How are you doing?” she asks with concern in her eyes.
“OK….I am doing OK. Taking it one day at a time”, I answer. I continue, “I’m keeping up with the bills, doing the best I can with the yard although the lawn mower is broken and I hate the weeds. I’ve put up about half the screens in the windows. I feed the dog, do the laundry, look for work. I think I have carpenter ants eating the front porch, I get the car washed, oh, and have started a club volleyball program. I shop for food, am sleeping pretty well…most of the time; I walk on the boardwalk, and my heart is warmed by little Caleb’s 8 month old smiles and new discoveries. I am putting final plans into place for Mike’s memorial golf tournament that is coming up and I started the dehumidifier in the basement and still have to put the fan up in the window down there. I spend some evenings at the beach reading, eating dinner, or just sitting. I started drinking coffee some mornings; decaf of course, bought a new washing machine, and enjoy my Wednesday morning study time with friends. So, in all, I think I am doing OK. Really.”
“How is Patty?” he asks with concern in his eyes.
“I don’t know. I don’t know how to answer that question.” I reply with tears in my eyes.
Doing versus being. I am functioning. I am doing tasks. I cross items off my list daily. But how am I? That is a different question. And I am challenged to think about this as I reflect on our last year.
As Mike’s illness quickly progressed, I watched his capacity for work decline along with his health. He lost the ability to serve the town in the way he was accustomed to through his job. He no longer had the strength to care for people in the church as he loved to do. His waning energy limited the amount of time he was able to extend his gift of hospitality to friends and family. And yet, as he gradually lost the ability to do those things, his character came shining through more than ever. The very essence of his being became more evident. It was apparent that he was so much more than a Licensed Civil Engineer, Director of Public Works, or Elder in our church. His life had been stripped of all the ways and labels that our worth is defined by our culture. And yet, here he was; physically diminishing, but spiritually glowing. Mike’s focus and vision for life was never more acute. He had a mission. It had less to do with doing but more with being – being in relationship with family. Being with friends. Being quiet. Listening.
A dear friend of mine told me this: “We are human beings, not human doings“. I’ve always liked that. It reminds me that my identity is a whole lot more than what I accomplish on my to do list, what job I have, or what I’ve done in the past. There are so many performance oriented ways I can define myself. But what happens when you are stripped of the ability to do all those familiar things? Especially now, all those things you used to do as part of a couple?
How do I make sure I am taking the time to “be” and not just “do”? It is such a weird phase of life right now. I have more and new responsibilities. Like everyone else, I have to do things; to take care of the house, the yard, the finances, insurance, taxes, and all the many details that have to be sorted out legally. And yet, I am a different human being than I was a year ago. And this human being is not all that comfortable in her skin right now.
Many times I feel like an adolescent. So unsure of myself. I feel socially awkward. And I always seems to be a step behind. Things take so long to accomplish. And when people ask me what I’d like to do for work, I have no answer. Life is hard when I stop to think about it.
It is one of those nights. Feeling tired but not able to sleep. I sit here and listen to the rain outside. And the thunder. I pick up my Streams in the Desert book and smile at the page I open to:
Testings are raining upon me which seem beyond my power to endure. Disappointments are raining fast, to the utter defeat of all my chosen plans. Bereavements are raining into my life which are making my shrinking heart quiver in its intensity of suffering. The rain of affliction is surely beating down upon my soul these days….
Rain, Rain, go away. I’d like to hide under a rock today. But I continue to read:
You indeed see the rain. But do you see also the flowers? You are pained by the testings. But God sees the sweet flower of faith which is upspringing in your life under those very trials. You shrink from the suffering. But God sees the tender compassion for other sufferers which is finding birth in your soul. Your heart winces under the sore bereavement. But God sees the deepening and enriching which that sorrow has brought to you. It isn’t raining afflictions for you. It is raining tenderness, love, compassion, patience, and a thousand other flowers and fruits of the blessed Spirit, which are bringing into your life such a spiritual enrichment as all the fullness of worldly prosperity and ease was never able to beget in your innermost soul.”
I read it again. “…But God sees…” He is aware of the sorrow. He is aware of the “deepening and enriching” that is occurring in the very core of my being. Even when I don’t realize it. Even when I am tripping over myself physically and emotionally. He sees the compassion that runs deeper in my soul than it ever has before. And He sees the “sweet flower of faith” that is growing in my life. So even while I am “doing” my best, He is at work, nurturing and growing, watering the seeds of tenderness, love, compassion, patience, and a thousand other things that will bring a new level of enrichment that I’ve never experienced before. Even while I am tackling my list, just putting one foot in front of the other, or crawling out from under my rock, He sees something beautiful happening. And I know it is not at all related to what I am doing, but who I am becoming.
So I believe I now have an answer. Next time I am asked, “How is Patty?” I think I will say, “Even though I am in the midst of the storm, and it is raining hard, I know that someday I will be able to experience the fullness of the work that is being done in me and what a beautiful day that will be”. It is in that hopeful spirit that I can say with confidence, “Yes, I truly am OK.”