This guest post is part of the Good Ways blog series, a collection of stories and practices for finding God in hardship.
Evidence of my life’s work thus far is everywhere. As I enter my house, to the right is a bookshelf filled with titles like “The Joy of Science,” “Greek Myths,” lectures on “The Great American Musical,” and numerous history titles. In the living room, my shelf holds Greek plays, “My Antonia,” “Frankenstein,” and works on both world wars. My kids and I dove deep in that well together and drank it all in. We splashed around and luxuriated in our books and learning experiences. There are many volumes there waiting with promise for us to delve into as well. Books waited for our attention—that I bought with every intention of reading, but never got around to. The books are intoxicating. I want to read all of them. I want to live for a while in their pages and swim in their ideas.
If I go into our attic and look at the books there, they outline a history of our education—my kids’ education and the one I received while teaching them over sixteen years of homeschooling. There is richness there. I have read beyond what I believed myself capable of. I have facilitated the learning of history, English, Biology, Chemistry, Algebra, and more, and in the process have deepened my own knowledge. I have built a culture of sharing knowledge. I love this world, particularly when it just is…a world of learning because learning is our job. I love seeing connections being made and those “Eureka!” moments. I love when one of us is so excited about a discovery that the words just tumble out on top of themselves. And I love when one path of learning leads to another and we can keep following those new paths until we hardly remember how we got there. Of course, there were times of slogging, times that were less joyful, but it was deep, meaningful work for me.
Starting in 2012, I started reaching the end of this iteration of the job. My oldest had begun her university studies. And because my kids are close in age, all three had begun college by 2015. The pieces of my life felt loose—as if someone has taken my 1000 piece puzzle, disassembled it, magically changed the shape of the pieces, and handed it back. Most of it needed to be remade. I wanted to make a plan. I wanted to know what was next. How will I use my skills to be of use in the world? How will I structure my days? What is my five year plan? At this point, I couldn’t begin to imagine it. I didn’t know how to make this transition. Change is uncomfortable and nearly everything about my days is changing.
Some of my friends speculated that I just couldn’t let go of my kids. Honestly, there was some normal needing to let go of grown kids. But layered on that was a sense of grief and loss. I told my husband, “You are just reaching your stride in your career…just getting really good at the work you feel called to, and able to let go of the things you are not good at and should let others do.” For me, at that same moment in my life, I have worked myself out of the job I love and am skilled at. I am grieving that loss. And I am anxious to see if my work will truly measure up. Will my kids have the tools they need to succeed in university, or will they come back to me and tell me I have not prepared them? A book I read at the time suggested that in a healthy transition, we both grieve what we are losing and embrace new possibilities. I had the grieving part down, though I felt embarrassed at my emotions. What was harder was seeing the possibilities.
With my mix of grief and anxiety, I could not formulate a plan. In the middle of this period, I had a spiritual direction session with a mentor. One of the things she said was “faith is being sure of what we hope for. What are your hopes?” She encouraged me to make a box of my hopes filled with images of my ideas, hopes and longings. When I got home I found a sparkly gold hexagonal box among my things. On the lid, I glued a strip of paper that said “Faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” I gathered pretty paper scraps and cut them in the same shape as the box. Each morning I wrote a hope on a hexagon of beautiful paper, praying to inhabit those longings. As I did, I realized that most of my hopes had to do with who I wanted to become and the kinds of relationships I had with others. Who do you want to be? That is a question I could answer. And it was something I could live towards immediately. Here were things I could imagine: “I want to enjoy a vibrant relationship with Mark in this next phase of life,” “I want to keep learning,” “I want to live simply and beautifully, enjoying what I have,” or “I want to appropriately love and support my children at this stage in their life,” “I want to live towards compassion and justice.” Slowly, I began to see ways to move towards the hopes God had placed in me. I could see the possibilities.
This practice helped me to breathe more freely, to relax in to waiting for the answer to “What will I do?” to begin to work itself out. Frankly, if you asked me what I will do at this stage in life, I still don’t have a plan or a long term answer. I am saying yes to projects that fit with who I want to become in the world, trusting that the “what I will do” will continue to emerge from that.
Lisa Scandrette loves creating with her hands, connecting with neighbors near and far, and beautiful stories. She lives with and enjoys adventuring with her husband Mark and is enjoying every day that their three adult kids still live with them in their little Victorian in the Mission District of San Francisco. Together, Mark and Lisa are co-authors of Belonging and Becoming: Creating a Thriving Family Culture and Free: Spending Your Time and Money on What Matters Most.