Spectator. According to the wrinkled-up pages of the thesaurus on my shelf, synonyms for this word are “onlooker,” “bystander,” “watcher,” and (the one that makes my stomach tighten) “nonparticipant.”
This is what I’ve been in my own life for almost a year now. A spectator sitting back….looking on as my day-to-day unwraps itself slowly, like a Christmas gift, on my lap. I’ve stood back and been the watcher; encouraging each child daily as they take one more step toward their futures and one step away from me. Cheering on my ever-learning, ever-achieving, ever-successful husband as he pursues another school, another achievement, another degree of professional excellence that will set him apart and show the world the man I see every morning when I wake up.
I’ve not occupied this role of “spectator” begrudgingly. No, not one bit. These are my people. My tribe. The humans that God Himself chose specifically for me. They need me and I need to be needed by them. So when the shadows beckon, I comfortably step back into them….I gather up the plates and begin to spin. A million times I’ve read this script and I know my lines by heart. I wrap myself snugly in these roles and I am wholly theirs–available to be an encourager, cheerleader, teacher, proofreader, pray-er. They need me to be their schedule-keeper, benchmark-tracker, and ever-nudger constantly nudging, “Did you practice piano today?” “Have you had enough water to sustain you for 3 hours of gymnastics?”and “How many more days until that paper is due?” They need the healthy-meal-maker who gathers them all around the table and nourishes their bodies while filling their ears with small talk and big talk…with laughter and memories. These are precisely the moments that they’ve grown accustomed to and will hopefully insist upon replicating in own homes and families someday. This is why I do what I do every single morning as I wake up and choose to do the same things that I’ve done all the days of the past 16 years….
But one morning recently I remembered that there was something else. Something I’d nearly forgotten about; except not really because it was always there…always nagging. Always nudging. Always reminding me of another role I glimpsed about a year ago and dismissed because it didn’t seem to have a place in the schedule—or perhaps I penciled it in because I was too afraid to write it in non-erasable, permanent ink?
That thing missing from the schedule is me. The me who used to write because it helped her make sense of the chaos around her. The me who was brave enough to give a glimpse to others of the way she saw the world as it turned around her. The me who, after almost 2 decades, took a chance on herself and saw that she was incredibly gifted to do things she’d never dreamed of. I remembered that me because she was on the cusp of something truly great; redefining her calling—stepping into her “next”—but then she got overwhelmed and scared and stopped before she even really got started.
For the past 10 months I’ve camouflaged myself in responsibilities…most of them real, others exaggerated. I’ve become a serial circumventer– avoiding the inevitable vulnerability required to show up and participate in making my dreams into reality. Rather than pursuing my next, I took the easy way out and became a bystander who not-so-innocently let my desires fall by the wayside. I turned my back on myself not because my tribe forced me to, but because I chose to. I chose to because I didn’t know how to simultaneously be all in for them and all in for me. I couldn’t figure out how to take for me while I sacrificed for them; how to concurrently cheer for them to realize all their hopes and dreams while pursuing my very own.
As it turns out, I’m very good at many things, but I’m especially good at looking in the mirror and seeing a martyr. After a year of searching and asking and trying to understand what I finally understand is this: God didn’t plan for me to throw in the towel ‘for the good of everyone else’ when He planned to give me a hope and a future. He planned for me to show up, hold onto that hope, and possess that future.
So here I am. With one son excitedly planning college visits and another not-so-expertly navigating the junior dramas found in junior high. With two young ladies whose precious educations and futures, for the time being, lie solely in my unsteady, imperfect hands. With one incredible, never-failing husband on the cusp of succeeding yet again. With one heart that beats with a lot of words and one mind with a lot of dreams for a hope and a future that she believes down deep in her bone marrow that she was created for.
I’m stepping out of the shadows and I’m showing up for me. And it’s about damn time.