All year long, I thought about what I would write on my 41st birthday – the end of a year spent doing corporal and spiritual works of mercy. I have written this post many times in my head, sometimes with very powerful and profound thoughts. But me, being me, I can’t remember any of those profundities now.
So here I sit, 41 years and 3 days old with the daunting task of trying to summarize this past year. Although I was resolute that I would post this final account on my 41st birthday, it seems fitting now that I didn’t.
Since the beginning, 368 days ago, I had planned exactly how this project would go. There was my plan (which was very good, by the way) and then there was God’s plan (which trumped mine, Him being God and all.)
I wondered why He couldn’t just stick to the plan.
It reminds me of when my husband and I carefully picked items for our wedding registry. I thought, rather presumptuously I’ll admit, that people would stick to the wish list. So when I started to receive some very unusual wedding gifts, I thought “STICK TO THE REGISTRY, PEOPLE!!!”
I know that is terribly crass, ungracious and un-bride like of me, but remember not to cast a stone unless you are without sin – or don’t harbor your own bad memories of receiving re-gifted wedding presents with remnants of Christmas wrapping paper still on the box. (We were married in January.)
Anyway, I guess maybe I have not changed that much in 15 years, because it would be a lie to say that I have not thought the same thing about this project. “STICK TO THE PLAN, GOD!!! JUST STICK TO THE PLAN!!!”
Of course, I was referring to my plan.
You see, there were many organizations I wanted to volunteer at. I had lists of places whose mission corresponded to the 14 works of mercy. I filled out applications, made phone calls, emailed and was stunned by the lack of response I received.
Surely, with my college degree, nonexistent criminal record, and the fact that I was a live body willing to work for free, these places would want me. Even if it were only to humor the crazy mid-life woman who excitedly explained to them that she was “going to spend her 40th year doing corporal and spiritual works of mercy and writing about those experiences on her blog.”
Wowser, we got another crazy lady on the phone, they must have said after I hung up.
It was frustrating. At times, I was half-considering standing on the side of a busy intersection with a cardboard sign which read “will work for free, mercy work only.”
Still, there was always work to be done. There was the Burmese family that needed help burying their father after a tragic car accident. There was the girl I called Mary, who had already experienced the devastation of abortion, contemplating the fate of another unborn child. There was the agony of a silent retreat and the joy of collecting hopeful Bible verses for an 11-year-old girl with leukemia. There were works that I did for people in my life, but never shared out of respect for their privacy. There were posts that I wrote that remain unread because really, there were just some things I wasn’t willing to share.
None of that was to plan.
Within the first three months, I was ready to turn 41 and be done with it.
I was tired of worrying about what work I was going to do, what I would write about, what people would think, who would read it and perhaps just as important, who wouldn’t.
I lamented that I sound like a clanging gong or a self-righteous hypocrite. I had gone from being very private about my faith to sharing it with a galaxy in cyber-space.
I reasoned that I was happier before this endeavor. I had less self-doubt, or at the least I didn’t have cause to see my insecurities manifest every week the way it would when I posted my private thoughts in such a public forum.
But there is a lot of good that comes from such cathartic transparency too.
Quite simply, it helps you to get over yourself. I stopped being so afraid of the long list of what ifs and who will, and adopted a much easier who cares approach. And, I don’t mean that in a flippant way because truly I always cared very much, but I also learned caring too much wasn’t good for me.
As the months passed, I really did try to let go and let God. But let’s be real, I don’t exactly excel at that. Still, I began to trust that He was leading this journey, and perhaps (again, Him being God and all) knew what He was doing.
I came to realize that God played a trick on me. I thought the actual works were the most crucial part of this journey by opening my eyes to the suffering of humanity, and it has. Yet, opening my laptop and writing about God’s love has by far had the most impact on my life. It is what has truly challenged me, inspired me and brought me closer to Him and more aligned with the person I want to be. It has shown me the depths of humility and gratitude.
I would have told you before I began that I knew humility, but really what I knew was self-doubt. I could have told you everything that I had to be grateful for, but it is different altogether to actually feel that gratitude.
It was all part of God’s plan, and as you would expect from Him, it was brilliant.
I concede it was even better than mine.
So, this post didn’t reach you when I planned for it to, nor does it read the way it did in my head at so many different points throughout the year. Still, I trust that it is just as it was meant to be.
As for my plans for my 41st year, I have to admit I don’t have a clue. I look back at the countless hours I spent on this endeavor and am just…. Well honestly, a little bit amazed at myself. (If you didn’t hear that, it was definitely the sound of a clanging gong.)
I know I should be ashamed of that obnoxious sound, but I am proud of what I have done and more so, who I did it for.
Still, I don’t know where I go from here. Strangely, I am okay with this.
I have a God who has been ever good to me. I have each of you who have been ever gracious. And, I live in a world that is ever desperate for love, hope and compassion.
I have faith that each of us can make it better. I can make it better for someone. You can make it better for someone, too. That is not something you do for just a day, or a year, or a mid-life crisis.
It is something we are all called to do with our lives, regardless of all the other crazy cruddy stuff going on in them. So just be open and be willing. Be kind and uncomplicated. Be gentle and compassionate.
There is much work left to do. Trust me, you don’t need a plan. You just need to get started.
Thank you for going on this journey with me, sharing your insight, encouragement and prayers. It meant the world to me. I completed all of the works of mercy, except one — visit those in prison. Apparently, it is hard to get into prison without committing a felony. Who knew? I am working on it though and promise, I am committed to going to prison. How many mid-life mama’s say that?!
For right now, I don’t want to worry about what’s ahead for this space or my life, I just want to share my sincere gratitude for each of you –for believing that we can all make a difference in the world and for understanding that it’s the simple acts of goodness that will ultimately make that difference. Now, get to it. Mercy me! We’ve all got work to do…