I left the kids at home with Sam last month, for the first time ever. I flew on a plane by myself for the first time in three years, and spent three days without my family. I cried a little the day before I left, preparing things and writing lists and making arrangements for me to be gone. I cried, not because I didn’t want to leave, but because I didn’t want Clara and Sammy to feel sad after I left. But I only cried a little because, quite frankly, I was too tired to really care about how they would feel. This pregnancy has been tiring, and I don’t feel like myself, and I can sense the introverted parts of me creeping to the surface as they tend to do when I’m carrying a baby. I’m relieved to see the seasons changing and to finally wave goodbye to summer, with its never-ending social engagements and that underlying expectation of having fun fun fun all the time all day long! It’s exhausting. And hot. So now as the rains come, and the leaves flame out, and the cold eases over us, I am pulling us back inside our house, so that I can pull back inside myself.
When I was this far along with Sammy, I was in my last semester of college. Clara was 14 months old, I was 30 weeks pregnant, Sam was still working out of town, I had a full-time schedule at BSU and I was directing a musical that I wrote for an elementary school. I was busy and stressed, barely pulling myself across campus, steeling myself through Clara drop off and pick ups, and then hustling to evening rehearsals with a cast of 30 kids. I was accomplishing a lot every single day, small tasks and enormous projects, working towards a degree and a creative endeavor and parenting too. I look back on that time with pride, but also with a nod of love to that girl, who was so spent, and so overwhelmed.
Life doesn’t look like that now. It’s two years past that season. Winds have shifted, the earth has rotated. I am older, rotating too, walking along curious new paths.
Sometimes I miss school. And having a job. Sometimes I miss the hustle of my old world. Even though I love being with my babies, and it would kill me to leave them with someone else to work outside my home. And if I’m honest, most jobs feel like jail to me. I’m not great at doing the same tasks every day, which is why I got a writing degree and plan on a life of poverty-stricken (free-wheeling) creativity.
But the thing is, sometimes my new world feels little. The reality of my life is that I wake up early with two tiny kids and tend to them all day long. My life isn’t centered around them, but it does move around them and their needs. I mean, it has to. There’s not much they can do without me. And in the endless apple slicing, face-wiping, story reading, sleep coercing, listening and disciplining and training, I sometimes wonder if I’ve forgotten how to do anything else. And in those moments of insecurity, of hoping I still matter and hoping motherhood hasn’t rendered me irrelevant, I worry that I am losing myself in the slender margins of caring for my children.
I guess there’s a part of me that wonders if everyone feels this way. Do we all compare ourselves to ourselves? For better or worse, do we gaze upon our past selves or future selves and wonder when we will arrive, or when we lost our fire? It’s like I’m afraid that I’m not as good as I once was, but also that I’ll never be the future self I dream of becoming. What an odd vice to squeeze through, those two pressure points of my past and my future; as though either one of those ghosts could clear a path for me.
Will I feel this way when I’m 40? When I’m 60? When I’m 90?
Sometimes my life feels little. Does yours? When this happens, when I sit at my desk and write into the wind, or when I’m chopping vegetables, or walking, or talking with one of my sisters, I consider this quiet, seemingly small time, and what it’s worth. In my life, and in all of ours lives.
Because sometimes, we work at jobs we don’t love. We get degrees we don’t remember caring about, or we drop out because we don’t know what comes next. We trudge along in stagnant relationships, praying for a new fire. We can’t seem to finish our novel or start our business. We feel stuck. We are waiting for success and fame and love to come bounding our way, all while we wake up each morning and pour ourselves a little bit further into our daily work.
Sometimes we feel little. And in a world that wants microphones and platforms and influence, this quiet toil is dismissed as the time before we arrive, before we become.
I refute this. I refute it in my own life, and I refute it for yours.
My friend Jimmy died when he was 24 years old. And his life was rich, grand with friendship and accomplishment. Thousands and thousands of people mourned his death, and still ache for him today. That’s not normal. 24 year olds don’t carry that kind of a legacy with them; but Jimmy did. After his death we all told story after story about him, written in letters to his wife, spoken over drinks at the wakes held all over the world for him, whispered to his parents in reverent tones: stories of how Jimmy changed us. They weren’t stories of grand acts of valor. It wasn’t because he was brilliant (he was) or that he was brave (he was) or that he never failed (he did.) Jimmy’s life mattered in the quiet moments. In Bible studies with aetheist friends who trusted him. In med school classes where his peaceful spirit shone like a spotlight. In loud laughter, in worship on Sunday mornings, in expensive scotch and cheap beer on Saturday nights, on the crags of the mountain tops he scaled on weekends. In how he treated his little sister. In how he loved his wife.
I think about what this quiet time means for me, this season of small movements, and I look at Jimmy. I remember that this moment, this is it; this is what matters. What I do with my hands. What I say. Who I love, and how I love them. That’s what the quiet time reminds me of: that the essentials are simple. And that my work is essential, no matter what it looks like to anyone else. When done with great love, and great humility, all of my work matters.
Sometimes my life feels small.
Good. May the smallness remind me of God’s greatness, and press me towards the grandiosity of living in the light.