Making a Difference

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General Musings

“I want to make a difference,” I told my therapist recently. “I always have, with every profession I’ve considered. I’m not sure I’m doing that.”

We were discussing some questions of discernment that I’ve been mulling, reflecting on choices I’ve made and choices I will have to make soon, related to my career as a pastor but also broader questions of life and purpose. Developmentally appropriate, I tell myself, for middle age.

A few days after our session, I was walking the dog when the realization hit me: I don’t have to do anything. I make a difference just being.

Somewhere, I have a little slip of paper with a quote written on it. One year, I had a plan to jot down moments and thoughts I wanted to remember, good things to review on the eve of the next new year. I think I only did it twice before the plan was forgotten, but one memory written down stuck. In a moment of angst, my husband Matt had gently encouraged me, saying, “You don’t have to try so hard. You’re already extraordinary.” (Yeah, I know, he’s a keeper).

I realized on that walk that I don’t have to try so hard. While of course I will continue to advocate for justice and be a voice for necessary change in the world, the weight of changing the world–of saving the world–does not rest on my shoulders. I have already changed the world just by existing.

We all do. Perhaps some of us make more of an impact than others, or get more noticed than others. Yet we cannot begin to know how the world would be different if we had never existed. This goes well beyond note-worthy events. I would suggest that we often make a difference without even realizing it, in moments that casual observation would deem insignificant.

As a person working to move beyond the capitalism-ingrained notion that my worth is directly linked to my productivity, this notion is revolutionary. We can just live, and it is enough. In fact, as many people who have dealt with miscarriage, stillbirth, and pregnancy termination could tell you, we don’t even have to be born to make a difference.

So, hey. The next time the world seems overwhelming and you feel like you’re not doing enough, not making enough of a difference, remember that box is already checked. You’ve already made a difference by existing. Anything you do on top of that is gravy.

A Life Well-Lived

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General Musings / Heart Aches

My friend is dying.

It started 18 months ago with headaches, and odd searching for words, moved to a diagnosis of glioblastoma, and has now shifted to hospice care.

She is 41. She has a husband, and two young children. Until her illness, she worked to connect farmers and hungry people.

We are not particularly close. I kept up with her life through social media; I don’t know if she followed mine. We met many years ago in seminary, where my first memory of her is the large jug of water she lugged around through orientation, followed closely by her huge, quick, and genuine smile.

If I had to choose one word to describe her, it would be “light.” Her golden hair, frequently being released and then re-wound into a loose bun. Her shining face, open to joy and vulnerable to hurt. Her laugh. Her deep, deep care for the lost and least. Her way with words and sense of the Spirit. Her ability to find satisfaction and happiness in the simple acts of life: baking bread, sitting in the sun, drinking a mug of tea, hugging a friend. Even facing death, she has been open and honest, embracing her own pain even as she wrote a book to share her experiences with others.

Across the country, and probably around the world, people are beginning to grieve and mourn, anticipating the loss of this beautiful soul. They are sharing words of praise and gratitude for having known her. Like me, many have been mostly out of touch, but cherish their memories of their interactions.

In the midst of my own grief, this turn of events has caused some introspection. I examine my own life, wondering at its impact. Am I paying close enough attention to what matters–my relationships, the songbirds, the sunrise? Am I welcoming joy, at the risk of feeling pain? Am I making a positive difference in the world? Am I listening, loving, and doing today, rather than wait for some “right” future time? Am I letting people know now how they’ve affected me now, instead of waiting until it’s too late?

Perhaps it seems cliché, a mid-life navel-gazing dose of perspective about how short life is. Yet I don’t want to live a life of habit or security or going through the motions. When my time on this plane has come to its inevitable conclusion, I want to know that mine was a life well-lived, and well-loved. I want to be remembered not for ambition or achievement or activity, but for real presence. For compassion as well as challenge. For exuberance as well as tranquility.

For the past few nights, those who love my friend have been pausing at the same time, sitting with intention. We will continue to do so, holding her spirit in the Light, accompanying her as far as we can on this journey.

And I, for one, am taking it one step further, living with intention, in honor of my friend.

My friend is dying. She has lived well, and she is dying well. So may we all.