Valley of the Shadow: Living Life in the Now and in the Not Yet

It’s been six months since we left Korea and even as life here becomes more and more familiar, the loss of our life there still feels fresh and raw. Every day I experience some level of emotional tension between genuine contentment with our lives here and a deep longing for the lives we left behind.

As the months have passed I’ve become more and more certain of one thing – it’s hard for me to imagine a life where we never live abroad again. Living in Korea was hard in many ways –especially when it came to being so far from our families and friends—but it was also the greatest thing we’ve ever done and it changed our lives forever. The takeaway was overwhelmingly positive and I only regret that we didn’t do it sooner.

I’ve written about my struggle with FOBO (fear of being ordinary), but along with that (or maybe the source of that) is a somewhat crippling fear of Time. Sometimes I can’t help but look at my life as a clock that’s always ticking down. I know that I am young, but I can see the process of aging already beginning in my body. There are wrinkles on my forehead and bags under my eyes and my back hurts when I sleep on a bed with a soft mattress.

I don’t want to be young forever for vanity’s sake, but often Time feels like a cruel restraint on my dreams. For several years I’ve been intrigued by the idea of getting a working holiday visa in a place like Australia or New Zealand or the UK and spending a season or so living in one of these places while earning a small income to support (or somewhat support) living there. Just yesterday, I was reminded that these types of visas are only available to people who are 18 – 30 years old and have no children. When Jonathan graduates from his program he will be one month shy of his 31st birthday and the clock will have run out on this dream.

Not to mention the whole having children thing –a decision that is constantly hovering in the background as each year passes and we collect more and more unsolicited advice on decreasing fertility rates and the problem with being old parents.

I wonder if this is my version of the Valley of the Shadow of Death. I live and love and move and be here in this valley and much of the time I’m even quite happy here, but all the while this shadow of death hangs over me and over us all. In the Psalm, David says he fears no evil as he walks through this place, but I am not like him. I don’t fear death itself as an eventuality, but I do fear that it will come too quickly and that I will have too little to show for my life.

You might say this fear of death and of missed opportunities is sinful and that a person of faith shouldn’t cling so tightly to life. That I should have confidence in eternity and be expectant of the life to come. All of this is probably true, but the fact remains that I can’t always change my feelings or what’s in my heart. Only God molds hearts and I am not God.

I hope and pray that my heart does change, but until then I have a choice to make. It is easy for me to get so caught up in not wasting my future that I end up wasting my present.I am here in Columbia, South Carolina for at least 2 ½ more years and I can either live here pining away in fear that I won’t make it to the next, more exciting thing, or I can live here fully and accept that THIS is my next exciting thing.

Because in the end, what would be more of a waste – living well for 3 years in a place that doesn’t feel sexy and exciting to me, or getting to the end of our time here and realizing that I’ve wasted 3 whole years of my life thinking about where else I might be?

There is always tension between living fully where we are and planning for where we are going. I need the grace to live in the now while I hold onto hope for the not yet.

Image credit: HealingHeartsofIndy.com
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23 comments

  1. The wonderful power of personal choices, and the consequences that go with those choices.
    There is much to be said for having geographical stability and starting a family, but then there is much to be said for maintaining the ability to move around at will.
    Many creators have been very mobile in the lives, but equally creative people have been very stable. The difference may well be simply their area of creativity. Living in the downtown core of a large city can be very stimulating, but then so can living in the country. It comes down to deciding where “your road” is going, and taking ownership of all the experiences along that route.
    You obviously miss Korea, and that is wonderful because clearly there were many aspects that impacted you deeply. That could have happened however in any number of countries as long as you allowed it.
    Perhaps your road will take some unusual turns in SC. If you chose to stay there, for whatever rationale, then embrace everything that SC offers and if you chose to move again in a few years, you can look back on SC as another chapter in your life book.
    You are only going to waste time if you do nothing with the opportunities that your road presents to you. Just some thoughts. 🙂

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    1. Thanks so much for your thoughts. I completely agree. When I think of how my time in Korea impacted me it reminds me that I want each place I live to impact me and shape me and in order for that to happen I have to be willing to be all in instead of thinking about other places I could be. Thanks so much for reading and for your advice!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. You’re very welcome. I am a great believer in the saying “When you have made a decision, give it 110%! If it was a bad decision, you may just turn it into acceptable. If it was a good decision, you could turn it into a really good situation. If it was a really good decision, you may just turn into a spectacular life enhancing one.” The main thing of course is once you have made a decision, you “run” with it. Rethinking it, or hesitating later, rarely provides a satisfactory outcome. 🙂

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  2. This is such a great post. In the past few years my life has been divided in two: my partner is from Australia and I am in Canada. I was living in Australia for 5 months and it felt like the whole time all I could think about was being back in Canada. I missed the beautiful colours of autumn, and then I missed snowboarding every time I heard of a big snowfall. Now that I’m back in Canada for a couple months all I can think of is being over there, and I’m probably not even enjoying the things I should be enjoying while I can, while I’m here.

    It’s hard knowing that no matter where I am I will be homesick for one or the other, but I think reading this post helped a lot. If I know I’ll be homesick for Canada when I go back to Australia then I should enjoy living here while I can. It’s much better to live in the moment than to live with a constant longing in one’s heart.

    -Justine

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    1. Wow. I can definitely see how that would be hard. There were times when I was living in Korea that I just couldn’t wait to get home – I missed familiar things in America and of course, friends and family. And now that I’m here I find myself missing Korea every day and feeling sad that my life there is over, even though I remember missing America while I was there. I think the solution is exactly what you said – to realize that I’ll be homesick no matter where I am because my heart is spread out in different places. But I can feel a bit homesick for one place while still fully enjoying the other. Best wishes to you in your journey towards contentment wherever you are in the world!

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  3. Always, always, always a joy to read. You have been so blessed with a talent beyond any words I could put on paper. Thanks for sharing your gift with us Lily. Love you.

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  4. I’m 10 years older than you and I’m still dreaming and scheming. There’s a lot more I still want to do. Sometimes I, too, have to beat back those voices that tell me I’m getting older and my time is running out. However, I also feel like I’ve lived a good life. I thought I would go live overseas as an adult and I never did. (Kudos to you for achieving that, BTW!) But I’ve still made a good life here in little Nashville with my friends, family, and work. I think the shadow of death metaphor might be a bit much (but I’ve lived through the death of a loved one I’m a bit jaded toward death metaphors) but you have a great attitude at the end there – be present wherever you are and aim to live a good life. In the words of Alexander Hamilton, “There’s a million things I haven’t done . . . just you wait.” If you need a pick me up, go listen to the Hamilton musical soundtrack on Spotify. It’s pretty awesome.

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    1. I’m encouraged by you and people like you who are still dreaming and scheming even as they have found contentment in their ordinary lives. I understand what you’re saying about the valley of the shadow and I’m sorry if it seems insensitive or trite next to your loss. I didn’t really intend it as a big dramatic comparison but more the reality that we all live with the shadow of death as a present reality because it’s part of the world we are in and the knowledge of our own death is always present, even if it isn’t touching us. I like the metaphor of the shadow because it’s something that isn’t actually hurting or touching you in a physical way, but is still present in your consciousness and at the edges of your vision. Love that Hamilton quote and I will have to check out the soundtrack. I’d love to see the show sometime!

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  5. I am exactly where you are. We are in NH for my husband’s job until the end of this year, and both felt a complete peace about moving here. And yet I have been here for 6 months and what do I have to show for it? Will I look back as we drive away and think, wow I could have done so much more?

    Throw into that a searching for my “perfect career” my “passionate vocation” or whatever else you want to call it and my mind is all over the place these days 🙂

    Thanks for the solidarity and knowing I’m not alone, in the searching, the longing, the twinge of christian guilt and every other emotion.

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    1. I’ve always found it hard to fully invest in a place when I know I’ll be leaving it. But at the same time, I’ve never lived anywhere for more than two years at a time (since getting married anyway). I’m not sure when or if we will settle somewhere permanently, but I know that I don’t want to spend my whole life not digging in and getting attached to places. It just really takes some intentionality for me to invest in a place I consider temporary. Glad to know that you can relate and I hope we can both do a better job of being present where we are, even if it’s temporary! Thanks for reading!

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  6. Hi Lily – I think you answered your own question perfectly: “I am here in Columbia, South Carolina for at least 2 ½ more years and I can either live here pining away in fear that I won’t make it to the next, more exciting thing, or I can live here fully and accept that THIS is my next exciting thing.”

    It’s interesting how we dismiss the familiar as somehow less ‘adventurous’ than the foreign. To a visitor from Korea, or indeed from here in the UK, your Columbia, South Carolina would be a place of constant wonder and surprise.

    Are there many students from Korea or other visitors from afar who might welcome your interest, now that you’re back on home turf and able to offer a valuable connection to local society? We forget, once we’re home, how ‘foreign’ and opaque our own culture appears to others.

    You have a responsibility of hospitality, now that you’re representing the host country. You know, from the time you lived in Korea, how uplifting a friendly face in a foreign land can be. Now’s your chance to pay hospitality into the international bank of human kindness. When you travel again, you’ll be making withdrawals.

    Just because you’re not physically ‘abroad’ any more doesn’t mean you can’t weave the world outside America into your own life. The threads you work with now will stretch outside, into the world far away and when you choose to travel again, you will have friends in other countries, or families of foreign friends you’ve helped in Columbia, South Carolina.

    It’s always more heartwarming to travel from human to human, rather than from foreign country to foreign country.

    All good luck with your endeavours.

    Elaine

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Elaine, as always for your insightful thoughts and comments. I really appreciate your advice. I have actually been able to get involved with some immigrants locally – in particular, a Chinese student who has only been in America for 6 months and German student here on exchange. I think they appreciate that I am interested in their lives and cultures in a way that other students their age often aren’t. Thank you for reading and for all of your good wishes.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Lovely, Lily. I bet they’re feeling much more welcome in the US thanks to you reaching out the hand of friendship. I think it’s one of the most important things that travelling teaches – to notice the strangers in our midst and make them welcome. We’re all strangers once we leave our own lands.
        All best wishes
        Elaine

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  7. You have are showing some wisdom here as you struggle with this! You are right, a true waste of life would be always to be pining for something else. Unfortunately our culture encourages us to pine for what we think everyone else has when we spend so much time on Instagram, Facebook, etc. Live your life well and creatively wherever you find yourself and it really won’t matter where you are. The big secret to “having” a life is giving it away….haven’t we read that somewhere?

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    1. I’ve been thinking a lot about the way that Instagram and Facebook and other social media encourage comparison and show us unrealistic pictures of what other people’s lives are like. Along with cutting back on my time spent on those things, I’ve actually chosen to unfollow some people who I just can’t handle seeing posts from because they spark discontentment in me. It’s not those people’s fault – it’s completely my problem – but I’m realizing there are just some posts I can’t handle seeing without having all of these feelings of jealousy and discontentment come up in me. Thanks so much for reading and for sharing your thoughts. It’s always lovely to hear from you!

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  8. “There is always tension between living fully where we are and planning for where we are going” — yep! As humans, I think a lot of us are always looking for the next big thing, the next raise, the next milestone… It’s difficult to live fully in the moment.

    By the way, I loved your post on FOBO and I sent you a message via the contact form on your blog a few weeks ago…not sure if you received it.

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  9. You can find sexy and exciting anywhere, if you look. And definitely don’t let your fear of the future ruin your enjoyment of the present.

    I’ll be 45 in a few short months, and I regret I didn’t appreciate what I had back then.

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    1. I completely understand. I think it helps sometimes to realize that most people live lives that are difficult in some respect because we all have struggles and defects. It’s up to you (and me!) to decide whether we look at our lives as a struggle or choose to see them as beautiful. It’s a tough choice for me every day.

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