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Tuesday, April 5, 2011

No More Howling at the Moon: A Lament for What Will Not Be of Me

I didn't know I was having a midlife crisis until somewhere in the middle of trying to survive a triple infection...bronchitis, sinus and ear...I discovered that my misery far outreached my physical symptoms. "What in the world is wrong with me?" I wondered. Surely a nap, a Tylenol and another afternoon to rest and it will all be better. But this isn't an illness in the "take two asprin and call me in the morning" sense. This is a midlife crisis, wrapped around me like a blanket, making the misery of my feverish brow nearly pleasant by comparison.

Since when do women have midlife crises?

I thought that only the guys got these, and with them came some sporty new vehicle model and a sporty new female model as well. Nothing new in my life, though. Same old salt-colored, french fry smelling, four-door. It IS red, but it also has a cargo rack and fold-down backseats for accommodating the groceries. Same old husband of 21 years, a bit grayer, a bit softer around the middle, but much more than a great companion to an old and soft-around-the-middle wife. Besides, he's tons cuter than any of the newer models I've seen posing on the tabloids at the checkout counter at my favorite WalMart.

So how did I figure out I was having a midlife crisis? I went back to a place of origins in my life, and discovered there was no longer any future there. My place of origins and I had failed to succeed at fulfilling our dreams.

I have been realizing for about six months now, that as a little girl, coming of age in the era of the Equal Rights Amendment, Title IX (1972,) and modern Girl Scouting, that I swallowed completely the concept, "You can be anything you want to be!" as a girl. I grew up thinking, like my classmates, that it was nothing short of normal to aspire to be a female president, a female doctor, a female airline pilot, a female engineer. I could think of nothing to stop me, and never questioned even once, that if I wanted to become it, and was willing to work hard, I could be anything. I never dreamed of the common things. I never aspired to being a clerk at a store, a librarian, a secretary, or any of the things that women did when I was young. I could be a teacher or a nurse of course, but why settle for those? I could be so much more! I was free to be me! I was free to be whoever I wanted to be!

Only problem was, there's a pretty big gap between the dreaming and the coming true.

Oh, I had big enough dreams of changing the world, of making it a better place, of feeding the hungry, curing the sick, wiping away the tears of the world and finding the answer to world peace, but Engineering didn't pan out. Chemistry was the source of a degree, but didn't offer much of an opportunity to do anything beyond verifying what we wanted in the finished product at our plant was actually there. I needed a career. I needed a job start to "being anything I wanted to be" with! I needed to get on with fixing the world.

Then I found it. The church, the final frontier for women. And HERE, I not only had an interest, AND a passion, but I had a calling as well. I was going to change the world through the love of Jesus Christ for the world!

Things started well enough. Slowly, but well. This was it! This was what I was good at, and I could use all of my God-given gifts, abilities, talents and skills, all of them, in this one calling to help people find their lives in Jesus Christ. It was the best of the best of the best of dreams come true, and there seemed to be no limit to where my dreams for God's Kingdom would allow me to go.

But here I am, looking 50 years old in the face, and realizing that not only is God not going to use me to set the world on fire, but there are days and weeks, where my chances at keeping my job and a roof over my head are not that clear. The dream to change the world isn't going to come about after all, not by sacrifice, not by hard work, not by prayer, not by selflessness, not by anything I can do at all. I'm not the one, I'm the wrong gender. I was wrong.

I've been following a dream.
I've been howling at the moon.

It's a hard, hard thing to face that your dreams are not going to be fulfilled, that others are going to get to be the ones who reach your dream, not you. I'm struggling with that right now. I lament that I am not the one that God chose. I'm not the one, no matter how willing I was to be used, that God needs. I'm grieved that I can't be who or what the church thinks it needs. I'm sorry that I spent so much time taking time and my best energy away from my family to focus on something I thought I was supposed to do. I'm discouraged, but I'm not destroyed. There is plenty of work to be done in the church for former big-dreamers.

Why am I putting this very personal story of disappointment on a blog in front of the whole world to see my failing? I have only one reason and it is this. We need to validate those who do not turn out having the ability or the chance to save the world, just as much as those who actually do. It's nice to follow the tweets of the important and read the blogs of the wise and revered. It's great to attend conferences led by the movers and the shakers, read the works of the brightest and the best, and hope that someday you might be able to contribute even a small percentage as much. But that isn't reality, and shaking the hands of the ones who set the course of the rivers doesn't mean their greatness will rub off. Most of us are not destined to do anything more than make a ripple in a small pool.

What was it Edison said about failure? "I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that will not work." I have a new thought arising in me and it is this: it may take the efforts of 10,000 of us to bring about the success of one. It may require 10,000 average Monas to make one truly amazing "Mona Lisa". How many Sister Sarah's were there to bring about one Mother Teresa? How many sister's of John and Charles Wesley were there that failed to succeed personally, while John and Charles brought an entire Christian revival to life?...Emily, Sukey, Anne, Hetty, Patty, Molly, and Kezzy. How many of us have dreams and for reasons we have no control over, will never be able to fulfill them?

I don't suggest that we should cease to hold the possibility of dreaming up before our daughters or our sons. I encourage my children every day to stretch themselves and go beyond what they've done before. But I think that we need to also help them to see that there are many factors that they will not be able to control along the way, and that not everyone will write the great American novel. Not everyone will find the cure to cancer. Not everyone will find a solution to the problems of fossil fuel consumption. We are good and worthy and valid human beings for the dreaming and for the trying, not only for the succeeding.

That's what I'm trying to convince myself right now. It's time for me to stop howling at the moon, and maybe, with a little luck, learn to appreciate what it is, just to look into it's beautiful light.

1 comment:

  1. Jennifer, I love your deep thinking and honesty. You put nicely a struggle of mine which has haunted me for years now: a midlife crisis of facing the thought that, as you nicely put, "I lament that I am not the one that God chose. I'm not the one, no matter how willing I was to be used, that God needs. I'm grieved that I can't be who or what the church thinks it needs."

    I wonder over and over and over again; "did I make the right decision to leave ministry? To give up my ordination?" Did I just run away from myself, my demons, my GOD? instead of facing these things straight on, accepting my imperfection is no different than others in my position of leading a flock unwilling to follow?

    What remains is a faint howling in the silence of the night. Like Jonah, I throw myself over the boat and am swallowed up. Will God bring me out of the belly of the whale? When, I ask, When?

    Thanks for your honest disclosure of life in the middle.