By: JANA GREENE
“Tomorrow,” said Mama Bear as she helped the cubs get ready for bed, “you’ll be going to the doctor for a checkup. Doctor Grizzly wants to make sure you are growing the way a healthy cub should.”
“Mommy, you left out some of the words,” said my astute four-year-old. Dang it. Her baby sister, just one year old, pulled away from nursing as if taking notes, agreeing: Yeah, Mommy!
My four-year old continued, “Don’t skip parts of the story, Mama!” She was bossy. Or what we refer to as “having leadership skills.” I was lying in bed with her just like every night, reading scads of books before launching into a playlist of my terribly singing lullabies to she and her sister. (I can’t carry a tune in a bucket, but my kids didn’t seem to mind.)
We were reading from the classic “Berenstain Bears Go to the Doctor,” and this time, I read the lines between those two sentences. “Doctor?” said Brother Bear. “We’re not sick!” “And what’s a check-up,” asked Sister Bear, a little worried.”
My daughter’s small voice sounds out the next line word-by-word “It’s. Just. What. It. Sounds. Like. Said. Mama.” She was reading already. She loved books.
When my girls were little, we would visit the library every week and come home with the maximum allowance of 15 books. We would read them all together, especially in the evenings, to wind down.
As my kids got older and could easily read along with me, their books got longer. Eventually, the books had whole chapters, and by the end of the day, I was tired. I’d read most of the books before and had in inkling of what I could leave out that wouldn’t compromise the plotline or sound like I was reading a condensed version.
That evening – like every other -I was exhausted. I was battling an illness I didn’t have a name for (and wouldn’t for another 20 years.) And I was anxious to get through the reading, do the horrible singing, and tuck them in for the night.
It’s not as if skimming a few paragraphs from “The Boxcar Children” made any difference, right?
Oh, to go back and read all the lines, little ones in my lap, where all was right with the world. To read the fifth book of the night with the same thoroughness as the first book. I would do all the character’s voices on the fifth book too. And I’d do it right.
Right now, I wish I could skip this chapter in my life. Not ALL of it – most of it is lovely. But some of it frankly sucks, and sucks badly. The world is in chaos, my body is falling apart at the seams, every single day is a battle to keep my joints from dislocating.
Every single day is a battle with chronic pain, and much like when I was a young mother putting her kids to bed, I’m exhausted. And the hardest thing going on is that so many of my dearest friends are facing catastrophic situations. Why must everything HURT? So many parts of life hurt.
But unlike the Berenstain Bears – whose issues always resolved within twenty pages and lots of colorful cartoon illustrations – there is no skipping stuff.
When I consider my life as a whole, the stuff I would have rather skipped when it was happening is the stuff that (warning: lofty platitude ahead) made me STRONGER. And oddly enough, had I everything to do again, I’d probably do it the same. But damn. What price for strength!
Had I skipped a chapter, I wouldn’t be sober from alcohol, which was robbing my very life. Had I skipped the part of the story where I came to the utter and complete end of myself, how could I become the beginning of a better version of myself. It was so ugly, my alcoholism. Going through the agony of early recovery? I thought it would kill me. I was so incredibly sick, inside and out. But had I not ridden out the withdrawals, I would have missed the best chapters of my life.
Had I skipped a chapter, I wouldn’t be married to the kindest, most wonderful man on the planet. He is my very best friend, and my personal hero. I would have been stuck in the same situation – one that I settled for because I didn’t think I deserved better.
Had I skipped a chapter, I would have continued to believe the negative things people thought about me. Worse, I would have continued to believe what I myself thought about me.
You know those children’s storybooks that let you choose your own ending? It’s kind of like that. But to know what ending to choose, you have to read the rest of the book with nothing left out. And there’s no skipping parts of the story, whether I volunteer to cooperate or not.
Here’s the truth:
Every part of the story is pivotal.
The crappy parts. Maybe especially the crappy parts. The boring parts too – they prepare you for plot twists and character development.
Skipping the hard parts mean never making mistakes, and thus, never learning from them. It robs the richness of relationships from you and stagnates your growth.
Skipping means you have to start again. Sometimes all over again. “Start again, Mommy!” my kids would say, when I cheated them out of words. It’s hard to follow a tale with incomplete information.
Likewise, life calls for starting over often. “From the top!” it will demand. Not condescendingly, but because it’s necessary to understand the story.
And yes, it is important to understand the story. It’s life.
The choices we make in the parts we’d rather skip are often the steps that afford us a happy life.
And I really hate that; because it seems like a bunch of wrenching awfulness just to get to a good thing. Right now, I’m not dealing with that so well. My anxiety tells me that if things were just different, I would be healthier. More productive. My pain tells me that I don’t care for my family to the degree I should. The struggles make me want to legit give up.
I’m learning to accept hardship as a pathway to peace, as the little-quoted sixth line of the Serenity Prayer – something I “read” to myself every single day from memory. And I NEVER skip any of the words!
Grant me the serenity, to accept the things I cannot change. The courage to change the things that I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. Living one day at a time, enjoying one moment at a time, accepting hardship as a pathway to peace. Taking, as Jesus did, this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it. Trusting that you will make all things right if I surrender to your will, so that I may be reasonably happy in this life, and supremely happy with you forever in the next.”
So cuddle up with yourself, read the whole story. Ride out the hard parts of life, and I will too, and together we can make a reasonably happy life without skipping the difficult stuff. Very good things germinate from very difficult circumstances.
And hey – thanks for reading my words. God loves you and so do I, friends. ❤