The late spring sunshine was streaming through an open window in the top room of my Grandmother’s small house on the quiet evening that I planned out my entire life. Using my best penmanship, my thirteen-year-old self carefully crafted goal after goal and plan after plan, each more ambitious and exciting than the last.
By the time dusk had fallen, I had decided on everything from the college I would eventually attend, to the year I would get married, to the awesome career I would have as a traveling nurse in Africa, to the names of my future six children… to a whole lot more.
I didn’t imagine anything could get in my way. Then, of course, life happened.
In the years that have passed since that quiet spring evening, not one of my plans has come to fruition in exactly the way I envisioned. Some have come partially true- I don’t have six children, but I do have two. I did go to university, but not the one I had expected to attend. Other plans were completely off base- I certainly did not become a traveling nurse, nor have I been to Africa.
However, what is most different in my life are the things I did not envision on that quiet evening when I was thirteen and dreaming big dreams upon even bigger dreams.
While life has included so much good, I didn’t envision the challenges and hardships my life would also include. I certainly never in my wildest dreams, saw myself getting into a car accident at the age of 19, an accident that would send me down a journey of progressive disability. I never expected that I would one day have to make friends with a wheelchair and a speaking device, nor that I would have to adapt my vision of who I am even when I physically cannot do all the things that others can easily do. Things like walk or talk for more than short conversations.
It’s funny how goals can be like that. It’s easy to do what I did as a thirteen-year-old and set out ambitious goals and life plans for the amazing and good parts of life.
But what do you do when the unexpected hits and that unexpected includes tragedy or loss or pain?
When you find your shaking self in a crumpled, smashed car with windshield glass shattered around you? Or when you try with all your might, but you don’t get into the college program you hoped for or the job you spent years working towards? Or when you have your perfect child, and that perfect child comes with a life-changing diagnosis such as autism or down syndrome or cancer? Or when late one night you find yourself in a sterile hospital holding the hand of your loved one as with every breath they slip closer to eternity?
What do you do when the big plans you created for your life also are tempered with struggle?
Because the thing is, life is two-fold. There are the blessings, but there are also the challenges that we all face at some points in our lives.
For me, going through my own difficult circumstances has taught me some big lessons. I’ve learned that life is what you make of it, and that joy is always an option. That we can choose to let the painful parts of our lives be like a pumice stone that softens our hearts and opens our spirits to love for others. That we can allow love to permeate our hearts.
When we allow our hearts to break open and spill love to those around us, even when facing our own challenges or hurts, we discover life’s greatest gift, which is to be a force for positive in the life of another.
I used to be someone who always wanted only the best for my life. Life has taught me that “the best is an illusion.” But that it is in the imperfections of life that we truly live. It is in the struggles of life that we grow as humans and it is in the twisted pathways that find out who we really are. It is in both the joys and the pains of life that we most fully live.