Finding Our Way: The art of remembering

It’s so easy to get lost. One way streets, 3-way intersections, angle streets, bowl-full-of-spaghetti streets—it doesn’t make much difference. One turn and suddenly I no longer know where I am. Or where I’ve been, let alone, how to get to where I need to go. A familiar panic starts to set in. And no matter how many times it happens, I can never seem to remember that I somehow find my way again. It’s the remembering that is so hard.

When I look back over my life, I can see times in which remembering seemed all but impossible. Years ago after a significant relationship ended rather unexpectedly, my grief plunged me into doubt and dismay at God. The man whom I had loved was divorced and was raising his two school-age children every other week by himself. He was a good dad, and we talked about his children often. We could see a future together. The thought of being a stepmom intrigued and terrified me. I was still grieving infertility, as it had been diagnosed that same year, and I can’t tell you how many people suggested that his children were in God’s plan for me. While I was open to the idea, I was also steeped in my own loss. I doubted if I was ever going to be a mom.

I was taking classes at the time to become a spiritual director, and I remember overhearing a couple of classmates discussing the concept of God’s will—the idea that everything, good or bad, is because God deems it to happen. The words alone plagued me. In my mind, they implied some kind of “way out there” God, cold and unfeeling, who ruthlessly pulls the strings of our lives and renders us powerless, useless even. I knew I didn’t agree. And yet, I worried: Was it God’s will that I remain single and childless?
I carried this cacophony of fears around inside my head until late one winter afternoon when I met with my spiritual director. Leaning forward in my chair, I told her about the urgency I felt in wanting to know God’s plan. I didn’t want to waste any more time or make any more mistakes. Infertility, or any major loss, can do that to you—turn you inside out about how you need to live your life differently. In my heart, I knew I was a mom. So I just kept praying to God: “Tell me what to do, and I’ll do it.”

My spiritual director nodded, knowingly. A small candle flickered on the table between us. “But now that the relationship is over,” I continued, “I am even more confused. In my time with him, I really saw who I could be as a wife and as a mom. And it was good.” I stared into the flame and caught my breath. “So what does that mean?” I asked. “Was the break up all part of God’s will?” I looked up, pleading. “Or did I just make another terrible mistake?”
“Let’s put aside all those other questions for the moment,” she suggested, “and focus on the bigger question. What do you think God’s will is for you?”

“Oh,” I said, surprised. “No one has ever asked me that before.” I stared out the window. A snow-covered pine tree stood unmoved in the sun. “I guess … I … I would have to say that God’s will for me is to be authentic … to not be afraid of who I am … and to love deeply.”

“And, is that any different than your deepest desires?” she replied.

“No, I guess not.”

“See,” she said gently, “they’re all one and the same.”
My eyes filled with tears. “Maybe I don’t have to worry so much then,” I confessed. “I let my heart be stretched far wider than I ever expected. I would have said yes to his children. I was already saying yes to him and yes to myself.” I paused, letting my words fill the room. “I have loved deeply all my life. And no matter what happens I want to keep saying yes to who I am.”

“Amen,” she said softly.

“Amen,” I said in return.

Seven years later, I now stare in amazement at my four-year old son. We became a family just over a year ago. And even though I was an active participant in the adoption process, filling out endless forms and making multiple trips to Haiti, his presence in my life and the magnitude of this gift (and challenge) can still leave me speechless.

I learned recently that the name Zechariah from the New Testament means to remember. When the Angel Gabriel came to him and foretold the birth of his son, John the Baptist, Zechariah did not believe the news. He and his wife were barren. His wife was too old to conceive. It was not possible. Zechariah, who was a high priest, did not remember that God had done the same for Abraham and Sarah. He did not remember that God’s love knows no bounds. And, according to the story, the Angel Gabriel struck him mute until John was born.

Much like Zechariah, I do not know what the future holds, let alone what tomorrow will bring. None of us do. But I am learning to practice the art of remembering, of trusting, of allowing the mystery of God to lead me into my deepest desires in ways I cannot even begin to imagine. Now when I lose my way—when I am overcome with worry and fear and doubt—I look at my son and I remember to trust in the goodness of God and the sacred mystery that never stops calling us into the fullness of who we are.