I’m learning to live with quiet and a more restful spirit. I’ve been railing against my enforced solitude and non-working status for almost two years now…striving to find something to fill me the way teaching did. Truth is: teaching consumed me. I missed so much of my family’s touchstone events because I believed that what I did was more important than anything else. Ok, I didn’t consciously believe it, but I acted as if I did. My actions were those of a woman entangled with her own sense of self-importance. My identity rested with my ability to do my job well. Exceptionally well. And I was dedicated to my craft and perfecting it. I was also dedicated to my students whose love fed my need for purpose and meaning.
As my life flew away from me three years ago, I began to fight against the loss of meaning and purpose. I clung to a vision I’d had since I had returned to college as a 32-year-old single mother of three: I wanted to teach at the college level. I still had visions of writing my master’s thesis on WWI poetry and how it reflected an ideological fracture that expressed itself in new modern art and writing styles. I had planned to work as a teaching assistant while I finished my PhD and then find a wonderful university where I would get to teach my favorite things to sponge-like undergraduates who would savor every lecture.
It sounds ridiculously naïve when I read it in print. It sounds like a romantic novel’s innocent heroine. It sounds like a woman’s need to hold fast to a dream that was anything but her reality.
It was a necessary dream at the time, but dreams have a way of dissolving themselves…and sometimes God dissolves the dream so He can make something more purposeful from a life spiraling out-of-control quickly.
Yesterday was one of those yucky days I get sometimes now. My body has a mind and mood of its own, and yesterday the pain and exhaustion overwhelmed me. I kept pushing forward doing small tasks. My life has become quite small now. And quiet. And lonely sometimes, but mostly it’s quiet. After my husband leaves for work, I have a pattern: take shower while listening to podcast (usually Ravi Zacharias or Kay Arthur); do upstairs chores while listening to podcast; do lower back exercises while listening to podcasts or music*; do Bible study (in silence); finally, I pray. Yesterday it was hard to do anything. I just wanted to lie down and close my eyes and wait for the day to pass. But I didn’t! I persevered! HAH! But I did move forward and tried to follow my routine.*NOTE: Apparently I need podcasts to fill the silence!
After lunch my energy started to return, as did the sun. (Let me just say that I love the sun in Colorado. Northern Colorado’s spring season starts later than it does in Oklahoma-my home state. It’s the first of June and mornings are still 40 degrees. Highs are in the mid 60’s or 70’s. Zilch on the humidity. In the last two weeks, the trees have filled out and my garden is opening up.)
I’ve been refinishing an antique window to use as a frame for family photos, and I needed to finish distressing the window and then add a little antiquing wax to emphasize the grain of the wood. The sun acted like a tonic on my old bones and I spent the afternoon listening to Schubert and finishing the window. In between coats of wax, I read a novel and drank an espresso (made in my fun, Italian moka pot). As suppertime got closer, I decided to start chopping tomatoes, onions, and peppers for a salsa I’d put on top of the fish tacos I’d planned. Quiet, right? Unassuming? Non-tumultuous? No lesson plans. No essays to grade. No conferences to attend.
Here’s the thing I’m noticing about my new life as an unemployed teacher living in a new town: I like it. I like the deliberateness of chopping the veggies for salsa while looking out my kitchen window and watching the irises blossom in the backyard. I like letting my thoughts wander without worrying about what I must achieve in order to feel valuable to the world. I like having my husband help me when he gets home and then hug me because he appreciates the supper.
These are all things I missed before . . . before the small kitchen and the small life and the smaller dreams. It sounds corny, but I love listening to the birds—even the squawky blackbirds that chase off the smaller birds in order to eat at my bird feeder. I like sanding a piece of old wood and turning it into something new. I like to hear the children’s chatter and laughter as they play now that school is out. My new quiet life feels like a gift today.
And that’s the revelation. I’ve been striving internally for months now trying to figure out the next stage of my life once my back gets strong again. I’ve been begging God for answers and for purpose. Then today I finally “got it.” The gift. Anyone who really knows me and knows my history, also knows the nightmare my life was in my 20’s and 30’s. They know the despair and the rejection and deep sorrow. The helplessness and hopelessness. They also know that my children, family, and job provided me with the healing I desperately needed. And thus the Gift. I heard God tell me (in that still, small voice that I can only hear when I’m quiet): Cindy, be still. Your purpose rests in Me. Your dreams are secure in Me. It’s time for you to rest, heal, and be amazed at the life I have given you. Be still my daughter. Be still my child. Be still.
Suddenly, ZAP, just like that I realized that this quiet year has been God’s gift to me. A relief from the last 26 years of college, teaching, raising children, surgery, more college, and a move away from the familiar and comfortable. Instead of worrying about my financial future, God is telling me to enjoy this time. Relax in it. Don’t see it as a pause button until my real life begins again, but as a well-earned vacation.
I still strive, of course. But today the sun is out again and my garden is calling me. Weeds continue to bloom and I must be diligent in my weeding so I can keep gazing out my small, kitchen window and watch the birds fly and the irises bloom.