It was just over a year ago that I was an almost-married 31-year-old living in Philadelphia, starting my first year of graduate school and teaching a class of second grade littles. My clothes still fit. I had a cute haircut and manicured nails. I was worried about things like last-minute wedding plans and how to find time to write that paper. I took the time to run regularly, trying to drop the last five pounds so I could look amazing in my wedding dress. I spent a lot of time in my own head, dreaming about the future, analyzing the past. But today, I’m edging up to 34. I live in a small town in northwestern New York, away from the close circle of friends I’d made while living in Pennsylvania. For the first time in a decade, I’m not teaching and I have temporarily withdrawn from grad school. My hair is dirty and I rarely wear makeup these days. I know I need to lose the baby weight, but breadsticks and ice cream are my go-to’s when I’m exhausted and stressed out (which is often). I never get enough sleep and my days pass in a blur of dirty diapers and baby food smeared all over the table.
This is my real life and I show up to it, every single day. In such a short span of time, so much has changed. Yet somehow, I have never felt so content, never had such joy. I had known things would be different from the moment I saw those two lines on a home pregnancy test. As my belly swelled beneath my clothing during the following months, I felt my heart and my soul and my very existence becoming fuller as well. As winter winds transformed into spring breezes and later into heavy summer air, I also sensed a shift in my life-season, and I understood once more what it means to shed the skin of the past and grow into what is new.
Things are so different now and I am learning to accept it. Honestly? My life a year ago or two or three – it was good, and I was happy with it. But when I look into my son’s eyes or brush his face with my lips, I realize that sometimes in life, what is good gets sacrificed for what is best, and it’s a gift when you’re able to trade happiness in for joy.
Is it easy? No. It’s little sleep and tears when I don’t know why the baby is screaming. It’s days at a time when I don’t even leave the house. It’s asking myself if I remembered to brush my teeth that morning. It’s the same routine – Every. Single. Day. It’s thinking about everything in blocks of time: he naps at this time; he needs to eat within an hour; I can get a longer stretch of sleep if I go to bed right now.
It’s loneliness when you realize that many of your old friends aren’t around anymore. Maybe it’s the distance, maybe it’s the fact that we’re all too busy, maybe we’ve outgrown each other, maybe it’s something else that we’re too afraid to name. But you find yourself alone most days, both literally and figuratively, and though you don’t want to admit it, it hurts.
It’s a shift in priorities. It’s a wake-up call. It’s seeing yourself in a new light. It’s learning what your faith is really made of. It’s getting up when you fall down. It’s all-consuming of your time, your energy, and it’s the surprise felt when you discover you still have more of yourself to give. It’s a change in your marriage. It’s to-do lists left discarded. It’s being terrified that maybe you have no idea what you’re doing, and it’s the realization that you were right; you really do have no idea what you’re doing. So, is it easy? Goodness, no. Is it beautiful? Moreso than I ever could have imagined.
This doesn’t mean that where or who I was before was wrong or bad; it was meant to be, for that time. Rather, it means it was a step, a brief season, but that something more, deeper, richer, fuller was always coming, even when I didn’t know it. Life is made up of seasons, and one always gives way to the next. I am living, breathing proof that where you are today is no guarantee you’ll find yourself on the same ground a year, a month, a week from now. It’s proof that we live this life in chapters, and they’re only a piece of the larger and greater story that’s still being written.
It used to be that I only felt content when all the pieces of my life were neatly put together, like a completed puzzle or perfectly wrapped present. These days, however, my life is total disorder, puzzle pieces scattered haphazardly, crumpled up wrapping paper tossed on the floor. I’m learning that I’ll never get these days back again and I’ll miss them when they’re gone. So, I choose to listen to the voice that tells me to lean in to the chaos, to embrace this new season, to drink it in and savor it all, and to count it joy; and to give thanks when the tides turn because I know the one who moves them.
Elena Delhagen is an immigrant from Canada who now lives in a small New York town with her husband and son. She’s INFJ, old soul, new mama, former missionary and storyteller. She overshares on Facebook and blogs at elenateresaann.com.