This is your life.

I’m having a hard time grabbing onto my life.  It circles the baggage carousel and I can spot it coming, but I can’t get a good grip and haul it off the circling stainless steel.  My fingertips brush against the handle, but it’s just too heavy and I can’t lift it before it slips past.

When I was young, I thought my life would take an entirely different direction.  As a young girl, I wanted to be a veterinarian.  I was inspired by James Herriot’s “All Creatures Great and Small” series of books.  My dad and stepmom thought a stint working at a goat farm would be further inspiration, but the proprietor of the farm dimmed my youthful passion.  She was a gray-haired hippie who thought nothing of leaving me in a pen of baby goats with a sharp implement and directions to trim their hooves.  She sheared the goats in her kitchen, wearing only her big white granny-underpants and a t-shirt.  Plus, I had to ride my twelve-speed bike through hilly undeveloped land to reach her farm.  The ride alone took over an hour, as I recall. 

My parents didn’t ever let me take the easy way.  I had to bum a ride when I worked as a hospital volunteer.  No one would pick me up or deliver me to this altruistic job.  When I wanted clothes, I had to buy them myself.  I remember riding my bicycle to school on a day when the roads were coated with ice.  (I fell.)  I grew up in the most isolated family you can imagine.  When we returned home from school to an empty house, my brother and sister and I retreated to our separate rooms for the rest of the afternoon.  It’s no wonder that I filled my spare time with volunteer jobs and activities. 

I was searching for someplace where I mattered.  I wanted to help and I wanted my presence to make a difference.

That’s why I decided I’d be a doctor.  I had the grades and the brain-power to accomplish that goal, but I lacked the familial support and the sensible direction from school officials.  No one advised me where I ought to attend college.  No one encouraged me to pursue any particular academic path.  My dad, at that point, was still trying to figure out what he wanted to be when he grew up.  I felt like I was very much on my own.  I’ve always felt that way.

I went to Bible college because I thought God would love me more if I gave up something.  So I gave up my dream of being a doctor and plunged into the isolated world of an Assemblies of God Christian college.  I found the classes to be full of subjectivity–I couldn’t earn perfect grades anymore because the linear style of academics had turned into a whirl of opening prayers and rambling lectures and material that didn’t seem to have a beginning or an end.  The longer I attended, the less I saw the world as it really was.  My view of the world blinked open only occasionally.  Mostly, it shrank to the size of our campus, where I was isolated without a car.  The longer I was there, the less I felt like I could ever leave.  I loved it.  I hated it.  I loved it more.

I trusted less in myself–I trusted in myself not at all, really–and more in the institution and the denomination and God as I understood Him to be. 

And so I graduated with a degree worth nothing and an engagement ring on my finger.

The only smart choice I’ve made was to marry my husband.  He’s a remarkable man, a fine companion for this journey on earth.  But still, my life doesn’t resemble anything I pictured.

For one thing, I never imagined a world in which my father did not exist.  Yet, he died when I was 24.  I never considered that planning my family would be a challenge.  And yet, motherhood didn’t unfold as I expected.  Infertility, adoption of twins, two unexpected pregnancies . . . nothing as I planned. 

I’m not the mother I expected to be.  That mother was perky and cute and patient under all circumstances.  That mother had children who listened quietly and obeyed promptly.  That mother taught her children to play the piano and read long stories before bed to children who smelled of Ivory soap and homemade sugar cookies.  That mother had a circle of friends who stopped by with fragrant pumpkin bread and telephoned for no reason at all and got together to make crafts and drink coffee.  That mother drank coffee.

I don’t even drink coffee.  I’m nothing that I thought I would be.

Which is disappointing in so many ways.  I thought my life would be like a poem, words sewed together with precision and care.  Instead, it’s like a Scrabble board, words awkwardly shoved together just because I found a “U” to go with the “Q.”  And I have too many vowels and no “R” and my next move depends on the other player. 

So, my life circles around, a haphazard jumble of letters, two metaphors mixed up in an airport full of Scrabble players, I guess.  I’m not what I thought I would be and I’m not yet sure I’ll be what I think.  I’m poised at the starting line at that hopeful place before beginning when failure is not yet possible.  (You can’t fail if you don’t start.)

That’s the view from the kitchen table on a Friday night as I watch my life circle back around, just waiting for me to grab it this time around.   

38 Responses to “This is your life.”

  1. The Dung Beetle November 18, 2006 at 2:47 am #

    I can relate to this more than I care to admit to. Know that you are not alone, waiting at the baggage carousel. Perhaps I’ll spring for coffee for us both while we await our next window.

  2. Carmen November 18, 2006 at 7:10 am #

    But, Mel, the person you have become is so much more than you know. So much more inspiring and honest.

    Would you mind if I do a rip of this on my own blog?

  3. Melissa November 18, 2006 at 7:13 am #

    My heart goes out to you-I’ve struggled with these very same issues. I never wanted to be married or have a child. I was supposed to be single, destined to be the Crazy Cat Lady. Now, I’m married to a man who is highly allergic, so cats are out of the picture entirely.

    I wasn’t out to get married – but I too left a Christian college with an engagement ring. (Odd how those ministry majors get wedding fever during their senior years). My husband was supposed to be full-time church staff – he wasn’t supposed to be a victim of church politics that saw us have to lose everyone we thought was our friend even though we did nothing wrong.

    I have had to come to terms with my dreams for me vs. God’s dreams for me. God knew I was selfish, so he planned for me to marry and be a mother – two places where selfishness is deadly. I know the plan I want for my life, but I have had a very hard time accepting the plan that God has had me on the last few years.

    I’ll be praying for you today, Mel. It isn’t easy looking back over your life to see what might have been. But the “what ifs” will drive us insane. I’ve had to make an extra effort to focus on the “what is” of my life – my good husband, my beautiful daughter, and the not-perfect-job that helps me learn to write better.

    And little bits of inspiration on this thing we call the internet from bright, caring women in the Pacific Northwest.

  4. judy November 18, 2006 at 7:40 am #

    The handle fell off the ‘suit case of my life’ when I did grab it.

    You are brilliant Mel, and affecting eternity in more ways than you can imagine.

  5. Stacy November 18, 2006 at 7:46 am #

    ((((((Mel))))))

    I here you. I never saw myself married with three kids! But, you can work around that and still have what you want. Sometimes you just have to be creative! Hang in there, your day will come.

  6. Valerie November 18, 2006 at 8:50 am #

    Sometimes it feels like you’re writing what’s floating around in my head. But so much better than I can write it.

    You are so self-revealing and vulnerable in your writing. Thank you for sharing your struggles so your readers know we’re not alone in how we feel.

    I never went to Bible college – so how did I get to be a pastor’s wife for the past two years? Is this really my life? Sometimes I’m waiting to wake up….
    : – )

  7. Monika November 18, 2006 at 11:07 am #

    Yep…{{nodding}} me too. But I’d bet good money that ‘doctor’ Mel wouldn’t turn ordinary day-to-day into such incredible poetic flowing words. You may have dreamt of being a doctor, but you were meant to be a writer….and you are….amazing.

  8. MissKris November 18, 2006 at 1:47 pm #

    I for one happen to like the fact that Life isn’t totally predictable. I came out of school on the nite I graduated in 1972 and I remember looking at the sky and wondering, “Where will I go from here?” I must admit I never dreamt my life would follow the paths that it has so far. Each day is a new adventure. Each turn in the road is different from the last. Some of the forks I’ve come to have been difficult choices. Some haven’t been the best choices. But no one else has ever lived the life I’m living as I’ve lived it. That in itself is pretty amazing, don’t you think? I want on my tombstone “No Regrets”.

  9. Dena November 18, 2006 at 5:41 pm #

    I just came to your blog for the first time tonight, and this post resonated so much with me. I feel like you’ve verbalized my thoughts for me. I could take these words, put them on my blog and they would represent me…except that that would be plagarism…:-)

    I won’t do that, but I will post a link. I look forward to exploring your blog. Thanks for being so transparent.

  10. Marmee November 18, 2006 at 7:55 pm #

    Mel,

    Consider yourself hugged!!

    I read your last entry and thought of how more times than I care to admit I’ve felt that way. We all go through it, but that doesn’t make it any easier.

    I always wanted to be a wife and mom. Now that I’m here, I love it, but I also am so frustrated with the hardest job in the world – a stay at home pastor’s wife and mom! I recently had to quit homeschooling my kids for various reasons, so I’m re-inventing myself. (Oooo…do I sound a little like Madonna or what?)

    You are a great writer, I always enjoy what you write. As you get through this little bump, I would encourage you to keep being transparent and “real” in your wonderful writing! Remember the story of the Velveteen Rabbit? I never quite “got it” until I became a wife and mom.

    Oh, yeah, I’m not a perfect “perky” mom either…they bug me!!

  11. Karen November 18, 2006 at 8:06 pm #

    Wow. Once was not enough…Wow. Incredible post – as many of the others have stated, it resonated with me. You are an incredibly talented writer (which would have completely been wasted as a Dr) and although you may have feel as though you are watching your life go by on the carousel, it may just be that God wants you to lose that particular claim ticket because he’s got something better for you. I feel as though you do many times and I am reminded of Romans 8:28, “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.”

  12. Gina November 18, 2006 at 8:09 pm #

    I would so drop off pumpkin bread to you right now if I could- but would you eat it? ;)

    But, at the very least we could have tea.

  13. Tess November 18, 2006 at 10:40 pm #

    I was always going to teach and I was always going to be a mother but what I didn’t count on was 18 months and 7 failed cycles of treatment plus a miscarriage before we achieved our first pregnancy. I wasn’t planning on being hospitalised from 10 weeks from 24 weeks till 34 weeks with contractions every 2-3 days. Did plan on the c-section delivery and E being in special care for 4 weeks because he wouldn’t feed. Didn’t count on being practically destroyed by PND (PPD) weeks before I was due to return to work full time for what turned out to be a term with the class from hell.
    But the next baby was going to be different. Hmmmm, didn’t plan on him suffering from severe reflux for 14 months, didn’t plan on being hospitalised with him in a PND unit for 6 weeks from the time he was 5 weeks then him going to the children’s hospital without me 1 week later because he had RSV and bronchiolitus. I sure as hell wasn’t going to be weighing 100.7kg when he was 3 months old either.
    Didn’t plan on “dropping my bundle” this year when dh (who’s been a house husband for 5 years) decided that going back to work wouldn’t make much of a difference. Didn’t plan on ending up back in hospital for 2 weeks and off work for another 4 and then going through 4 changes of medication.
    I DID plan on getting to goal weight this year (or earlier) and I did but then I didn’t plan on putting back 10kg of the weight I’d lost.
    I’m not bitter and twisted about all this. It’s happened for a reason and it’s made me stronger and I’ve learned a lot of lessons (often very hard ones) along the way.

  14. mrs darling November 18, 2006 at 11:09 pm #

    Loved how you wrote this up. I loce weaving words like that. Sorry you feel like your spinning your wheels. I’ll pray for you that this season will pass.

  15. Liesl November 19, 2006 at 6:21 am #

    Mel – Thank you for your honesty! Being a mother is one of the most brilliant things anyone can ever do – and at the same time, the most terribly lonely, and isolated. Back before I had kids, I envisioned the same life you did – like something out of the mothering magazines, about having a huge circle of friends that would stop by and be a support line for me, would be there to cry with me or laugh with me over my kids antics, and would come over for coffee. I can barely get phone time with my own immediate family – and I’m in Fresno, which means we are not a destination for anyone in the family. Everyone else lives in someplace exotic like Sonoma County (the wine country) or San Francisco, or Ashland, Oregon – home of the Shakespeare Festival. I have struggled with feeling alone so much. I think one thing that adds to the loneliness is being a writer. For some reason – we are up in our heads a lot of the time, aren’t we? And the bottom line for me – in the midst of some of my darkest days, the thought has come to me about the sacrifice of praise. Please don’t hear this as preaching – because I would gag if someone tried to do that to me when I’m feeling blue. Please, please hear this as my life preserver thrown overboard to keep me from drowning – and that I am just passing along to someone else in the deep end… God whispered to my heart that sometimes praising feels like the biggest sacrifice because I don’t feel like doing it. I feel like covering my head with the blankets, and crying for a while. But my two-year old is already up, and therefore, I have to be – and praising is the very last thing I want to do. Yet, if I stretch. If I offer up one tiny fragment – He meets me and before long I am remembering a morsel of joy. Grace peeks through, dear Mel! God has even encouraged me to rest on His shoulder, because no earthly comfort was being offered for all the stress I felt. I’m so sorry to go on and on. I so relate to this post – and I ache for you – and at the same time, sit breathless, waiting to hear how your Comforter will come through for you and lift you up!!

  16. Sissy B. November 19, 2006 at 9:08 am #

    Just happened by, by way of Miss Kris….this post was very compelling and honest…I feel certain that it will touch many women…having had a “bad” day or two like this in my time, I can say….there is always dark before the dawn…of this I am sure you are aware of…now at age 52 and having an eleven year old..I can certainly vouch for the statement that this was not where I expected to be at age 52….but oh how God has worked much joy in my life by taking me down the unexpected paths ;)

  17. Brandie November 19, 2006 at 6:19 pm #

    I have plenty of days like that … where I just can’t get ahold of my life. It feels like I’m in the center of this life and it is spinning all around me like a tornado and I can’t figure out how to stop it and take control and it makes me want to run to my basement and hunker down until the storm passes.
    But then I have periods where it feels like the storm is slowing down and I can climb up those stairs and emerge from the basement (and I can only say this now because I’m in one of those periods).
    Hope that you have a period like that soon and that baggage thing will stop spinning and you can pick it up. And even if that doesn’t happen, I surely hope that someday you can use your talents to write that book you’ve thought about doing before!

  18. She-Ra November 20, 2006 at 8:04 am #

    Thanks Mel. I can relate in many ways and reading the comments has helped too. I will pray for you as I continue on my own journey of “who am I” and “what am I doing here” and “what next”.

  19. Linds November 20, 2006 at 8:42 am #

    We all have dreams. I had so many, and none of them quite turned out the way I planned. That’s what I learnt. Life happens, and plans go out the window. I still have dreams, of course. We all do. But now that I am older, looking back I see what has happened despite failed dreams, and the pattern emerging is so much more colourful and diverse, and parts of me would never have seen the light of day had I plowed on regardless. God has a plan. Thank heavens I believe someone does. You are most certainly not alone. And you could very well have saved some lives just by writing from the heart the way you do. You don’t need to be a doctor. You are enough being who you are.

  20. Beckie November 20, 2006 at 8:47 am #

    You, as always, amaze me with your gift of words. And again as usual, I can relate so much to your words! I have so often looked at my life and have to shake my head at the wonder and confusion of it all. I love my DH so much and I’m so thankful for him. But he doesn’t look anything like my young adult vision of a husband. I have 4 children by the grace of God, although my DH only wanted 3 and I wanted 6 or more. I live thousands of miles away from my family, I live in a very small, very rural town although I grew up in LA. I don’t keep my house really clean or orderly, my children fight and bicker, I don’t have any spectacular talents or gifts with decorating, crafts, cooking, sewing, or anything else useful. I’m very impatient with the children that I have. I don’t have any special friends that drop in , although I always envisioned that for myself.

    And to top it all off, I have a big, (very big) brown dog who is still a puppy, IN THE HOUSE. I never, ever, ever wanted a dog in the house. It is a concession to DH and children who all wanted a dog and DH would only have a house dog. I gave in after all these years. My sanity is holding on by a mere shred. My last nerve is pulled taut at times.

    But this morning I read about the incredible grace of God, his amazing power and love. Sigh…why do I ever complain. I know that we’re in His loving hands. Hope things look better for you soon.

  21. ann adams November 20, 2006 at 10:45 am #

    I love that post.

    Life is what happens while we’re busy making other plans. I’m certainly not where I expected to be either.

  22. Deborah November 20, 2006 at 11:12 am #

    So close to home.

    Scrabble analogy-excellent.

  23. Laura November 20, 2006 at 11:17 am #

    Melp-

    Add me to the list of women’s whose thoughts you expressed so eloquently.

    I’ve always described my life as the “path of least resistance”. It’s taken me some amazing places, but I still don’t have a plan or a vision for tomorrow beyond getting up and getting dressed.

    Thank you.

  24. Yvonne November 20, 2006 at 4:07 pm #

    I let my 20 year old daughter read this. She thinks her life is going nowhere, and has no idea what to do, where to go, how to do it. She needs to see that many people feel this way – my life sure as heck is not like I thought, either. Not that it’s bad, I just never thought it would be this. And it goes by so darn fast!!!

  25. Barb November 20, 2006 at 7:28 pm #

    My life today is a result of the choices I have made as well as the “stuff” that has just happened, the things we have no control over. I may be somewhat different than many others…I was never really sure what I was going to make of my life. I knew I wanted to get married, have kids, and those things happened and I wouldn’t change them for the world. I thought I had found my way back in Montana where I worked in a church for 16 years, but then we moved out here to Minnesota and I don’t know what I’m supposed to be doing with myself. I have a job but it’s just a job. I want something meaningful, something interesting, something fun that I enjoy going to every day. I still haven’t found that. Meanwhile, my life continues to go on…I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up :) My 20 year old daughter knows what she wants, has known since she was a child, and she is going after it. I admire that. My 17 year old son has no idea….he’s very intelligent but doesn’t know what to do with that. I don’t know what kind of direction to give him, except that I hope he finds something that he enjoys doing that can support him financially. Every person is different I guess.

  26. BJ November 21, 2006 at 8:04 am #

    I have read you since the summer but never posted. I cannot tell you how much this sounds like me – change a few, but very few details, and it’s my story too. So often I feel alone in it, but reading all of the comments on this I realize it’s a state of humanity, at least it is for women. I can only draw on the grace of God, and His mercies, which are new every morning, to get me through these times. And unfortunately, they happen more frequently than I like. Be encouraged – His mercies are new for you EVERY morning!

  27. Lori November 21, 2006 at 9:11 am #

    I stumbled onto your website as I searched for information on compulsive overeating, a condition which I finally admit I have.

    You’re beautifully written words brought tears to my eyes. Thank you for sharing. I am going to bookmark your site and come back when I have the time after vacation. Peace.

  28. Nan November 21, 2006 at 12:31 pm #

    Our pictures, from childhood or early adulthood even, of what we imagine our lives to be in the future end up looking like the scribbled drawings on the fridge that we cherish from our children. They are fraught with good intentions and effort but they are not ultimately the picture that matters most. The picture that God drew is the one that is playing out in your life now and He wants you to operate and work within that picture to glorify Him and enjoy Him even if it is not the life you had imagined it would be.

    “Man makes his plans but the Lord directs his paths…”

    HUGS!
    Nan

  29. Deanna November 21, 2006 at 10:15 pm #

    I just found your blog and WHOA! what a first post to read! I can relate on MANY levels – particularly the Bible College- love the Scrabble “picture”.
    My life isn’t much like I always envisioned it would be and I’m not much of the person I always thought I’d be. But then all of those things I envisioned for myself were so … so much about me, very self absorbed. Ultimately I am glad that God refused to let me be who I thought I wanted to be. Instead of the life I thought I’d have He’s given me a life that has required me to learn to rely more deeply on Him – not a bad place to be!
    I’ll have to “catch up” a little in reading some of your recent posts but I just wanted to jump in with my own two cents :)

  30. Pastormac's Ann November 21, 2006 at 10:19 pm #

    20 years ago I would have never imagined that this would be my life.

    For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus fo good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them. Ephesians 2:10

  31. cindy November 21, 2006 at 11:11 pm #

    I feel this one.

  32. Michelle November 22, 2006 at 10:06 pm #

    I like your metaphor. Me too.

  33. Shelly November 23, 2006 at 7:30 pm #

    First time here and I can so relate. I have been having a look back at my life lately.
    I have always wanted to be a mom and have tons of kids, boys and girls. Little did I know I would end up with all boys and a huge age gap between #1 and #2 due to secondary infertility. That getting pregnant and staying pregnant were dangerous for my life. It has been a shock to be the mom of one special needs child and then to have find out another child has similar things going too. Two Children who are seen by tons of Doctors. Makes me afraid to take my other two in for check ups.
    I never though I would be so poor, I would have to ask for help from our church for nearly everything.

    BUT despite it all not working the way I had dreamed or thought it would work out, I would never trade my life for anything. I am a better person. I know and understand more. My heart goes out to those who have sick children. I know pretty much how they feel. I have seen miracles with my boys that can not be explained. Though it isn’t easy most of the time, it is so worth it. I am thankful for how my life has turned out so far. It is better than how I thought it would be.

  34. sprittibee November 27, 2006 at 2:30 pm #

    I would bring you pumpkin bread if you lived near me. I think my life is way better than I ever thought it would be… even though it is different than I could have ever imagined. I was a bad party girl with no direction, always having fun and never expected to settle down and have kids. Now I’m a homeschooling mom and married to a Christian man who works hard and loves me and is such a great dad. Any big plans I made for myself before Jesus, marriage and children are gladly given up for the reality of today. Even if I’m not as GOOD of a mom as I pictured, and still require a LOT of grace. God is awesome… and I’m a work in progress!

  35. Beth November 27, 2006 at 4:47 pm #

    I stumbled onto your blog and love this post. I feel the same way–I’m working fulltime when I really want to be home with my kids, and waiting on a kidney transplant to boot! But then I think of all the people in the Bible whose lives didn’t turn out the way they expected–most of them, in fact, and that gives me hope that God’s plans are far better than mine! I’ll be praying for you, and for myself, that we’ll be able to love God’s plan for us!

  36. Mira November 27, 2006 at 8:22 pm #

    Sitting here after a bad day reading your blog post made me realize that I’m okay. Life does not turn out as we plan it but as it is supposed to be for us.

    Thanks for sharing it made a difference to me today and I appreciate that.

  37. Elizabeth November 29, 2006 at 9:09 am #

    I’m not sure any of us wind up where we planned, and even if we do, it’s still not the way we imagined it. That’s part of how life is.

    But it sounds like you’re restless in your life, which is another thing entirely. It sounds like maybe you’d like to be doing something that you’re not — maybe writing, maybe going back to school. If that’s true, I really recommend Barbara Sher’s books, especially her first one, Wishcraft.

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  1. Amy’s Humble Musings » Expectations - December 2, 2006

    [...] One of the things in life I savor is a well-written sentence. I’ve copied a few for you to enjoy below. It’s by Mel from a post titled, This is your life. [...]

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