Thursday, May 29, 2014

What If There is Meaning in Suffering

"We seek our identities in the wake of painful experiences. We can endure great pain if we believe it is purposeful."   -Andrew Solomon-

When we don't get what we want, it throws our life into a certain amount of chaos. 

There is a deep desire to control, to force the world to bend to my will. But what if there is meaning in this suffering and like peeking over into a walled garden, perhaps I can discover a secret.

I've been trying to get pregnant for over 11 months now. There are a myriad of reasons why this is more difficult for me, but I still believe that I will be a mother. What's hard about that is not just the hope and disappointment every month, but also the fact that I'm doing most of the right things while teenagers who eat McDonald's all day are getting pregnant like it's as easy as popping tic tacs in their mouths. 

I live far away from my family and most of my friends in a one bedroom apartment where I'm constantly trying to shove more things into a single closet that resembles a haphazard thrift store. The plants I buy to put on out my porch to make me happy, keep dying. I'm longing for more of a spiritual community than I currently have. Friends, really. 

But I live in a town that it notoriously amazing for families with farmer's markets where there is face painting and pony rides and every day when I walk my dog, Rosie, in the park I see mothers pushing their toddlers on swings. 

But I haven't been initiated into the "Mommy Club" yet.  So I don't have a reason to hang out with these women or a baby's pooping habits to discuss over the see-saw. I could discuss Rosie's pooping habits but I don't think they would find that as endearing. I don't have a reason to be hanging out, leaning in to listen to these women's conversations, lest I look like an unsavory character. Worse, I don't even know if when I do meet them I'll even like them. I still want a reason to be sitting there at that bench in the park, getting splinters in my thighs.

Because I live in the in-between. I work from home running my non profit and writing a book that doesn't feel like it ever wants to end. So I have what resembles the life of a stay at home mom except that I don't have kids. But I follow their schedule. I go to exercise at Dailey Method in the morning, only I don't have to rush off to grab my children from pre-school afterwards. 

Sometimes when I walk Rosie and I'm not pushing a stroller at 11 am on a Tuesday, I feel like I don't have a right to be there. Like I'm breaking some sort of normal social protocol. I'm sure most of these women look at my life and think it's so easy. I'm sure some of them envy it. 

Only they don't know all the heartbreak. The ache of trying and failing. And sometimes I can't help but think of it as a failure on my part. My body which doesn't want to function normally, properly, to be what it's intended to be. The hole that feels more like an absence, like something has been spooned out. And all the longing. 

But aren't we all waiting for something? A spouse, a job, a house, a baby?

Then some days there's all the anger of not really understanding why. 

I said this as much to my husband the other night as we walked Rosie crunching softly on the mulch leading us through a redwood grove, the moon a fingernail sliver in the sky. Then I was crying, frustrated that becoming a mother hasn't happened for me yet. 

Lately, I've been trying to figure out what all this waiting is for, what it's trying to produce in me. 

Because I believe that if I can find purpose in the suffering than I can endure it. If I can find meaning, I can live here a little while longer, with hope expanding inside me like an inflated balloon until it's ready to burst.

I realized something the other morning. I do have choices. I can choose to see this situation either as:

1) God is holding out on me and this pain is pointless


2) God is good and there is something to be learned here

I'm still trying to figure out what that is. Sometimes when I sit out on my porch, the sun warming my face, and there is a moment of silence, a moment of connection with God, with myself, I am grateful that I have this stillness and I don't yet have another human to be responsible for.

Maybe it's so I can stop to be present and enjoy the moments I have now and be thankful for them, rather than rushing through thinking "I'll be happy when..." Because when never really comes. 

Maybe it's so faith can be built up inside me, brick by brick until it's like a shelter. Or perhaps it's because someday I'll be able to empathize more compassionately with someone going through the same experience. Maybe this is building character. 

Maybe I'm supposed to realize that I'm enough, as I am. 

Maybe it's so I can enjoy the simple weekends sleeping in with my husband, caved in under the grey comforter before a day's long hike in the sun. 

Maybe someday when I kiss the soft down of my child's head, I will appreciate that single gesture more because of what it cost to get there. 

None of these reasons make me feel much better. They feel like a one inch bandaid on a gaping wound. 

But still, I know there is meaning here. I think back to the days of hardship in Africa, days where I cried even more than I sweat, and all that I learned even though I didn't always know it at the time. 

This is where I am. This moment, now. This is my life. The bench on my porch. The gentle slope of the mountain. The breathing in and letting go. The breeze. The sweet seed crunch of a fresh strawberry. I am grateful for it. I choose to let it be enough. 

*For more on making meaning in suffering check out Storyline by Donald Miller and this Ted talk by Andrew Solomon