Today my in-laws were kind enough to watch our children, giving my husband and me a chance at an afternoon outing. We went to a book store first and spent quite a while there, and then we drove to Central Market. For those who have never been there, it's quite the winding path through the store. As we entered the front door, my husband ordered me into a wheelchair cart, insisting that he would push me through the store. I was feeling pretty tired, so I submitted and sat down. It was a good idea, because we did "walk" quite a bit through the large and maze-like store. I think it would have been a very tiring experience, especially after spending so much time in the book store. But as he wheeled me through the parking lot to the car, I thought it was such a tender picture - this man dutifully pushing his terminally ill wife in a wheelchair. And I asked him, "When we were dating, did you ever think it would come to this?" Of course, the answer was no. We were so young and naiive and we thought we were invincible back then. We were so smitten with each other. We had all kinds of dreams for our future together. We had no idea that there would be limitations on that future together. We had hopes of living and playing together until we were very, very old, and then just dying in our sleep together, holding hands. Granted, we knew the odds of that were very small, but still - the idea of one of us being widowed so young was unthinkable. It wasn't in our picture of life.
Everyone has a "picture" in their mind of what they think their life will be like. They usually paint it in their youth. Yet, very few people realize the picture as it was originally painted. Unfulfilled expectations are very common in life. They often require us to change that picture, and that can be really hard. What do you do?
I always think of the story of the little girl who goes with her mom to register for kindergarten. The teacher gives her a box of crayons and tells her to choose her favorite color and write her name. The little girl stares at the box and doesn't move. Finally, the teacher says, "That's okay. We'll teach you how to write your name when you come to school." On the way home, the mother asks her daughter why she didn't write her name. After all, she knew that her daughter could write very well. Her daughter replied, "She told me to choose my favorite color, and there wasn't a pink crayon in the box."
Sometimes when life's circumstances force us to change the picture of our life, it feels paralyzing, just like when that little girl didn't find the pink crayon. It may seem so hard to move forward. But we have to move forward. We have to metaphorically find a green crayon and do all that we can do.
Sometimes it's like the analogy I once heard in an essay by Emily Perl Kingsley, called, "Welcome To Holland". You plan a trip to Italy with great enthusiasm. You study the language. You read travel guides to choose the places you want to visit. You buy the perfect wardrobe for the trip. You board the plane, eager with anticipation. However, during the flight you are informed that the plane will not be landing in Italy, after all. It will be landing in Holland, and it is in Holland where you must stay. You must learn a new language. Learn new places to visit. You may need a different wardrobe. As you first arrive in Holland, you run into others who have returned from their trips to Italy, and they talk about how wonderful it was. It seems unbearable. But then you learn that Holland has tulips. Holland has Rembrandts. Holland has windmills. Holland has its own wonders and joys.
When the picture of our life changes, we endure a season of mourning. But we can eventually find new wonders and joys to discover. We can eventually paint a new picture. (Maybe even a Rembrandt!)