When is it enough?

Chris and I watched The Iron Lady last night.  If you haven’t seen it, it’s a pretty good biopic of Margaret Thatcher.  Meryl Streep plays Thatcher and it’s a really surprising movie in many ways.  It isn’t like most biopics, instead of just telling the story of the person’s life, The Iron Lady tells the story from the point of view of Margaret Thatcher as an elderly woman.  The opening scene, in particular, is heartbreaking.  Here is this woman, who was once one of the most powerful people in the world and a person of great influence, now just a doddering old woman making her way slowly to buy a pint of milk and then complaining about how much the price had gone up.  I guess it just brought home to me the truth that we are all just dust.

But that wasn’t the most difficult part of the movie.  For me, the most difficult part was watching the elderly Thatcher question her life choices.  There were several scenes where she seems to be asking questions: did she spend enough time with her kids, was she a good enough wife, should she have spent so much time in her career, etc.  And it makes me wonder, when is it ever enough?

Margaret Thatcher was married to the same man for 52 years, a marriage that only ended when her husband died.  She raised two children fairly successfully.  She had a long and distinctive career that included almost 12 years as her country’s Prime Minister, a position that she held during a difficult and tumultuous decade.  She was the first female Prime Minister in Great Britain and, actually, the first female head of state of a western country. Certainly from the outside this looks like a very successful life.

Now, obviously, this movie was a work of fiction.  Who knows if , in fact, Margaret Thatcher ever had these questions about her life.  But it seems to me that these are questions that women torment themselves with regularly.  I don’t know any man who spends his mental energy fretting over whether he spent enough time with his children or if taking that big promotion at work was really the right decision.  But women worry about these things all the time.

I recently had a long conversation with a friend of mine about a topic similar to this.  She earned a significant promotion at work but her new position requires her to work full time now, rather than the 3/4 time she had been working.  She loves her job.  She is very good at her job.  She also loves her children and is a great mom.  But she’s worried about this new position and the longer hours she is working.  She says her husband is helping to pick up the slack right now but, “you know, he’s so busy at work.”  Sure he’s busy, so is she.  So why does the burden fall to her, even if the burden of childcare/housework/etc doesn’t fall to her, why does the burden of worry  fall to her?  Is this a problem of needless worry?  Or is it a symptom of inequality and a sign that there are still things that need to change?

There are so many choices in life.  And none of us will ever get them all right. It’s hard enough to make decisions the first time, how do we get out of the second-guessing trap that so many of us seem to fall in?

Because sometimes I’m just quiet

Several friends have called me lately just to “check up on me.”  As a matter of fact, two friends called me today for this purpose within about an hour of each other.  I felt less “checked up on” than talked about.  Because it seemed like they’d probably been talking about me in the guise of being concerned about me and this led them each to decide to call me.

The things is, I don’t need checked up on. Things are pretty wonderful right now, actually.  We’re pretty busy, it is spring which means longer work days for my husband, extra school related things and long nights because of the kid’s track happenings.  But a busy life isn’t a bad life.  

Here’s the thing, rather than check up on me because you think something is wrong, which makes me feel like I’m your project or something you need to check off your to-do list, just be my friend. And if you are really my friend you know that sometimes I’m just quiet.  This doesn’t mean anything is wrong.  It just means I’m quiet. Maybe I’m listening more right now.  Maybe I’m learning to control this unruly tongue of mine.  Or maybe I’m just out of things to say for the moment.  It’s not wrong, it’s just a season.  And I don’t want to be anyone’s project.

But here’s another thing: maybe I’m not really your friend.  Maybe calls like these just remind me that I am “other”, in some way. Which is okay too, I don’t need to be everyone’s friend.  Especially if being your friend means I’m going to be your project.

It’s a muscle and you have to exercise it

When I first started running it felt like such a slog. At the very beginning I would run from one telephone pole to the next, and then walk the same distance. And I did that for a really long time until one day I though, hmmm, I wonder if I could run the length of two telephone poles.  I could.  So I did that for a while.  Then I found a “get started running” guide in a magazine or online somewhere and decided to try that out.  And I got better.  It didn’t exactly get easier but it got more enjoyable and I was able to run for longer distances. Now I’m noticing real improvements in my speed, improvements that make me feel like I’m winning…even though I’m still not a fast runner.  

I have a little secret, though: I still like a run/walk pattern when I’m doing a long run.  I think it’s because a run/walk pattern helps me break it up in my mind, like I’m tricking myself into thinking I only have to run for 5 more minutes.  Plus it’s way faster.  Sounds strange, I know, but my average pace when I run/walk is much higher than when I just run.  So I will keep up my run/walk system.  It’s good for me and I like it.

But that’s not the point of this anyway.

For a long time I’ve had it in my head that I might like to write a book someday.  Not that I really know what it would be about or that anyone would be interested in reading it.  I’ve always enjoyed writing and also like the idea of writing “the great American novel.”  Because, you know, that’s what it would be, of course.

When I think about it I can come up with a million reasons why I shouldn’t write.  And most of them have to do with lack of inspiration, lack of time, and general questions about my ability to write anything worth reading.  But then I remember when I started running.  It was hard and I had to talk myself into it a lot of mornings. And at the beginning I just ran for 15 or 20 minutes. I didn’t just wake up one day and run 10 miles.  I had to work up to that kind of endurance.  And I still practice almost every day.  

I think writing might be like that.  I’m not going to wake up one morning and pound out the great American novel.  More likely, I’m going to struggle to write for 15 minutes a day.  But then something will start to click and some days I’ll write for a couple of hours.  And maybe it won’t ever be that illusive great novel.  But maybe it will be something I love and that makes me happy. 

And that’s enough for me.

On motherhood, “calling”, decisions and what comes next

I think I might be having a kind of mid-life crisis.  I don’t know, is this my mid-life?  And is it really a crisis? That word is probably too strong. Anyway, I’ve been thinking a lot about life lately and what comes next.  Part of this is, I’m sure, because of the time of year.  There is something about spring that always makes me feel antsy.  Probably this is because of the beautiful weather (as I sit here looking out the window it is pouring down rain and blowing with 20 mph winds.  Beautiful, right). Probably this is also because spring brings with it a feeling of being on the cusp of something; on the cusp of summer vacation, on the cusp of picnics, swimming and vacations, on the cusp of another completed school year.  So, in some ways, I’m just having my usual spring examination of life.

In other ways, though, this year feels different.  My son is about to finish preschool and is beyond excited to start kindergarten next year.  All day kindergarten.  And practically everyone I see lately asks, “what are you going to do with all your free time next year?”  Sometimes I feel like people think my stay-at-home mom gig is (or should be) coming to an end and I should be thinking about getting busy doing some real work.  Of course, no one actually says this and, probably, no one actually believes this.  Except me, maybe I believe it a little.

You see, I guess I never really thought I’d be a stay at home mom.  I vaguely remember talking about it a little when my husband and I first got married but I always thought I’d stay home for a year or two, when the kids were really little, and then get on about my business. But here we are, coming up on 8 years since our daughter was born and I’ve never really used my graduate degrees, never really worked in my chosen field.  And I don’t know if I ever will.

A few weeks ago there was a job opening in my profession at a local community college.  When we talked about if I should apply for it, the conversation really revolved around what hours I would be working and what would happen with the kids.  When did this become the first consideration in my life?  There is no way to say these things without people thinking I’m a horrible mom.  But my kids aren’t all that I am.  And the questions, about how many hours to work, how it would impact the kids, etc, are never asked of my husband.  When he is asked to join a committee or take on new responsibilities he only asks if the opportunity is something he wants to take.  Sometimes that irritates me.  And sometimes I wonder how we got here.  Did I agree to this?  I don’t really remember that.  It just seems like we fell in to this life.

There was recently an article on Her.meneutics that I really appreciated.  My Kid Is Not My Calling talked a lot about what it means to have a “call” and how that differs from having a “role.”  I appreciated the author’s point that, in general, all mothers are called “to honor and obey God in they way they raise their children” and I definitely feel the importance of that call.  But also appreciate the point about individual calling.   I liked this definition of call: “It is a biblically grounded, Holy Spirit-infused, community-affirmed expression of one’s gifts, and it glorifies God for a purpose greater than one’s self.”  Later on the author refers to callings as “unique purposes written into our beings.”

Perhaps that’s what I’m longing for in this season, clarity about what my real calling is.  I still love my role as mother and will continue to love it and work at being a better mother throughout my life.  But I also believe there is more.  And I’ll keep seeking the One who calls me and hope that someday He makes it clear.

Reading, writing and running

I have been reading a lot about running lately.  Not really the mechanics of running, although I do enjoy that kind of thing too.  But more about the inner work of running.  Before I started running I thought it was just about my physical self.  And running is good for that, for sure.  I’m not one of those super skinny runners but I can definitely feel muscles in my calves and thighs that weren’t there before I started running.  I also know there are other parts of my body that have benefited from my running.

But that’s not really that interesting.  I mean, who would read a book dedicated to talking about how awesome your calves get when you run?  No one.  What interests me about running books is what happens inside people when they run.  For me, running is when I do a lot of business with myself, it’s when my weaknesses and selfish bits seem to pop up.  It’s when the deep down little things that have been bothering me seem to work to the surface and demand attention.

Running is also when I do business with God. There’s nothing like a long run, especially the end of a long run, to bring you to you knees (hopefully not literally) and highlight how dependent you are on God.  It seems like I have felt God’s presence in a physical way mostly when my own physical self has been tested in some way: at the birth of my children, at the side of my Jeep after flipping it in an accident, and when I’m at the edge of my limits on a run.  In some ways, I think this is one reason for kneeling or participating in some other physical way when praying.

Sometimes I have tried to separate my physical self and my spiritual self.  As if they were somehow apart or unconnected.  But I have come to realize more and more that I am just one: body, mind, spirit.   And Jesus said, in Mark 12:30, that I should “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.”  So that’s what I’m doing when I run.

 

Some running books I’ve enjoyed: 

  • Mile Markers by Kristin Armstrong
  • What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami
  • 4:09:43 by Hal Higdon
  • Eat & Run by Scott Jureky
  • Run Like a Mother and Train Like a Mother by Dimity McDowell and Sarah Shea

 

Some books on the Spirit/Body connection that I’ve enjoyed:

  • Every Body Matters by Gary Thomas
  • Eat With Joy: Redeeming God’s Gift of Food by Rachel Marie Stone
  • Made to Crave by Lisa Terkeurst
  • Bread and Wine by Shauna Niequist