Mary and I have been writing letters for nearly thirty years, which means I have written through many ups and downs; early days of mothering infants and toddlers, balancing freelance writing and part-time jobs while parenting, an emergency C-section, David’s job loss and subsequent financial struggles, the beginning of a bookstore business and its eventual demise, David’s cancer and the celebration of his survivorship five years later, the loss of my mother, a grandson’s cancer diagnosis, David’s death, and my eventual need for a job outside the home. Mary has been privy to much celebration in my life, along with an equal amount of complaining and venting in the thousands of letters I’ve written her. But in the past few months she had seen more than her share of complaints as I attempted to find balance (my chosen word for the year) in my life. Several days ago, I was once again lamenting the quiet, contemplative morning time I have lost when I began a new job.
For more than 20 years, writing has served as my therapy. Even as a mother with young children, it was how I jump-started the day, whether it was a letter to Mary, an article or essay. After David’s death, morning (mourning) writing became a crucial part of my healing. I began each and every day with journal entries, prayer, and reading from inspirational books and devotionals. For eighteen months after his death, I wrote like a mad woman, completing book manuscripts, essays, and blog postings. Even after I got an afternoon job as director of a library, my mornings were mine. And they were delicious.
Suddenly, with a new job, I found myself in an office every weekday morning. What could be better for a writer than being paid to write every day, right? And yet, I discovered I’d lost something in the process; quiet, contemplative time, and free hours to write whatever I wanted to write; essays and blog posts, and journal entries. For the first time in five years, I’m not working on a book. And yes, my letter-writing has decreased. It had to. Something had to give.
But all along, I was determined that “something” would not be my public speaking. When it came to speaking to the hearts of those who grieve, I’ve felt no angst, no hesitation to add to my commitments, particularly when it was an evening event, or like the October grief retreat I’ve been planning with two other women, something I feel strongly led to organize. I’ve also planned vacation days around a Christian writing workshop in June that I’ve looked forward to ever since the last one ended. The women and men I’ve met at this conference have become dear friends, and the spiritual sustenance I receive during those days is food for my soul.
But other things? Like the letter-writing workshops Mary and I had begun doing last fall in conjunction with our book release? I found myself balking, filled with anxiety. Could I really rationalize filling my Saturdays as I had before getting this job? I agonized about saying no to such fun events. Yet I found myself giddy with happiness each time I faced a free Saturday morning.
Of course, I shared these unaccustomed feelings with Mary in letters and phone calls. We prayed. We pondered. We had two big events already on the roster in March; a letter-writing workshop and a speech in front of lovely group of women. I enjoyed both of them immensely. We’ve made the decision to face future co-speaking event requests on a case-by-case basis, with prayerful discernment.
I did not send the letter I’d begun that day. If I was tired of my own complaining, I was certain Mary did not want to see more of it.
Instead, I picked up this book, Choose Joy: Finding Hope and Purpose When Life Hurts, by Sara Frankl and Mary Carver.
Sara’s story of pain and loss touched me deeply. It also made me ashamed. If Sara could consciously choose joy every single day of her too-short and pain-filled life, then with all the blessings in my life, I could certainly choose joy each day. If God brought me to this new job, and I’m certain that he did, then he would lead me to find the balance I have so desired.
When I find myself lamenting the loss of my husband and the struggles of single parenthood, I can look at these words from Sara’s book:
“Life isn’t fair. But it wasn’t meant to be. What we tend to forget is that we created the idea of fair. God didn’t. He never told us we deserve a perfect existence. He never told us life would be simple if we were faithful. He just told us to be faithful, and that He would be too. I embraced that concept and realized that as long as I stay focused on Him, and what he needs from me, rather than what I want for me, my life will be full and balanced.” (page 111)
A full and balanced life.
The very idea brings me joy.
I complete this blog post on the morning of what is the fourth anniversary of my husband’s death. And today, I choose joy for the years I had with my husband, for the eight children, two children of my heart spouses of my children, one soon-to-be son-in-law, and three healthy grandchildren I will spend my day with. I choose joy.
Learn more about Sara and her daily struggle through this video: