sometimes, unexpected events fall like thudding marbles around my head, just hard enough to jolt me out of my own self-absorption and awaken me to the reality of a world exploding all around me that i’d managed to somehow ignore, pitifully relishing my position as the silent eye of my own perfect storm. it just takes one unexpected event — another person’s words, or tears, or very life — to shake me back out of my head. we’re never promised we’ll get exactly what we want, but faith is trusting that God knows just what we need. and i never saw it coming, because i couldn’t see past myself.

reality check 101: it takes something bigger than me and my own little version of the world to open my eyes to who ego-centric i really can be.
i’ve had a rough week. i won’t say “bad” because some parts were actually pretty fantastic (first time wearing new salsa shoes; laughter-sparkling evenings with great people; a wonderful co-worker who i absolutely am growing to love more and more every day i see her adorable face surprising me with a sparkly and feathery purple bird that she said reminded her of me; celebrating my dad’s 60th birthday and seeing how he’s softened over the years, tears spilling over as he read my card; anticipation of visiting friends in NYC this weekend and discovering the wonder of how Christmas makes everything alive with light and romance), but it has been a very challenging one for me and forced me to do a lot of much-needed and rarely done introspection.

and this is how we learn. the “tough stuff” that i’d just as soon eschew for the rest of my life (i tend to default to avoidance when life doesn’t come up all gumdrops and sherbert, this i am realizing) may cause some tear-jerker weeks and a lot of psychosomatic back pain (prayers appreciated), but it also produces growth. i could breeze through my days and continue to stuff them to spilling with activities and coffee dates and dancing nights and hour-long runs and restaurant-hopping, but eventually, something is going to give. and it did this week, and so here’s my gut-check spillage session where i admit i have a lot of growing up to do.

if something bothers me, i tend to blow it off without realizing it by filling the issue with a temporary fix of fluff. i lace up and run away, pounding hours into the streets of latham and loudonville, or i find someone to go do something fun with me — something mindless and entertaining, engaging me for an evening that i’d rather not spend journaling or thinking about the big L.I.F.E. i think one of my new year’s resolutions shall be setting aside some Shawna time and growing to like it. yes, i can make myself like it, of this i’m assured.
(prior case study leading me to this hypothesis: i hated tomatoes my whole youthful life, disgusted by the very thought of having one explode in my mouth, wondering how others around me could relish such a nasty food. but slowly, they began to wear me down, and in college i decided i was going to become a tomato eater, like most of the free world. yes, perhaps i couldn’t take the peer pressure…but either way, i began inviting them into my diet, adding thin slices to sandwiches at first and then forcing down the biggest chunks in tomato sauce until one day, i reached the point where i could pop entire cherry tomatoes into my mouth and molar them down with gusto. now, i buy them on the regular. i made myself enjoy tomatoes.)

so yesterday, in the middle of my pity-party, tearfully lowering my head onto my arms before my MacBook and wondering how long i could crawl down and hide beneath my desk for before someone might notice my absence, a friend called and urgently needed to talk. and suddenly, i was whisked out of myself and into the realm of “someone else,” this fragile land of compassion and “other” that did not have my worries at its center.

this was all i’d needed all along, this gravitational pull out of my own skin, where i could exist in service to a friend and help them muddle through the struggles in her life. it isn’t even about comparison, where i say that my hardships are nothing compared with someone else’s; it’s about dying to self and giving back, in the way i’d want someone to be there selflessly in my darkest hours, holding my hand and praying for me. it’s about a world desperately in need of a hope; a gray slide where nobody is all good or all bad but simply ARE, and we’re able to relate to one another because we know that life is hard and no one ever gets it all. you will fall, and i will, and sometimes getting up is harder than simply letting everything go. but that isn’t how we learn to become our best selves. i left my conversation with her feeling a huge breakthrough in my own awning of gloom, recognizing that God knew this was what i needed to lift me higher than the selfish stressors of a mediocre-to-unpleasant week and pop the shallowness of my bubble. it was pretty close to a quick fix, and although my heart grieves for my friend’s pain, it awakened something inside me that i’d been missing this entire week of self-indulgent sorrow. i am called to serve others, and to love. and through these, i’ll get back rewards i never could have seen when my eyes were fixed solely upon myself.

Jesus gave the best words of encouragement when he promised us, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”
and even through the darkest night, joy breaks somewhere with the dawn.