I’ve been picking up my parents’ mail while they have been out of town for a week or so. One day, when I opened their mailbox, a familiar sight jumped out at me. I haven’t made it my practice to sift through their mail as I’ve picked it up; I figured that on the offhand chance there was anything that would interest me, they’d have gotten it to me. On that particular day, though, I didn’t have to do any real looking to notice my college alma mater’s name on the front of the alumni magazine. It poked out of the top of their mail as if to say, “Don’t forget about me!”
There in the kitchen of my childhood, I leaned against the counter and began looking through the magazine. It’s one of those things I feel I have to do every time the magazine comes in, even though I know it’s going to hurt and I’ll probably regret it.
As soon as I looked at the cover, I felt it. An alumna from my own graduating class was featured in this issue, having done something both extraordinary and, as those of us who know her realize, totally in character. A few pages in, I felt it again when I saw two other classmates of mine being recognized for being – and I quote – “Distinguished Alumni.” A quick glance at the “Where are they now?” section made me feel it again: somebody published a book…somebody else both started a new high-profile job AND welcomed their third child into their family…another person was recognized in the Such-and-Such Guide of Amazing Incredible Extraordinary Young People Making Revolutionary Impacts on Eternity (or something like that). On and on.
Honestly, it stung. It stung not because they have something that I want, necessarily. (Except for the one with the book deal. That I do want.) It didn’t even sting because that’s where I thought I’d be nearly ten years after graduation. It stung, I believe, because there is something in me that says I should have done something as notable and monumental as all those things. A thirty-one year old should have accomplished more. My life should , according to something I believe, be more impressive by this point.
It just should be…..and because it is not, I am obviously a failure. Obviously.
That’s just the kind of all-or-nothing thinking that gets me in trouble. (Literally in trouble. My counselor a few years ago lovingly scolded me for holding onto a habit that hurts me so badly.)
I am not OUTSTANDING at something, so I am not good at anything.
I am not NATIONALLY RECOGNIZED for something, so I’m a nobody.
Taken further….and perhaps more personal….
I am not doing what THAT MOM is doing, so I am a horrible mother.
I did not react lovingly to my daughters MILLIONTH life-altering hairbow crisis, so I am clearly scarring her for life.
I snapped at my husband when he came home and asked how my day had been when CLEARLY I was unraveling before his eyes, so I’m obviously a burden ball and chain who ruins his life.
What my counselor was doing (and as I realize now, the Lord was doing through her) when she admonished me was simply this: she was trying to point out the imbalance in my thinking.
Very rarely, as she told me then, is a situation pitch black or stark white. More often than not, the stuff of life falls somewhere in the gray. The same goes for me.
I’m REALLY a terrible mom? Really? Or am I maybe just doing the very best that I can for my daughter, and it looks a little different for us than it does for someone else?
My husband is REALLY miserable because of my attitude and snappiness? Really? Or did he maybe forgive me when he saw that I had had a pretty horrible day?
I’m REALLY not good at anything? Really? Or am I maybe still on the journey? Am I maybe good at things that take longer to “succeed” in? Or maybe is major recognition simply not what God has for me?
And that is what I’m learning. My journey is my own. As we mentioned yesterday, I have a God-given purpose that is all my own. I may not be the very best at basket weaving or judo or teaching English to refugee children in subSaharan Africa, but that is okay. If I am doing the very best that I can at what I am being asked by my Creator to do, I am exactly where I am supposed to be….even if that does not land me on the cover of my college magazine.
It’s not all-or-nothing. It’s somewhere in between, and it’s pretty nice here. Something in me will probably always pull me to one side or the other. I SHOULD be this or that, or I’m OBVIOUSLY nothing. Forgive me, but that is ridiculous.
The truth is that I am a good and beautiful creation of the Most High God. He knit me together…made me to do good things He had planned for me long ago…He ventures to call me His masterpiece…and nothing in life or death or heaven or hell or my college magazine can ever separate me from the priceless, immaculate, unchanging love I have found in Jesus.
That is one absolute I can bank on.