Life is not the way it’s supposed to be. It’s the way it is. The way you cope with it is what makes the difference.
This was the opening line of an email forwarded to me by a couple of my friends. It struck me that I know so many people out there who spend all their time being angry or disappointed or defeated by the loss of what they believe was their “destiny.” We all have dreams when we’re kids. Most of us go through a series of “what I want to be when I grow up” phases. Firemen (or women), police officers, cowboys, princesses, teachers, wives, husbands, parents, rock stars… the list goes on and on. For most of us, our dreams change and grow along with us. When I was in my teens I remember an acquaintance who wanted nothing in the world more than to grow up and get married and have babies. There are plenty of women out there who want children with a desire bordering on desperation. Men have their share of obsessions about who and what they want to be and want to have. We are all raised with notions of how life should be. Fairy tales probably don’t help matters. They always end with everyone living “happily ever after.” Worse, that ending always comes with the implication that “happily ever after” is something that just happens with no work at all.
I’m not knocking fairy tales. I actually believe “happily ever after” CAN happen. I think it’s happened to me. And while I would never, ever tell someone how to raise their children, I find it sad when I see children missing out on the wonder and magic of imagination given free reign. Sure, the real world is out there, lurking, and sooner or later we all have to learn to face it and deal with it. But these days kids seem to be growing up faster and faster all the time and that’s a shame. We spend the majority of our lives as adults. Our childhoods ought to be filled with joy and laughter and impossible dreams. Reality hits us all too soon and I, for one, wish kids could hold on to their innocence as long as possible.
The problem is, too many out there grow up thinking they have some kind of RIGHT to get things their way. They get mad when things don’t turn out the way they thought they should, or the way they were raised to believe things “should” turn out. As wonderful as the fairy tales are, I think we all need to remember that the real world just doesn’t work that way. Like I said, I don’t believe “happily ever after” is a myth, I just happen to know that it doesn’t come easy and it takes a lot of work. And this is where the trouble starts. I’ll use myself as an example.
I was supposed to go to college and get married. I was NOT supposed to wake up one day at 17 to find my mother collapsed on the bathroom floor. I wasn’t supposed to be sitting in the ICU of a hospital on the one year anniversary of my engagement waiting for my mother to die. I wasn’t supposed to bury my father three years later. I wasn’t supposed to find out the day after 9/11 that my sister was dying of cancer. I wasn’t supposed to watch my mother-in-law, and best friend, lose the ability to speak because of the terminal brain cancer that killed her. And I wasn’t supposed to go in for a routine yearly exam and come out with breast cancer. I was barely 39. I have no family history of breast cancer at all. None of these things were ever a part of my childhood dreams. Until the day my mother died, I never even considered that losing her was a possibility. For a lot of years, I was lost to my anger and grief over this event. It wasn’t “supposed” to happen. But it did. All of it.
I’ve been told by more than one person that I have a “good” or “wonderful” attitude as I deal with having cancer. Compared to the reactions I’ve seen in some others, I guess my attitude is a good one. But the reality is, I’ve learned how to face the often painful and ugly realities of life out of necessity. I lost so much time to depression when my mother died. Even today, more than two decades later, I occasionally have flashes of the old anger and grief. Mostly, I just miss her. I miss my father and my sister. I miss my husband’s mom. The anger I once felt over the “unfairness” of it all is pretty much gone. Because the fact is, no one ever promised us that life would be fair. God certainly didn’t. He never said that we would sail through life with sunny skies and smooth seas. In fact, He pretty much said the opposite. But that’s a lesson too few of us seem to learn.
And this is where that quote above rings so true. Life just never goes the way it’s “supposed” to go. Tragedy strikes all the time. One viewing of the news should teach us all that truth. None of the nearly 15,000 who died in Japan expected that to happen. The hundreds who have died in the recent tornadoes that swept through the South didn’t plan on that happening. Each person who died in these tragedies left behind family and friends who will now have to grieve. And that’s what it all really comes down to. Whether it’s the loss of a friend or family member, or the loss of a long held dream, or the loss of personal wealth or health, all of it is loss and inspires varying degrees of grief. How we deal with that grief is what defines us.
I have learned to just let go of preconceived notions of what should or shouldn’t happen. I have learned to change what I can and accept what I can’t. In short, I have learned to “let go, and let God.” I don’t always understand why things happen, but I’ve learned to trust that there’s a reason. Being angry helps no one, especially me. Being angry makes us miserable and just makes it harder on those around us. I sincerely believe that the greatest failing of most parents is that they do not teach their children to have an attitude of thankfulness. As Christians, we are supposed to be thankful even in the midst of trials, to be content with what we have instead of always wanting more and more. As a point of fact, I wish everyone knew God and trusted Him. But even those who choose not to do so would do well to learn to appreciate the blessings of what they have instead of being angry about what they don’t. It’s not that hard to do. Just open your eyes and take a look around you. You will see someone worse off than you. There is always someone who has it harder. I have lost many of my family members, but at least I had loving family. Some kids grow up without ever knowing what it means to be loved and cared for. I have cancer, but my prognosis is good while there are others out there who are told at their diagnosis that they’re unlikely to survive. The side effects of cancer treatment aren’t easy, but others reacted much worse than I did. I am just stunned by how many people out there can overlook the fact that however bad their situation, it could ALWAYS be worse!
I have encountered people who were bitter about how their life was going. Bitter and angry that they have an illness like cancer. Bitter and full of rage that someone they cared about died. Mad at God and the entire world because their life didn’t turn out precisely the way they thought it should have. My response? GROW UP! Life isn’t fair. It isn’t a fairy tale. It isn’t a bed of roses. Pick whatever metaphor you like. The basic truth is that we just don’t always get what we want. Sometimes life can be full of grief and pain and tragedy. Sometimes it seems like we barely overcome one tragedy only to be slapped in the face by a new one. We have the choice to either rise above it or wallow in the grief and anger. The easiest way to do this is to stop feeling so sorry for yourself and recognize that it just is what it is and the only thing to do is keep moving forward. Even more importantly, we need to keep in mind that there is a reason for everything. Considering some of the absolutely horrific things I see on the news every single day, I do wonder what good could possibly come from some of it. The terrible things people do to each other every day are just awful. How could any good come of the unspeakable atrocities that are perpetrated on helpless children? Or the crimes and abuses committed against adults for that matter? How can we find any hint of good or benefit in an ill child or loved one? The answer is always the same. WE CAN’T!!!! Only God knows the ultimate outcome. Only He knows where our journey will take us. Only He can see every single aspect of every moment in time. When we try to understand things with our limited hearts and minds we will fail every single time. Because our human nature gets in the way. We start demanding explanations and answers from the One who created us. We start trying to grasp the infinite with our profoundly finite minds and understanding. I’m not trying to make excuses or avoid the very real issue of doubts and fears. I have just learned through my own personal life that the only way I can face the uncertainty and grief and fear in the world is to trust that God is always and forever in complete control. Whether I understand it all or not, He has a plan. He is at work in every moment of my life. The things that I think I cannot endure are tolerable because He makes it so.
The key to dealing with the unexpected changes to our plans and dreams and desires is to simply trust God to always work things out for the best for us. As Garth Brooks said years ago, “sometimes I thank God for unanswered prayers.” Though I don’t actually believe any prayer is unanswered. Sometimes the answer is just “no.” Looking back I can certainly think of seasons in my life when I was utterly convinced that I knew what was best for me, that I simply could not endure to go forward if I didn’t get whatever it was I thought I wanted or needed. Like the song, I too had an early love that I thought I couldn’t live without. Yet here I am, two and a half decades later with the man God knew I would one day meet and love. And I am profoundly grateful that when I was begging God to keep me and my first boyfriend together that He, in His wisdom, said, “No.” Wow, am I grateful for that!! I now cannot imagine my life without my precious husband in it. He is my heart, my best friend and companion. His mere presence lifts my heart. God knew what was right for me. He knew the plans He had for me and for Mark and even though I couldn’t see it then, He knew that the grief of that moment would be utterly overwhelmed with the joy of being joined to the “right” man in the future. And this is what life is all about for me. Even though I don’t understand it, even though some of the things I see or endure break my heart, I know that somehow, some way, some day there will be good that comes from it. Maybe I won’t even see it. Maybe it will be a change in someone else’s life that I won’t even know about until I learn of it in heaven. I can’t know everything now. I can’t see everything. But God can. And trusting Him is the only way to live. It’s the only way to find peace in a world that seems increasingly ugly and harsh.
Thank you, God, for saying no. Thank You for giving me what I need instead of what I want. And thank You for loving me even when I questioned You.