“Be here now” is a phrase that hangs on my living room wall. It’s also a common phrase to hear tossed around my home as well as that of my extended family. The concept is simple. The practice, not so much. Behind this phrase lies the idea of learning to be present, to be engaged, to not be worried and concerned about many things. Yes, I tend to have a Martha heart, so the goal of being present is one I constantly strive toward.
Each year, I prayerfully choose a word to make my aim for that year. 2020’s word happens to be “Present.” I anticipated simplifying, letting some things go, and taking on less responsibility. What I didn’t expect was the precursor battle over where I would need to be present.
Leading up to the shift in decades, I thought I knew where I would be when the twenty-teens turned the corner. I would be in a smaller house with less commitments, I would be homeschooling my boys, working part-time, and basically choosing where to invest my extra time. But my journey took an unexpected turn when in early November, my husband experienced a crisis of anxiety, panic, and insomnia that we later learned was connected to complex PTSD.
My semi-predictable world was turned upside down. Our home was under contract to be sold and we were negotiating projects to be completed before closing. I was managing guests and maintenance at our AirBnB property a town away. I was homeschooling our sons. And now, in the midst of my husbands near daily struggle, I found myself alone in managing much of life and thrust into a new role that I never asked for.
Mental illness is something that happened to other people, not us! Really, if anyone lost it, it should have been me. My husband was a rock! Now, I couldn’t be strong enough to make him feel safe. I found myself having to learn to listen to deep, dark struggles and scary thoughts – honestly, they scared me too, but he needed me to be his safe place. I couldn’t allow myself to struggle. My routine driven nature that thrived on set expectations was stretched in extreme flexibility as I ebbed and flowed with my husband’s needs. The questions were endless. And I felt alone, so alone.
Recently, I was challenged to take an honest look at where I am in life right now – to answer questions objectively, to accept with grace the place God has allowed (and privileged) me to be in, then to fully immerse myself fully present in the where that I happen to be.
I was posed with questions to ponder. Question like: Has something recently changed in your life? Does a member of your family require more from you in this season? Is a loved one struggling with anxiety, panic, or a sickness? I felt like this woman had a secret portal in looking at my past few months. I felt struck by the questions, and as I considered the answers, I saw how I had been denying reality all along.
Each time the thought of my husband struggling with a mental illness would arise, I would quickly push it to the side. Anytime I was overwhelmed by my new-found responsibilities, I would look to the future convincing myself it would not always be this way. I found ways to escape my present reality by keeping myself busy, by investing in my sons, by eating ice cream. I wasn’t present. I was fighting the role I had been given with everything I was. I didn’t want to be where I was. I wanted things to go back to normal.
Care-giving is excruciating when you expect to be the one cared for. I found myself here as my husband's and my roles shifted for a season. I had to be strong because he was weak. I had to face my deepest fears head on: being alone and not feeling protected. I felt responsible for so much from the sale of our home and our upcoming move, to the stability of our sons, and the health of my husband. I didn’t like it one bit. I despised where I was. I hurt so much.
It’s 2020 now, and I long to be present. But I realize that in order to be here now. I need to understand where I am. And in order to understand where I am, I must admit and accept where I have been. As I look back over the past several months, I see that I was given a critical role at a critical time. It was a role that only I could fill. I didn’t ask for it. I didn’t like it. But the reality is that God allowed it. Not only did he allow me to walk this path, but he equipped me with everything I needed for each step of the journey. His grace and his power was more than sufficient. And He was with me each step of the way.
My change in roles was a challenge I never expected. It caught me off guard. I felt displaced and wounded. And as I’ve realized that it is okay to admit that, I’ve started to open my heart and my hands. I’m learning to hold my emotions gently, to be honest with myself and God about what was hard and why and allow him to bring healing and hope there. Admitting where I was and accepting that role, I’m opening myself to be where I am now.
The present phase of our journey is not as intense as it was. In many ways, we’ve found healing and we are moving toward healthy balance in our roles once again. Where I am right now is in a season of transition, and I must be willing to accept my where now in order to fully engage in the present.
Your role may not be like mine. Maybe singleness is the role you never asked for – barrenness, being widowed or divorced. Maybe it’s a diagnosis that started the role of a patient. Maybe your role is caregiver for a parent, a spouse, a child, or even a grandchild. Maybe it’s a financial season of hardship, the necessity of an extra job to provide or cutting corners of your budget. Maybe you are enduring a strained relationship and your role is to be the one to reconcile. Or maybe your loved one has deployed and your are left to manage the home front and feel so alone.
A change in roles can be excruciating, challenging, disheartening, discouraging. And that’s okay to admit. Hold your emotions gently. Honor the way the role is making you feel and know that you can pour out your heart to Jesus when your role seems too much to bear. Then be there. Be all there. Be brave, my friend, the Lord your God is with you wherever you go!
"Now may the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with every good thing to do His will. And may He accomplish in us what is pleasing in His sight through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen" (Hebrews 13:20-21).