Two roads diverged in a wood, and I —
I took the one that was actually there,
And that has made all the difference.
A reworking of Robert Frost’s famous poem ‘The Road Not Taken’ by a control freak that believed life would be different
I am here to share with you some shocking news. Apparently, contrary to popular (my) belief, there is zero correlation between how closely you follow the rules, how kind you are, or how many rad pairs of yoga pants you own, and really hard and horrible things happening to you. This, my friends, has been earth-shattering for me. For most of my life I clung to the belief that if I did all the right things then I could create a fairy tale. I knew better but the healthy dose of Disney and 90’s sitcoms I was raised on kept me clinging to the hope that with enough perfection and hard work I could keep all the bad out of my little corner of the world.
Then in July of 2014, my mom was diagnosed with dementia. My mom. The woman who raised me on her own, who wanted to birth a tribe of babies but instead was only able to have one and almost died in the process. My mom who said ‘so you choose the private university and not the one that gave you a full ride because your heart tells you it’s right… well then we are following your heart!’ My mom who has supported me even when it meant moving thousands of miles away to answer a call to ministry.
The diagnosis was a slow reveal that began around the birth of my first child and came to fruition a few months after the birth of my second. Those two and a half years of hoping and wondering and researching and wanting answers and then not wanting to hear the answers were lived out in the haze of a newborn fog. I was up in the middle of the night feeding my babies and crying over their bald heads with the thought of my mother never seeing them graduate high school. I battled the guilt that is motherhood while simultaneously being wrecked by the fact that I lived thousands of miles away from my own mom while her health deteriorated.
And, once a diagnosis did come and as her cognition rapidly declined, the woman who had once cherished me as the most precious human on the earth (and I still thank for my unreasonably high self-esteem) saw me as an evil daughter stealing her freedom. It was then, with a baby, a toddler, and a full-time job in lay ministry that I was tasked with my most difficult role: caretaker. In October of 2015 I moved my mom into an assisted living community down the street from my house in Virginia, ran a youth retreat in the woods for 45 teenagers, moved everything out of my childhood home in Hawaii, and made matching sea creature costumes for Halloween.
I was officially sandwiched.
My decades of to do-list making came in handy as I worked to keep all the balls in the air while my heart was breaking. I mourned the loss of the life I thought I would live. In the moments of silence between ministering and parenting and caretaking there was much wailing and gnashing of teeth. I found myself sitting at the edge of the path that had disappeared with my mom’s diagnosis longing for what should have been and spending lots of time imagining all the things that could never be. Seminary. Weekend trips with my husband while my mom spoiled my kids. Training for a marathon. Birthday cakes baked by my mom.
Then one day, in the holy sanctuary of Costco, I watched as a woman Facetimed her mom for help picking out meat. I froze mid-aisle and began to tear up, pushing against the path that wasn’t there, knowing that I would never get to Facetime my mom in Costco. My daughter looked up at me with knowing eyes and asked what was wrong. She had watched me cry over the slow loss of my mom for most of her little life.
It was in that moment that everything changed.
While this wasn’t the life I’d planned it was my life. I knew how to pick out meat, mom had taught me years ago. She’d given me a life that allowed me to be brave and make hard choices and be well-equipped to care for her even when the worst happened. Now my children were being given the chance to learn to do the same. The circumstances were not as I had imagined but the opportunity to learn about grace and redemption and selfless love were readily before them as we cared for their grandmother.
Jesus’ words from Mark’s gospel echoed in my heart,
Little girl, I say to you, get up!
The fairy tale had died with my mom’s diagnosis and I had let myself believe that I had, too. I hadn’t though, I’d just sat down and refused to take the path before me. Talitha, koum. This unwanted path, this unplanned life, it’s messy and it’s rooted deeply in community and it’s authentic as all get up because I am too tired to curate a perfect looking anything anymore. In it I’m finding that the friendships, the ministry, the parenting, the caretaking, and the marriage that grow here don’t look anything like the fairy tales and I like it so much more… no one expects me to run a marathon.