years, feeling as though I simply let life happen without any sense of direction or purpose. I lay in bed absolutely paralyzed by regret, thinking about might-have-beens. Closing my eyes to an image of withering grass: my time here, now, soon forgotten.

It was a real party, my head.

Last week, I put it into words for Justin. I chose my university because they offered a small scholarship; I planned to transfer after two years. I didn't. Instead, I cycled through a few majors and tacked teaching certification to an English degree because it seemed practical and I'd always wanted to teach, right? (If playing school on the stair landing with your siblings counts as a natural interest in the field of education). I was painfully naive, didn't fit in with any one group and could have used a gap year to sort myself out.

During college, I studied creative writing, wanted to pursue that into grad school but didn't because I'd met this guy Justin and it seemed a smarter idea to find teaching jobs near each other rather than for me to leave the state and end our start. I wasn't even sure what we'd started until after a year of long-distance dating - first year teaching jobs did not land us near one another - when our second year of teaching found us in the same district, classrooms across the hall from each other. Aww.

So I'd lay in bed thinking of all these turns as utter mistakes. I should have gone to grad school. Justin would have found someone else to carve decades away in Wisconsin, more pleasing to her in-laws.

And then I'd continue: we chose Colombia but could have gone to Egypt. Truth: we just had to leave Wisconsin before I went batty. I'd already sunk grad school, married young, and the thought of axing a central desire - to live abroad - made me panic. That's how it seemed then: urgent, life half over already, missed opportunities piled in the gutter.

You see what I was doing to myself? I was finding fault, eating regret and seeing nothing ahead but bleak years unfolding by chance. No purpose, no achievement - just an eventual end to uneventful days.

So when I finally talked with Justin, he said, "I don't think you just let things happen, Sarah." And then he said something about God's direction, which I was in no mood to hear.

I am a Christian but I don't talk about my faith very often. I hold it like something fragile when it is my source of strength. I used to talk very openly about my beliefs and I remember not understanding my Mom when, sometime during my high school years, she said she wasn't comfortable talking so openly about her faith. "It's private," she said. And so I began to respect that my Mom shows her faith in ways that are stronger than words.

I try to do the same, partly because I think that saying "God will provide" or "Let Him comfort you" to someone in the middle of a big fat mess can seem more glib than promising. So when Justin said God and direction in the same sentence, I wanted to close my ears.

I have not always made the best decisions, but I cannot lump all parts of my life in the mistake category. Much good has come of choices that seemed just to have happened. As slapdash as my teaching certification seemed, I have grown because of my years in the classroom: learning human nature, compassion, endurance, and the endlessness of refining self. Painful growth at times. When Justin and I landed jobs in the same district, we began premarital counseling, decided to get married; why would I undo a relationship that has sharpened us both? And Colombia was more than a place for us: it was a starting point for a new sense of confidence as individuals and as a couple.

We prayed through many of our decisions. I want billboards and marquee lights and writing on the wall, but more often, we know our right direction by a sense of peace. And sometimes it seems that whether we turn to the right or to the left, we will learn and find and give and enjoy. Justin challenged me to reframe my thinking about my decisions and our decisions and when I did, I could better see the path leading us here - not through missteps and lack of options, but through turns and crossings that taught us a little more about trust, faith, failure and redemption.

I am not going to pretend that now I am entirely satisfied with everything my life is about. And I am not interested in posting all the inner workings of my heart and soul, revelations that come in pieces. Those are still very private to me, shared with few. But this - my last couple of months privately choking on doubt - now that I am finally tasting promise, how could I not share?


jessica said...

Hang in there (how's that for glib?)

Seriously though, it sounds like you're working through a lot right now, stuff I think we all go through now and then but maybe don't have the words to share. I hope you're able to find what you're looking for soon.

DC Running Mama said...

Wow. I am so glad that I am not the only person that is consumed by what might-have-been and rethinking every decision I've made in my life. Just last night, I was obsessing about what would have happened if I married my high school sweetheart, as I still think about him frequently. Or, if I had gone back to school for physical therapy or anything else really rather than the degree I did get. Or, if I had actually moved away for grad school, rather than staying in the same town to be close to my boyfriend (now husband). I'm still trying to find that peace...

Great post.

Clare said...

my teaching certification came after my doctor told me teachers get really good health benefits. way to follow my dream, eh? but it has worked out. i definitely have husband doubts that i know will never go away, but ultimately i have to trust that all my decisions (or lack thereof) get me to where i am supposed to be in the end. i am not religious, but i do think there's some plan to our lives we don't necessarily control. but it's good to be introspective, to make ourselves uncomfortable by examining who we are. great post...i wish i were half so eloquent.

Joie said...

Thanks for posting, Sarah. As for God - Proverbs 3:5-6 encourages us to acknowledge Him in everything we do. For me, that means being deliberate in expressing His presence in my life so that He gets the glory for anything good that comes of it. In the same verses, it says that the result of trusting Him and living for Him is that He does direct our paths. Let the doubts roll away- they're there to harm you, not help you, and thanks for sharing your taste of promise!

Kelly G. said...

This was my devo in my email this morning. I think it applies. It certainly hit me, that where ever I am, I need to acknowlegde God in it and seek His Face continually. I love the growth that this sort of self-awareness brings!
"Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.
-Jeremiah 29:4-7 (NRSV)