We’re on VACAY! It feels long overdue, especially for my wonderful husband, who works too hard and is often too stressed. We’ve been talking about and looking forward to this vacation for a while. It’s going to be peaceful. Restful. Stress free. I even managed to get all the things on my to-do list complete before we left, scrubbing the house from top to bottom and sending my application for graduate school off to be processed.
However, just a few hours after we arrived at the beach, I received an email from the school to which I was applying stating that I had left one or two important pieces of the application out by accident and that I would need to submit these before they could review and consider my application. Well, crap. Already it hadn’t gone as planned. As I dutifully sat down on the first full day of our long anticipated vacation to work on these missing pieces, I began to think about why I was engaged in such a frustrating and, at times, laborious task. The easy answer? For our future.
In my school district, we have been on a salary freeze for several years. Ever since the bottom fell out of the economy, they’ve refused to pay the teachers a penny more. Initially, most teachers just felt lucky to have a job as the unemployment rate was skyrocketing and so many people were losing their houses , their retirement and their financial well-being. But as time has dragged on and the school district has begun to pony up money for everything, including some seriously frivolous and seriously expensive textbook purchases and raises for higher-ups, teachers are once again rumbling with discontent. This lack of pay seems like a lack of importance and teachers can feel that they are not being compensated, or valued, as much as they could be. I know I often do. And the only way to remedy this in the near future seems to be with increasing education. Wanna make more? Get a higher degree. And so, for the safeguard of our future and to help our family be just a little more financial secure, I labor through the grad school application on vacation.
It’s interesting the sacrifices you make for your future. I’m now willing to eat spinach in a breakfast smoothie and trudge away on our new elliptical for an hour, about 55 minutes longer than I’d like to, for my future. I’m willing to forgo an expensive vacation or fancy jewelry, even on a special, gift-worthy occasion, for our future. I’m even willing to take time away from the people I love most to sit in a darkened classroom rehearsing again and again educational principals I’ve heard countless times for my future. We do these things- workout, eat right, get enough sleep, save our pennies, invest in our education- because we hope that they will pay off in the future. But we aren’t promised a future.
The future always seems to hold such possibility. It’s something we love to dream about, fantasize about. When we retire, if we win the lottery, when our kids grow up, when the house is paid off, the car is paid off, the debt is paid down… But life is full of curve balls and these dreams sometimes do not turn into reality. When I was first diagnosed, this is one of the things I felt so keenly. The pain of losing my dreams. The pain of having my future, the future of my fantasies, taken away. The drudgery of contemplating a new future, a dim future, a scary future.
Even now, I am susceptible to this. Last week, my sciatic nerve went all haywire on me and, for a day or two, I had pain just walking, let alone climbing the stairs. I knew the pain. I had felt it before. I knew that it could be caused by the incredible amount of sitting I’d done in the recent summer training’s I’d had, combined with the new, more strenuous exercise I’d been doing. My mother has had the same issue many a time, and it wasn’t foreign to me at all. And yet, my first thought was my MS. I felt weak and useless and scared and I cried as I fell asleep. I felt like constant health issues, pain even, were all that my future held. No matter how ridiculous I knew this was, I couldn’t shake this feeling that my future was not, would not become, what I wanted it to be.
In light of all this, I’ve learned recently more and more how to live in the present. All the planning and plotting and tending to my potential future, or even lack thereof, leaves me exhausted and discouraged. And for what? I can’t control it. I can’t prevent it. I can’t shape it or define it or make it the way I want it to be. I can only be responsible for today, today’s choices, today’s worries, today’s decisions. I can only make the best of what I have now. This is why, in the Bible, Jesus tells us not to worry about tomorrow and to take care of today. In Matthew 6, he says ” Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? … Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”
How true is this? Today, in this moment, even on vacation, I have enough to worry about, enough to do. By fretting about the future and all the different “what-if”s, I rob myself of the enjoyment of this day, this moment. It doesn’t add even an hour to my life. My future is in the hands of one much larger than I, much grander and more powerful than I, of one much wiser than I. It certainly isn’t in my hands! And right here, right now, this is what I am responsible for, what I need to make the most of. What I need to do now is focus on the present and not worry about tomorrow. Hopefully, by taking it one day at a time, my future will materialize all on it’s own, and it will be a far better future than I could have even dreamed of.