Today's Devotional Thought
January 05, 2018 by Rachel Piferi
For my Gen-X Sisters Who Feel a Little Lost
I love snow days. It gives me a lot of time to read and wander the Internet for various blogs and thoughts penned out there in cyberspace. It also gives me a lot of time to think as I clean out closets and freezers and all those places that get neglected when I'm not trapped in the house.
Today, I want to share a blog that I read yesterday and also a bit of my story and how dangerously close I was to being the woman described in this blog. The blog was posted on Oprah's website and you can read it here.
I'll warn you, it is a LONG blog (and as I've started writing mine in response here, so is mine. Sorry!).
Typically, I don't make it to the end of a blog this long, but this one captivated me from its first devastating, exhausted word. The general theme of the blog is how Generation X women (my aged women) are experiencing a midlife crisis like none other that has ever been seen. Through anecdotes and research, the blogger shares how lost, exhausted, and depressed women of my generation are. Especially, supposedly successful women. The blog is full of stories of women who have risen in their professions, drive luxury cars, have elite gym memberships and teenagers clad with iPhones and Hollister jeans and are simply dying inside. It seems that women of my generation, who have achieved all that they were told they could when they were young and ambitious, feel lost, unfulfilled, and quite frankly, lied to.
As I read each despondent word, I fluctuated between such sadness at what I was reading and such astonishment at how we even got here as women. And as I reflected on it, I couldn't help but pause on my own story. And on the fulfillment that I actually found outside of this path. Because I was on that path. I was dangerously close to being exactly that woman described in this blog.
And simply by the grace of God, I'm not.
And for anyone out there who feels the emotions and experiences described by these women, let me tell you how you can not be too. Let me tell you my story...
So, I have always been a pretty driven person. Whether by nature or nurture, I've always set goals, wanted to accomplish them, and found ways to get what I want. I had a bit of a lazy period in high school where friends and sports and social life were priorities, but I still maintained a basic level of drive to get to my goals. When I was in 7th grade, I declared to my parents the exact college I wanted to go to. Through my high school years, I participated in extracurricular activities and got the grades I needed to so that I could make that happen. In the Fall of my Senior year of high school, I applied to that college early decision, was accepted and checked off the first block on my life plan.
Within months of studying in college, I had found a major that I loved and declared to my parents again that I was headed to graduate school following my 4 years of undergraduate. Despite my less than stellar 2.2 GPA, I was determined to achieve my graduate school dreams. I will never forget when I called my parents in my Freshman year and told them I was going to get a PhD in Psychology. My parents, well aware of my poor GPA and the competitiveness of graduate psychology programs, were both supportive and curious how I thought that I was going to get there with said GPA. I focused a bit more on the belief that it was possible than the current facts that would suggest otherwise and developed a plan to get that GPA up. My remaining 3 years were focused on doing all I needed to get into graduate school and check off the second block on my life plan.
I did get into a Masters program (only one), and worked my tail off when I got there to prove to them I could handle doctoral work and ended up being accepted into the PhD program at the end of my first year. In the meantime, I found a new love within the field of Psychology: teaching. I changed my focus from clinical work to teaching and research and I was, as they say, off to the races. I obtained a grant from NIH to fund my dissertation, I taught at local community colleges, and I published research all along the way. My 5 years of graduate school were amazing and at the end of them, I was offered a faculty position at my graduate university.
Block three checked off on my life plan.
Lest you think I was just in the lab all the time, I also managed to get married and have our first child before being hooded with my Ph.D. I remember writing my dissertation sitting on the floor of our apartment, laptop on our coffee table, and my newborn son laying sweetly and quietly on the floor right beside me.
My husband also went back to school while I was in graduate school and got a second Bachelors degree in Computer Science. Our graduation pictures, both of us clad in black gowns and big smiles, holding our 9 month old son were full of such satisfaction and achievement.
We were walking the first step of the American dream. We were "making it."
We spent a couple of early years in Knoxville building the beginning of our careers and building our family. We had a second child, bought a house, and I published a bit more. Then one day, early on, my husband got a call that would help us check off box four on the life plan.
Johns Hopkins, in Baltimore, wanted him to come work for them. It was huge. I laugh because they asked him in the interview if he knew much about them. As an academic, I was like, "Um...you're Johns Hopkins. Yes, we know some things about you." He was excited (and flattered) by this new opportunity and as we sold our home in Knoxville and prepared to move to Baltimore, the researcher in me was just salivating at the thought of working my way into one of the most well-known research universities in the world.
And I did work my way in.
Apparently, as God would have it, they needed a faculty member who did exactly what I did. And as I networked on campus, I ended up with a research appointment on the medical campus and a teaching appointment on the undergraduate side.
For my 31 year old self, it was everything.
I was so excited to be there. Professionally, it was everything that an academic would want. It was prestigious. It was full of opportunities. It was full of resources. It was everything I had worked so hard for.
I remember walking around that first year and catching glimpses of the Johns Hopkins seal on buildings or letterhead and I would pinch myself. I was a researcher at Johns Hopkins. I got to put their name under my name at conferences and events. There are really no words to describe the fulfillment and satisfaction I felt.
Block four checked off of my life plan.
Like nearly everyone else who achieves in life, we bought a 5000+ square foot house (with a theater in the basement, by the way). We bought a boat. We bought a vacation home on the Potomac River. We traveled.
And by appearances, we had it all.
And we did. Well, we had all that the world can offer.
And for the first year or two, it was really wonderful. That is the funny thing about worldly desires, they do satisfy for a bit. That's what makes us strive for them at first and then return to them for comfort or satisfaction. They do work. For a moment. But, worldly goodness always fades. And what happens? We need more to satisfy ourselves the next time. So we buy more. Travel more. Achieve more. Until our credit cards and our closets are maxed out at these attempts to fulfill ourselves.
And our homes and schedules may be full, but strangely our souls are not.
It only took me a couple of years "living the dream" to begin to wonder if it was all worth it. Keeping up that lifestyle is not easy. Its stressful, in fact. And the shine on your Acura loses its appeal when you are racing in it from one thing to the next trying to keep up with the pace of a high profile lifestyle. And, it began to feel very empty to me. I started getting to the point where I wondered if it even mattered. And the original satisfaction that comes from "getting there" faded into an empty cycle of "staying there."
I truly "had it all" as the world had promised I could. But, I began wondering if perhaps the world had lied to me. I assumed "having it all" would bring me fulfillment. But, it really didn't.
And then 2008 happened.
Ten years ago, this month, my life was completely turned upside down. And the next block on my life plan was about to be checked off. And, it was a block that I didn't even know was on my life plan.
And this block had Jesus' name beside it.
You can read the entire story under "Isabella's Story" on our page. The short version of it is that for the first time in my life, I was in a situation that I could not control. I was given a death sentence for our unborn baby, a possible death sentence for myself, and a decision to make that would "control" the outcome. And this former controller started to learn that sometimes the best things in life come from journeys that are out of my control, but perfectly within God's control.
I began to learn that God's plan for my life, with His checkboxes, is better than mine.
As you can read in "Isabella's Story," we chose to put the outcome of our unborn baby's life (and mine) squarely in God's hands. For the first time in our life, we chose to sit still (literally and figuratively) and let someone else determine the course of our life. Instead of striving and planning and choosing our way and what we thought was best, we whispered to God, "You do what you think is best here and we will walk in it. Whatever it is."
It was hard.
But it was right.
Little did I truly know at the time, what started with that offering was the second half of my life plan. A plan that was about to go beyond what I could ever imagine, request, or ask in my wildest dreams (Ephesians 3:20, MSG). A plan that was about to be more abundant and fulfilling than anything I had planned to that point. A plan more abundant and crazy than what the world claims is the right life plan.
We experienced a miracle in the life of our baby. And with that physical miracle, another miracle in my heart was occurring. It was a miracle of surrendering all we had done to that point in our professional and personal lives. It was a miracle of my mindset changing from wanting what the world had sold me as "it all" to wanting "all" that God had to offer me. And through the physical miracle, I began to see how much more God had to offer than the world could have ever offered me.
And God really started working. Orchestrating. Moving.
A year later, with my heart still stirred and softened by the miracle we had experienced, God chose to create a beautiful friendship that He would work through to continue His plan for my life. As He can only do, He knitted my heart with the heart of a woman in our church who I really barely knew at that point. She was our pastor's wife, actually, who was going through her own valley. We were in the same small group and her family had walked Isabella's pregnancy with us, but I really didn't know her well. But as only God can do, He brought two women together who likely wouldn't be best friends without His intervention and placed in our knitted hearts a dream to work together to share our stories and the hope we were beginning to experience in our lives. She also had a story of surrender forming at the time and as we walked her valley together in the spring of 2009, our deep friendship formed and our passion for helping women who walk through hard things grew. And God began revealing a new plan, a new checkbox, for my life plan. One that I could have never seen coming.
I was 34 years old. I was fresh off a miracle. I was smackdab in the middle of a new friendship & partnership forming. And, I was still a faculty member at Johns Hopkins University. I was actually experiencing some huge success in a project of mine and there were administrators who were interested in me creating a center for undergraduates that would take me to a new level in my career. It would be a huge salary. Huge opportunities at a higher level and much prestige. It was everything I would have ever wanted in life.
Except that it wasn't anymore.
At the same time as my career expanding at Hopkins, my heart was expanding in its view of what I was really created for. How God wanted to use my skills and talents for Him now. Skills and talents that He had actually given me and grown in me through my life. I began knowing that He wanted me to leave all that I had worked for and planned for and achieved for a new plan.
I'll never forget when I submitted my resignation at Johns Hopkins. I was so certain of the new direction God had for me. But I was still sad to give back all that I had worked for. It was a bit of a death of a dream. My dream. A dream that formed when I was 18 years old, with a 2.2 GPA, believing I could go to graduate school and actually be good at something. When I would stand before 400 students at Hopkins and give a lecture, I often saw my 18 year old self in the faces of my students. Eager and ready to take on the world. To learn and grow and achieve. I loved the thought that a girl with a 2.2 GPA could end up at Hopkins. With a little grit and a whole lot of hard work.
Its easy to say I got myself to Johns Hopkins through years of hard work. And that is partially true. I needed to work hard. But, I can look back now and see that God's grace opened the doors that needed to open to get me there. I had to do my part. But He had to do His part too.
And then when the life plan changed, I had to do my part again. And follow.
I had to do the hard introspection into the deep parts of my soul and ask myself what I really wanted. I had to sit there with a new friendship and a new calling from God and decide to follow Him.
Into the unknown.
An unknown that involved surrendering my former goals and actually involved moving to a small rural community that it about as opposite from Baltimore as you can get. A move that was entirely orchestrated and fulfilled by God himself. A move that would not have even been possible if not for God's taking care of a few details.
A move that was one of the best decisions of my life.
A move that saved me from being exactly the woman described in the blog on Oprah's website.
I could have been her. I was headed that way.
And mercy saved me.
For all of my Gen-X sisters out there who have read this blog on Oprah's site and say through tears, "That's me," can I whisper some truth into your weary soul?
It doesn't have to be you.
It can be different.
And that different has a name.
From the time we were little girls, the world has been telling us that we could be anything we wanted. That we could be just as smart as the boys. Just as athletic as the boys. Just as successful as the boys. That the obstacles that our mothers faced in the 70s were being removed and we could break through that glass ceiling that kept every other generation of woman back. That we could drive expensive cars and hold prestigious positions. That we could have babies and perfect Shutterfly Christmas cards that show off our perfectly decorated homes, beautiful children, and successful lives.
And within those messages that you could do it all and have it all, you were also subtly told that it would bring you fulfillment.
But here's the problem.
It's not. It's simply not bringing that promised fulfillment.
In fact, for many of you, the Christmas card didn't even get out on time (or at all) this year because you were too busy and frazzled to sit and address them. And the perfect picture on Instagram with just the right filter may portray to the world that you have it all, but in your soul you know differently. All the Instagram filters in the world can't fade out the truth of an unfulfilled soul or an unfulfilled life plan.
God's life plan for you.
I promise you, with everything I got in me, that God's plans for your life are better than your own. I promise you that His promises are so much more fulfilling than the world's promises. That living life according to His Word will bring satisfaction and contentment to your aching, pleading soul.
You were created for it.
I don't stand weekly before 400 eager college students anymore. I don't stand behind podiums and present findings from my latest study to rooms of interested researchers. I don't have Johns Hopkins under my name any more.
And I've never been happier.
My soul is filled when I walk into a small fellowship hall weekly and hear the sweet sound of 40 women opening their Bibles and discussing its Truths. My spirit is actualized on Wednesday nights as I stand in a renovated garage shed and share Jesus with an awesome group of 12 teenagers just learning about life and God. And my heart is delighted when those same 12 teenagers spend the night at my house and the sweet sounds of laughter and connection trickle down over my balcony.
Is it what the world would say is success? Probably not.
But, I think I've learned that sometimes the world lies.
But Jesus doesn't.
If you are one of these women described in the blog on Oprah.com, inbox me. Email me. Stop me and let me talk to you. There is a much better way. And, I'd love to tell you about it.
And if you are a young woman who is walking towards this endpoint described, please learn from us. And talk to us. We'd love to share our journeys with you. And that there is a better way than the one we've grown up hearing from the world.
And for every woman out there, stay close to Jesus. He doesn't lie. And He knows what will bring your soul such fulfillment. He created you, after all.
And, take some risks. For Jesus. Be brave enough to walk a non-conventional path.
I promise you, it will be so worth it.