Fall in North Carolina is glorious. For nearly three months if I sat up tall in my chair and looked through the pane of glass that makes up one wall of my cube, and through the open door of the executive’s office across from me and out through his window, I could see the rolling ribbons of saffron and rust and candy apple red trees running over the hills below us. And then, suddenly, in what felt like one afternoon, all of those precious jewels of leaves gave up and fell, leaving behind skeleton trees with their lonely, brittle branches.
This past weekend I celebrated my 24th birthday. Or rather, I observed it. It didn’t feel like much of a celebration. This was the first birthday I haven’t looked forward to. The first one I’ve secretly wished wouldn’t come. I know that in the grand scheme of things I am still very young, but to me, this birthday, this day when I pause to note the passage of time, to acknowledge the days of my life slipping away, I felt disappointed and somewhat afraid. Disappointed that life isn’t what I hoped it would be. Afraid that it never will be.
I live a small life. A life I could step out of at any moment leaving very little behind me. It often feels like a life lived on a stationary bike where I peddle myself into a sweaty exhaustion without having actually gone anywhere. If my 18-year-old self saw me now, she would think I was a complete loser.
Several months ago, my mom sent me this book:
When I first started reading it, I found it so difficult to digest I had to put it down for several weeks. This book is written by a woman whose words speak to my brokenness and to my discontentment and offer another way. I see the beauty of her ideas, and the transformation God brought about in her life. She speaks about being thankful, something I blogged about myself in my last post several months ago. And yet, I often hate this woman. If I were to write her a letter, it would probably look something like this:
Dear Ann Voskamp, you write about seizing the gifts of everyday life in spite of the monotony with such beauty and power. And you have had your share of hardships, so I appreciate your struggle. But you live on a farm with the wonderful sweet earth under your feet and you cook your meals out of food your family has grown themselves. You have the miracle of six beautiful children you spend your days raising and teaching and loving. And yet you’ve managed to maintain your career as a writer. You have an incredibly successful book and a blog that thousands of people read and you do pieces for several major publishers. You also advocate for Compassion International which means you both help the poor and get to travel to amazingly beautiful exotic locations to do so. Dear Ann Voskamp, you live the literal exact life I dream for myself on a daily basis. This is the life you chose. What do you really have to be so discontent with?!
Perhaps, somehow, as incomprehensible as it is to me, this isn’t the life Ann dreamed of. Or perhaps her message speaks more to the ways we in our sinfulness make ourselves miserable no matter how ideal our situation is. The ways in which, truthfully, even when we have everything we could ever wish for, we can still dare to be discontented.
I love North Carolina. I love the beauty of our surroundings. I love our colorful little apartment. I love our church and the friends we have made. I feel so good about this place we are in. I don’t think this is the wrong place. I think perhaps I am the wrong person.
Many of my blogs have to do with being discontent, with searching for contentment and recognizing that I must learn to be content where I am and to see the gifts God has for me each day, but right now that doesn’t seem like it will ever be enough. Because honestly, I want to be joyful where I am, but I don’t really want to be content where I am. Because I don’t want to stay here. And I’m afraid I will grow content in being purposeless. I don’t want to embrace a directionless life. I don’t want to turn 25 in a year still working a soulless job because I need the money, unable to get out of the rut.
I know the things that I love: words, reading and writing them, making people feel good about themselves, baking delicious things and giving them to people and that moment when they take a first bite and smile. Going to new countries and experiencing new cultures. Cuddling babies and the imaginations of small children. Making my home lovely, and sharing it with my sweet husband.
These are all of the things I dream of, and to me, they don’t seem like such outrageous things to want. And yet, just this weekend my computer got a virus and died forever and one of the cars broke and needed hundreds of dollars of repairs. And these things feel like something heavy is pressing down on me, making it difficult for my lungs to take in enough precious oxygen, let alone give life to dreams. So I push the dreams aside. I become responsible. I do the things that must be done to make ends meet. And I wait and I pray that one day I will become the right person. Because until then, I think I will always be discontent, even if I suddenly got everything I ever wanted.