I just returned from an amazing vacation with my husband. After forty years of waiting, I finally got to see the ocean AND go to Disney World. The ocean was more than I even imagined it to be. The sand was soft–so much softer than the sand found around our Minnesota lakes. The water was warm and salty. (I admit that the salt water wasn’t pleasant on the lips though.) The waves just kept rolling in. They were the perfect height for having fun. I saw surfers riding some of the waves as well. The sun was hot! Having MS has meant that I pretty much have to avoid the sun to avoid getting overheated. That said, the hot sun shining on me while I stayed cool in the water did not overheat me. It did, however, burn me. I definitely regretted not using more sunscreen. Disney World was as magical as television portrays it to be. The rides were a blast, the shopping was endless, and it really felt like I had left my normal life behind for a time. There were two days that I really struggled with heat issues. At one point, my husband was close to calling an ambulance as swallowing issues decided to plague me on our long walk to exit the World Showcase at Epcot. Returning home has been a difficult transition. My body doesn’t quite want to bounce back from the toll of the high heat and humidity of Florida. It was worth it, though, to have a week with my husband that didn’t involve work.
Being in a place like Florida, where the sun shines and the heat is high, also meant being around people who attempt to avoid getting hot so they dress to avoid the heating effect. On more than one occasion, I found my mind thinking of how awful I looked compared to so many of the females walking around us. I often thought of how much age has changed me–my face is no longer youthful as stubborn lines refuse to go away, my body is no longer thin, and even though I try to lose weight, it seems to stubbornly hang on making me dislike myself tremendously. My health is not what it used to be either. I once could walk through an amusement park for an entire day, regardless of the temperature. That is not the case anymore. I found a few hours pushed me to my limit, and I pushed right back, nearly risking a vacation spent in the hospital rather than at the “happiest place on earth”. So many times, I thought about how old I really am now. Even though my mind sometimes still thinks I am in my twenties or early thirties, the reality is that is just not the reality. I am much closer to fifty now than forty, and the twenties and thirties? Well, they are long gone along with the vitality that I possessed while in those decades.
Yesterday, as I rested to try to recover, I began to think about life. I wondered if this is really all that it is. I loved being a mom, a wife, a teacher, a coach, and all the other titles that came with being younger. I remembered the years we took our kids to the Minnesota State Fair. We were never able to take our kids on a real vacation, but each August we spent an entire day at the fair–sometimes we went twice in the fair’s twelve day run. Nothing was off limits to them–they could eat, ride, and play games to their heart’s content. Each year, several of the exhibitors would give away free things. One of those offers was a yardstick. You would see people walking through the far carrying the neon colored yardsticks given to them by an organization that wanted you to remember their business. We accumulated many of these yardsticks over the course of our years at the fair. Some of them were broken as our boys pretended they were light sabers or golf clubs, but when we moved this past spring, I counted eight brightly colored neon yardsticks that moved with us. The purpose of the yardstick is to measure something. We would use them to measure walls when we needed a rough estimate of how much paint to buy. We would use them to measure furniture to see if it would fit in a designated spot. Measuring is what the yardstick is designed to do.
As I thought yesterday about my own thoughts during our vacation, I came to the conclusion that I am tired of using others’ yardsticks to measure my own life. I look at someone who weighs less than I do, and I find I dislike myself because my body doesn’t look like that anymore. I look at someone who has been successful in the work force. She has a role to fill in her job and is respected by those around her. My husband works with many such women. I don’t measure up to that. I have no colleagues who appreciate my work or seek me out to fill an empty space on an important project. I look at someone who has smooth skin and hair that isn’t gray. I look at someone else who can handle an entire day of fun with their family without needing to take a few hours rest or use a cane for support, and I find myself jealous of when I was able to do that as well. I can’t measure up to that anymore.
This kind of thinking seldom produces anything positive. My thoughts are no exception to that rule. Still, it’s so hard to move forward when your mind keeps telling you there is no real reason to move forward–that the best years are gone. It’s difficult when nearly every television commercial tells me I need to remove my wrinkles or I need to lose weight to look a certain way in order to be valued in society. (Ironically, as I typed this, my husband has the TV on and a commercial advertising a cream to blast away wrinkles plays…) I am trying to measure up using others’ yardsticks. It will never work–I will never be able to meet the expectations society has placed on me. I didn’t ask to grow old, but it happened anyway. I didn’t ask to struggle with weight gain/loss, but it happened anyway. I didn’t ask for an illness that limits so much of what I can do, but it happened anyway. I want to be young again, but I cannot.
I know my thoughts should be put up against the measuring stick God has for me…am I measuring up to His expectations? His expectations don’t say that my face cannot have wrinkles, that my waistline cannot have a few extra inches, or that my health has to be perfect in order to be loved. It’s definitely difficult, though, as just about everyone around me seems to say the opposite of what God says about me. Once again, it’s a battle of the mind. Just once, I want to win the battle.