Thursday, September 18, 2008

Divine Intervention

How old are you and at what age did you know what you wanted to be when you grew up?

Hi, I'm Joanna and I'm 26. I'm still trying to figure out what I want to do with my life.

There is a memory in the back of my brain that resurfaces from time to time when I have these identity crises. It's a memory from my childhood. I don't know how old I was; I'm going to guess about seven or eight. I was standing on the hearth in my grandparent's dining room and we had just finished a big family meal. One of those where it's like a small family reunion and I was surrounded by not just parents, grandparents and sibling, but also a lot of my extended family. My great aunt Norma Jean was there. I don't know why she always sticks out in this particular memory, but I can always see her face as clear as if she were standing in front of me.

I had been taking art classes for a few years and it had brought out a love for creating that I had never known was inside me. Oh sure I was imaginative and I liked playing with play dough and coloring with my Crayola's, but suddenly there were endless artistic resources at my fingertips. We created and crafted and OH THE JOY! of a teacher who encouraged us to put paint brush to paper and create whatever our hearts desired. Every week she would praise us with a fervor that, now looking back I realize, only a parent could muster considering some of the ridiculous things that came out of that art room. At the tender age of seven or eight I just knew that I wanted, no needed, to do this FOREVER. I was going to be an artist!!

But, somehow I also knew there wouldn't be any (much) money in creating beautiful works of art. I had never heard of a famous (read rich) artist. I knew I had to have a back up plan, or an alternate career that would allow me to produce my masterpieces, but still make a living.

My family knew of my love for my art classes and I'm pretty sure I had been showing off some of my spectacular work. Someone asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. They were, of course, prompting me to say that I wanted to be an artist so that they could praise me some more and encourage me in my endeavors, knowing that I probably would give it up as a hobby and decide on a more practical career path. But who were they to squash the dreams of a budding Monet at seven years old?

I obliged them. Beaming, I answered that I wanted to be an artist when I grew up. Oh, but I didn't stop there. I was going to be a lawyer and a doctor and an artist during my spare time. There was a silent pause, no doubt they were trying to figure out an appropriate way to respond to this revelation, and then they all laughed. Loud, booming, belly laughs. I was crushed. I don't remember exactly what all was said, but my Aunt Norma Jean was the only one who seemed the least bit encouraging about my chosen career path(s). Really, it's the laughter that stands out the most in my memory.

For six years I was the youngest member of my family and I delighted in every ray of spotlight that was shone on me. Sometimes I even demanded it. The only time I ever shied away from being doted on was when someone laughed at me. I was serious about everything I said and did and I never could understand why anyone would laugh. It usually crushed my world and sent me over the edge of the waterfall into tear land. I think this particular memory stands out because I knew there was something behind the laughter. I hadn't done something cute (at least I didn't think so) and I couldn't, for the life of me, figure out what the underlying tone was in those laughs.

It took me a long time to figure out exactly why they had laughed. They were laughing, not just at the ridiculous nature of my goals, but because I truly did believe I could do ANYTHING that I set my mind to. That's what my mother had told me. That's what they taught me in school. I was encouraged to think that way. What they didn't tell me was the reality of the situation. I could, in fact, do whatever I wanted. I could choose any path I wanted to take and I would have my entire family there to coach and encourage me along the way. But (and there is always a but), life is fleeting. We only have so much time. Sure, I could be a doctor and a lawyer and an artist, but when was I going to have time to live my life? Now, as I look back, I think they were laughing so that they didn't cry. In too short a time I was going to realize that I had to pick a path and stick with it. There wasn't going to be enough time to achieve all of my goals that I set on that day nearly twenty years ago. No one had the heart to break it to me, so they just laughed.

Now as an adult my goals are no more focused than they were when I was a wide eyed and hopeful child. I'm not a doctor or a lawyer, and depending on what your definition of artist is, I may or may not be that either. There are lots of words that can be used to define me: wife, daughter, sister, aunt, granddaughter, niece, cousin, anal retentive control freak; but none of those tell me what I want to DO with my life. What will define me? What is my purpose?

I was looking through one of my old quote books earlier today and I found the following quote that I copied out of a religious studies book from college. It gave me a much needed lift:

"...God has a purpose with each of us; that however insignificant we seem, however friendless, however hardly used, however ousted even from our natural place in this world's households,
God has a place for us; that however we lose our way in life we are not lost from His eye; that even when we do not think of choosing Him He in His Divine, all-embracing love chooses us, and throws about us bands from which we cannot escape." -Marcus Dods, The Expositor's Bible

Every time I read this it makes me feel a little bit better. It isn't the all encompassing answer I was looking for, but it gives me hope. It reminds me that my definition isn't finished yet, and I have the rest of my life to write it.