Often, we look back at our past and wistfully think, “if only.”
If only I had had better parents.
If only I had had more opportunities.
If only I had made a different decision.
There have been times I’ve imagined myself talking to a younger me. Travel back in time, giving that child art lessons, opportunities, direction, or someone to talk to. If only.
Rather than listen to my past history, I needed to meditate with the Living Word. Once I took the time to do just that, the Lord pointed out that my musings were basically saying that He has not been enough in my life and has not been active in my past. The “if only” game is not as harmless as it seems. It’s an affront to a loving God who has been designing a life for me to learn grow, overcome, and become.
I am not going to achieve anything with the “if only” mindset. Frankly, I’m not going to achieve anything because of my talents or giftings, either. Anything I accomplish in life will because of the price Jesus paid. He has a plan and it’s time I work with Him instead of looking backwards.
No more “if only.”
The project has been completed. Hallelujah! My original estimate for it was between three to six months but it took almost two years. There were moments I wondered if I'd ever complete it and to be truthful, I'd really like to start it over. It's not up to my former standards and I want to make it 'perfect'.
But perfection kills and I need to learn to let things go. Not just in art, but in life. I could bring myself to a nervous breakdown trying to do things perfectly for Mom and Dad. It just can't be done. When I was caring for my own mother, I had to accept that I could not make her situation perfect. I just had to do my best and keep moving forward.
Years ago, I read a book by Larry Crabb. I don't remember the title, nor do I remember anything about the book, but I do remember one thing. A quote that has stayed with me. It was a question, actually. In relating to our spiritual lives the question is, “Do you want to be a mystic or a manager?” You could try to have a nice, orderly, managed spiritual walk with everything in its proper place, striving for perfection. Or you could have a wild, reckless roller-coaster ride with Jesus through life - not knowing what is coming next.
There is a small part of me that would love to have an organized, 'perfect' life. The bigger part of my heart wants to run hard after God, find the mystery He has for us to explore, and the power He has to change me into something extraordinary.
I let go of perfection. The project has come to an end. We'll see where the ride takes me next.
There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under the heavens:
a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,
a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
a time to search and a time to give up,
a time to keep and a time to throw away,
a time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak,
a time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace. - Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 (NIV)
2015 really kicked my ass. We felt a tremendous amount of loss last year, from our car getting totaled to the death of several of our loved ones - the year left us spinning. Grief and loss overwhelmed us and we needed time to process everything, yet it kept coming. While trying to care for our own broken hearts, we were also trying to care for Mom K. as she was adapting to her new reality of being in a wheelchair, losing her brother to Alzheimer’s and watching her daughter grieve the loss of her husband unexpectedly.
We’ve spent time traveling back and forth to Texas to help Mike’s sister adjust to her new reality and to try to help with all the maintenance a house needs. Fortunately (sort of) I’ve been laid off from my part time job and have time to do all this. I confess, I've felt dazed and numb for several months.
However, I refuse to be defined by loss and I refuse to be a victim. It’s time to get moving again, even if it’s only in baby steps. Painting is once again happening in my studio. I can’t say I’m setting the world on fire, but one of the paintings for the Freedom 58 project seems to be done. I hope. It’s been put aside to look at it again once the second one is completed but it’s movement in the right direction.
Last night we went over to Mike’s parents’ apartment and helped Mom call her youngest (and now only) brother for his birthday. There are still things to celebrate and that is our focus.
It is the season to move forward. Like posting this blog.
During the year I throw ticket stubs, photos, brochures and whatever kind of mementos I may pick up along the way into a box in my office. At the end of each year I go through the box along with my journal to review where I’ve been, what I’ve done and what things have happened. Then I create a scrapbook. I started this habit about six years ago after a trip to France and it’s proven to be a worthwhile exercise in many ways.
This year’s review had a lot of obituaries. In fact, another one was added on December 29th when a college friend passed away. Well meaning friends keep telling me 2016 will be better than last year and that it can’t get worse, but of course that is nonsense. Pain and misfortune do not follow a calendar and it certainly can get worse.
However, I’m hopeful that things will get better somehow. While the friends and family I’ve lost won’t come back, the Artmobile is still totaled, and I’m a year older (I won’t get that time back), still I keep hope. Hope that I will grow from the losses, hope that I still have a future, and hope that I won’t just be older but wiser as well. I’ve been pondering a meme on Facebook that said in effect “I’m not the same person I was at the beginning of the year” indicating growth and depth through a year's experiences. I'm not so sure I can make the same claim.
When my mother died, I spent time pondering about how I’d changed during the seven years I looked after her. I couldn’t put my finger on when the changes had occurred, but I was not the same person. I had developed more depth and compassion…more patience and more faith. I can’t say that this year of loss has wrought any great or small changes in me. I’ve barely had time to begin to process one grief when another came my way. Wave after wave of loss – wave after wave of grief. Rather than grow, I seem to have shut down a bit. I suppose I had to in order to weather the storms and continue to see after the needs of my in-laws.
But it’s time to stop withdrawing and time to try to step forward again. Time to get into the studio. Time to try to start writing again. Time to breathe and take a step forward.
While I know I’m a bit late in saying this, Happy New Year.
Donna Kemper put aside her art career to care for a mother she hadn't seen in over a decade. For seven years she followed her mother's journey into dementia, caring for her and putting forgiveness into action.