This evening I was sitting at my favorite table at Homers – the one under the sound booth window. It has the most convenient electrical plug, and because it sits at an angle, the afternoon sun coming in from the western windows doesn’t bother me too much.
As the sun set, one by one about 15 people showed up and settled in as a group on the sofas, some even sitting on the coffee table. They were all in their early 20s (from the sound of it – I couldn’t get a good look at them without staring too much.) They seemed to be from the same church group, and they seemed delightfully tight knit.
They were planning the future of their group, and then, in I guess what was meant to be a lesson or a serious conversation their leader asked them, what is your spiritual gift. What has God given you, and how are you using it?
There was utter silence. I thought they were probably afraid to be the one that spoke first, or maybe afraid they’d come off as arrogant if they so quickly were able to name what they were good at. As the silence drew out, I was using my will power not to walk over and say, “Come on people – this isn’t a hard question!”
Perhaps I’m just incredibly out of touch, or jaded by the realities of my life, but don’t you know what you’re good at? You could be good at carpentry, or math or painting – or on a more spiritual level, you could be good at empathy, or teaching. I find the idea that someone doesn’t really know what they’re good at – what talents God has blessed them with – strange.
Yet, for this group, the question seemed like such a hard one.
And the second question didn’t seem any easier for them. What are you doing with those gifts? Silence.
Perhaps thinking the group didn’t understand what he meant, the leader said, “Come on, what do you do – do you sponsor a child from Africa or something. Well, it doesn’t have to be something like that. But what do you do?”
I don’t know how the group answered. My phone rang and my attention turned to another problem.
For all I know every single one of them is as saintly as could be serving at soup kitchens or volunteering in hospitals. What struck me about the silence, or the fact that the leader would pull out of thin air sponsoring a child from Africa (not that this isn’t a good thing) is the idea that people would feel the need to look so hard to find a place to use their gifts.
It made me think, how often do we not stop and think about the needs of the people right around us? How often do we go in search of something that is right there in front of us? How often do we overlook what God has put right there in our path?
It’s been a year since my life essentially imploded. It was a combination of the cumulative impact of all the times I had to go home for ostomy problems or female problems or spend all day to go to a 15-minute doctor’s appointment. All the days I felt so tired, the nights I never slept – and then the pressure of being asked to do more and more with less and less at work.
The anxiety of trying to do it all built up to such a point that I started having what I later learned were panic attacks on the bus on the way to work. My mouth would go dry. My chest would get tight and I’d feel short of breath. I thought it was my asthma.
I started becoming closterphobic – and I’d never been that way before. I’d get in the elevator at work and feel as though the walls were moving, closing in on me. I’d feel as though the other people in the elevator were sucking up all the air and I couldn’t breathe.
Some days I’d be at my desk and my heart rate would be so high it felt as though I were running and not just sitting there. I’d be breathing hard, even though I was totally still. Given my lung situation, feeling like that only made me more anxious.
I can’t stress to you how out of character all that was for me.
It was my two lives on a collision course - my HPS life and my work life. There had been a shift over the years. Before, things had been about my career, but as I got deeper and deeper into HPSland, my career became more about funding what I was good at.
About this time last year, emotionally things also came to a kind of head. We had a 23-year-old woman pass away from HPS only a few weeks after being diagnosed. I only got to exchange a few e-mails with her. I never got to know her really, but I took her death especially hard in the context of everything else going on in my life.
I realized I could suck it up as best I could all the time, but in the end no one in my corporate life would remember it much after I left. There were plenty of others who could step in, not having to live a sort of double existence between the HPS world and the rest of the world. My ability to compartmentalize was falling apart as my physical health fell apart too.
I knew what I was good at, and I knew how much it was needed in HPSland. I didn’t have to think about some charity on a list of charities to know where my talents could best be used and where they’d really make a difference.
If I found myself in the position of this fellow HPS’er who was passing so young, would I be happier that I’d worked 14 hours a day for years, or would I be happier that I’d done something that made a difference? If I did “something” would I be able to give people like this young woman, who we found too late, a better shot?
I was terrified at the idea of leaving. Insurance was a huge issue – I really didn’t know how I would live, but somehow, here I am. When I left, it was no longer a choice. I had to leave. My physical health was deteriorating rapidly, as was my emotional health. Things are far from perfect, but I’m here to tell you being poorer than a church mouse is way less stressful than where I was.
As I sat there tonight listening to this group struggle so with what seem like such easy questions, I realized there were a few blessings in all this.
My HPS life has allowed me to really zero in on what I’m good at. It’s given me a place to use those talents that God gave me where I know they do count. I know that’s not everyone’s experience with HPS, but I think I’m blessed that it has been mine.
Indeed, in my never-ending ability to beat up on myself, I sometimes feel a little guilty about it. While I beat myself up for not being like everyone else, for not having a normal job, for constantly being on the economic edge, I also have to admit, I’ve been happier this past year than I’d been in years – poverty and all. (Not that I wouldn’t gladly trade poverty for some good health coverage and economic stability.) I watch other HPS’ers in that same struggle, trying to be responsible adults and juggle a corporate life with this other part of ourselves, and I feel a little bad that I’ve had such a guilty pleasure this past year doing what I love. Am I doing the right thing, or is it time to grow up?