Living Large

My daughter is twenty-five and much concerned with choosing a meaningful path in life. She wants to make a contribution, pull her share of the load, and otherwise live up to a bunch of platitudes she’s no doubt heard her mama spout for years.

Chris's treesbunnaA friend in Europe who is at least twice Beloved Offspring’s age emailed this week, asking many of the same questions she does: In what direction does a worthwhile path lie when a PhD accountant can longer stomach the corporate game? A life consistent with concern for the planet and all its inhabitants of whatever species?

The same question is put to me in another form by well meaning family: You have so much education and ability, are you sure you’re supposed spend it writing romance novels? (Yes, I am—for now.)

These are all ways to ask: WHAT are we supposed to accomplish with our one and only life?

I don’t know what anybody else is supposed to be working on, but I’ve found it a nice, big, meaningful, complicated challenge to learn how to love and be loved. All the “accomplishment,” the academics, the hours in court, the parenting, the writing, is so much curriculum for that education, and I will never graduate from it. To me, the grandest challenge I’ll face is nothing more than to be kind and tell the truth.

To the bunnies whose cages my daughter cleans each week, her contribution is very meaningful.

To the neighbors whose lanes my European friend debrides of trash, his morning rambles are a significant contribution.

When I was up against PMS, migraines, too much month at the end of my money, and stinky cases in court, a new Julia Quinn or Mary Balogh romance meant the world (still does).

nobelSome people are born to win the Nobel Prize, and their contributions should be well recognized. I think it’s equally important to recognize our own Nobel Prizes, which can be as simple as when Molly makes cupcakes with her grandkids, or Sarah has a terrific bedtime conversation with her son. There’s some Nobel Prize in Christina taking the Christmas shift on dispatch, and Larisa turning dietary restrictions into the search for the perfect gluten free brownie. Denise’s version is adding to a coworker’s vocabulary by example rather than baldly correcting the woman in public.

perfect brownieI could go on and on with example after example from your comments of small choices yielding a big result in a positive direction. That’s meaningful enough for me, and I thank you all for the inspiration you provide me.

Inspire me some more: What is the purpose of your life?

To one commenter, I’ll send two signed Grace Burrowes books (you pick). One to keep, one to pass along.

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39 comments on “Living Large

  1. The purpose of my life is to speak for those who do not have a voice. I defend those who need protection from those who would use them unscrupulously . I do this by being the best financial advisor I can be.

  2. At the present time of my life I feel that my main, and possibly only, purpose in life is to be the best grandmother I possibly can be. Yesterday my oldest granddaughter, whose 11th birthday it was, told me that her 2 year old sister had said that I was her favorite grandmother. I’m sure a lot of this has to do with the fact that I’ve been spending Wednesday’s with them for the last few weeks so she sees a lot of me. Her paternal grandmother works as an oncology nurse in a hospital so she isn’t able to get here to visit often. All of my grandchildren have different meanings for me, I love the oldest for that reason, she’s the oldest; I love the 9 year old because watching her is like watching my daughter grow up all over again; the 7 year old is special because she spent much of her time as a toddler and small child with me while her mother and oldest sisters were in school, the 2 year old is special because she belongs to my DD’s second husband and is so different, in a way, from her older sisters; the baby, 3 months of age, is special for the fact that so far he’s the only boy and he’s generally a very happy baby and very easy going. My SIL is special also because he is so good to my daughter and the older three girls, you’d never know he wasn’t their biological father. His mother is also amazing in that she treats the oldest three just like they were his also and I know many, many step grandmothers aren’t like that.

  3. Besides raising my daughters to be kind, honest, tolerant and to be the best that they can be, I believe helping those that don’t have a voice, and in my case, it’s animals. From the time I was young I’ve always had an affinity for them. For the last 20 years I’ve worked with ferals and strays. I do what I can. Oh, and laughter – I hope I bring laughter to others.

    • Jeanne, I’m a child welfare lawyer, and that means I see awful things, but I also see that when it comes to children, many, many people will step up and speak out. Strangers who wouldn’t put a nickle in the Salvation Army bucket at Christmas will stop to help a toddler who appears lost in the Mall.

      The beasts often have no one, and they can’t ask for help or advocacy or even decent treatment. They will never grow up to vote, when they’re in bad circumstances, they aren’t cute or cuddly, or photogenic.

      So I value what you’re doing, and am glad you find meaning in it. My various kit-tehs, pups and ponies thank you too!

  4. I believe that life is about relationships and that everything else is secondary. Our relationship with ourself is often far too starved for attention. Years ago, I defined my purpose as to support and encourage others to their best – especially women – especially women who put everyone and everything else first. It’s important to learn to say no so you can say yes when it’s important. That purpose has been a consistent thread throughout my life.

    • Excellent purpose! And I wish I could identify why so many of us ladies feel like we can take care of everybody, all the time, no matter what, without going splat ourselves. Having gone splat a few times, I’m beginning to wake up to the notion that unless I take care of me, I’m pretty much useless to my loved ones.

  5. The purpose of my life is to show others that there is no expiration date for dreams and wishes. I have been fighting so long since I was a little girl to be what I want to be and to dare others who kept telling me dreams are for fools. Dreams are real, we can achieve it with super hard work. No matter how hard it is , I will and one day tells the world never to give up on our dreams and keep believing in the power of our dreams

    • So, Aretha, what is that dream?

      I heard a talk once, by Sherrilyn Kenyon. She told us about having made the NYT list SIX times, and then ending up living out of a car with her husband and her baby. She said she learned two things from that situation (which in her words, “should never have happened”). She learned that there are men who stick, men unlike her daddy, who left her mama with eight children.

      She also learned that, for the most part, if a dream dies, it’s because you allowed it to die. Nobody steals your dreams, nobody comes along and says, “Stop dreaming that, right now!” Life has ups and downs, twists and turns, but dreams live on as long as we nurture them.

      I think there are exceptions to that outlook (nobody argues with some illnesses successfully forever), but she’s right: Dreams abide, until we give up on them.

      So don’t give up, lady. Dream on!

  6. Extensionally? To be there for the ones I love. And hopefully, have them be there for me.

    Practically? I have no clue. I just sat here and typed all this BS about my job. I deleted. I make sure that my job is my job, not my life. I may only come home to a old, gray haired dog, but I refuse to let school follow me around 24/7. And then i went and had the thought this last week that the time I spend in the gym is a good example for my kids.

    Maybe my practical purpose is just to do that: be a good example to that bunch of hooligans. Too bad I’m probably not the best candidate for that. But then, I guess David doesn’t come across as the person we would all pick to be the apple of God’s eye either.

    I’ve missed the coming to the blog the last few weeks. I always like coming here and thinking about something I wouldn’t normally ponder.

    • Sabrina, I just had to comment on your David comment. There is such a truth in that statement. We can get so down on ourselves and yet what an example we have with David. Everything that he did wrong and he was still known as the Man After God’s Own Heart. It gives me such hope to think about that.

      • Sarah, sometimes all you have to do is remind yourself you didn’t send a man to his death (I’m assuming) so you and God should be on pretty good terms.

    • Sabrina, you are real. I think for the hooligans, an adult who is willing to be real with them–to hurt after a big race, to love having a fit body, to resent the job sometimes, to need her weekends to be free of the job–is a breath of fresh air, especially in an educational environment. My dad taught for decades and said in his experience, the great teachers don’t instruct so much as they inspire.

      They might not learn a whole lot of the subject matter, but those kids are getting inspired by your example. Know this. You’ll run into one of them a few years from now, and the little twerp will have gotten a degree in PE because of you. Yes, You.

  7. Mine is very similar to yours, Grace. I want to live love everyday. I take the whole “Love your neighbor as yourself” very seriously. Of course I want to show and be love for my husband and boys and I hope they feel loved by me, but I also want to show love to everyone around me. I try to have a smile for everyone, patience when I get in “that” lane at grocery store, letting the person with two items go in front of you because you have a cart load of stuff, understanding when simple mistakes are made, a listening ear when a stranger in a waiting room wants to talk. There are so many people out there who are just plain rude and you never know when a simple smile or “hello” will make someone’s day.

    • Sarah, we’re on the same wavelength. Smile at the bagger and thank them, let somebody else go ahead in traffic, say hello to the bailiff, clerk and reporter in the courtroom, be present and pleasant. I find when I make those efforts, I’m the one who ends up having a better day.

  8. I think the meaning of my life is to teach others all the life stuff that I have learned. I believe when I share what I have learned I might help someone, and at the same time I am affirming it for myself. When I aknowledge life lessons by sharing, I have a better chance of not getting a “do over”. Hate those. Teaching, loving and helping each other get through the rough spots, is the meaning of my life.

    • Tracey, you ever think of writing a book about those lessons? I’m working on a book with a working title of “Outhouse Wisdom.” It’s what I wish I could convey to my daughter, what I probably have conveyed to her, and what particular insights twenty years of child welfare work has yielded. I certainly wouldn’t wish that last on anybody, though it has had some surprisingly silver linings.

  9. This is something that I have been pondering for a while now because I have come to a crossroad and hopefully the path will lead me in the right direction. I have noticed that there seems to be a lot of us out there struggling with direction……..so I will try to be more aware of those around me who need the simple things, a hug, a smile, things of that nature. Try not to get so caught up in my little corner of the world and realize there so much we can to help each other that are easy to do.

    • Lori, maybe it’s like being pregnant. When you’re in that third trimester, you see pregnant ladies EVERYWHERE. When your life approaches a fork in the road, you see forks everywhere.

      I’m at a point where much of my life is uncertain. My legal contracts are up for recompete, my books sales are unpredictable, my Beloved Offspring may soon be in a position to hold gainful employment (or not!), and it makes me aware of every bit of uncertainty in my life.

      It’s always been there–I’m self-employed times two–but now it weighs on me.

      Your approach, to focus on the candles I can light right where I am–makes wonderful sense. Thanks!

  10. I used to have a poster in my classroom that said “Remember when you wanted to save the world?” I do admire people that have the talent, opportunity, energy or charisma to accomplish great things for others. I remember wanting to be a missionary when I was in high school and I’ve often thought starting your own charity or even working for one must be rewarding.
    At this point in my life I think my purpose is to acknowledge people and to affirm them. Even a little bit of positive attention can make someone’s day. Maybe this will even encourage someone else to save the world.

    • Kathy, you have said a mouthful. I’m fortunate I spent time around horses before becoming a parent, because the hallmark of effective training is to catch the beast being GOOD, and reward that. Pat him when he’s standing quietly in the crossties, and ignore him when he paws and dances. Reward him when he stands at the mounting block, and you won’t have to correct him for shuffling away from it before your behonkis is in the saddle.

      The extension of this is to see my foster clients as having strengths where others see weaknesses. Stubborn defiance can be unstoppable determination. Sensitivity is good people radar, distrust of adults carries the seeds for leadership and self-sufficiency, and so on.

      It’s not going to bring about world peace, but if I can nudge a few young people to view themselves in a more balanced fashion, maybe their path won’t be quite as tough. It’s what I can do right now, right here.

  11. It’s interesting to me that of the people responding so far, nobody has said, “My ambition is to develop algae lamps that will convert CO2 to oxygen,” or “I’m running for mayor because I have a vision for this town that is desperately needed.”

    Our intended contributions are all relational, personal, and mostly unstructured. I wonder if that’s a function of what I wrote in the post? Life phase? Female world view?

    If I asked my daughter’s graduating class, “What is the purpose of your life?” Would their answers be a significant departure from ours? Maybe I will ask them.

  12. it’s 1 am in the morning, i can’t sleep again, and i found this wonderful blog and decided to add to it. i lay in bed most of the time now, due to the pain from crps that came into my life about 15 years ago, and do wonder what on earth do i contribute to the world now. i have decided that one thing is the example of a strong marriage, almost 40 years strong now, and 2 healthy, happy productive beloved offsprings. we married when i was 18 and stuck, through good and bad, and we have had many many MAJOR crises thrown at our family consistently through the years. we have survived because we are stubborn, find humor, and most of all have a strong FAITH. it took me over 13 years to earn my ba and mpa, and find my dream job as an academic advisor. when the youngest was in h.s. i finally went to work full time. then disaster really struck, and it hit me this time, and there was no one to research the medical, the treatments, hold the family together, be the mom. i ended up in the hospital after having “hit bottom” which was a shock, let me tell you. i never took drugs, gambled, rarely drank, or any thing else. what i did was become so immersed in pain that i let 2 or 3 doctors give me poor/improper treatment, even though i did have one doctor as a strong advocate, and ended up physically, emotionally and spiritually empty. i am happy to say a have a great team of doctors now, am healthy enough to ensure good choices are made, and my husband is still beside me. i picked good all those years ago when everyone told me i was making the biggest mistake of my life. 98% of husbands leave when a wife becomes ill. he is even retiring early from a job he loves to begin our “recovery program” in june. this has rambled on, don’t feel you need to read it has just helped me to write it. i think my purpose in life now is to continue to be a positive force to those around me, be there for my family, and continue to smile so that most everyone who sees me would never know how much pain i am in.

  13. p.s. i ended up with this neuro condition, complex regional pain syndrome, as a one in a mill side effect to a tennis elbow surgery… i had developed tennis elbow and carpal tunnel in both arms from overwork at the office instead of insisting on help. i thought i could do it all, or no one could do it as good as me. now i am not working at all. and the pain is so much worse, a breeze or clothing on the arms can cause pain. worse, due to bad medical treatment i ended up with a hip replacement at 41 and the crps has moved into the hip. recently, it has moved into my feet and so walking is agony. i have a great pain specialist who is a crps specialist, but she cannot give me miracles. my surgeon warned me to be very certain before i chose surgery because it is not always a cure all, i have known many who have chosen surgery and become worse. makes one think.

    • Tina, thank you for that comment. Looks like you typed it on your phone, which means it probably took a while. Long, long time ago, I read CS Lewis’ “The Screwtape Letters.” This is a collection of letters between Screwtape and Wormwood, one of them an old devil with a lot of experience corrupting the human soul, to his nephew, the new kid in hell, who has yet to rack up many victories over the human spirit.

      The uncle admonishes the nephew to use physical pain and fatigue to grind down the average human’s resistance to despair, to hit them with unexplained pains, and encourage the victim to blame all and sundry for their suffering.

      Then the uncle adds a caution, because excesses of pain and fatigue can backfire. Some humans–you can never tell which ones–when overloaded with suffering pass beyond the state where they can be turned bitter, mean, and blaming. They reach a place where their suffering has made them transcendently kind and tolerant, unshakeable in their faith, and an example to others who are similarly afflicted. For this reason, the uncle suggests using only a steady stream of petty afflictions rather than great ills to bring down a soul.

      Because a person who suffers greatly can turn toward wisdom and love instead of bitterness.

      Never doubt that your suffering has been productive, never doubt that your example is meaningful. NEVER.

      Thanks again for your comment.

  14. At this time in my life my purpose is to be the best sister and aunt I can be. My sister has MS and has more bad days than good. I help take care of her, when she lets me, and her kids, sine their dad is a butt and doesn’t do anything. I would do anything for them and have.

    • I only have the one daughter, but I have a couple dozen nieces, nephews and grandnieces and nephews. I hope to at least a few of those, Aunt Grace is a known entity good for the occasional story or encouraging word.
      The contribution you’re making is much greater, and I’m sure those kids know it.

  15. Ah decisions decisions!! My own BELOVED OFFSPRING turned 22 the past October and she too is searching for what to do with her life. She has been desperately trying to land a job but to no avail. She’s never been much of a students but we believe we have stumbled across a possibility.

    I discovered that she has been WRITING!! While assisting her in setting her room to rights and foraging through clothes that no longer fit quite right and toys she has grown too old for, I came across a notebook full of short stories. Apparently she had been writing them for a while and is even co-writing online through a blog a friend of hers started!!! I was impressed to say the least. I never knew she had such a penchant for stories.

    We have decided that maybe a degree in Communications/Journalism might be the way to go!! We go next week to talk with the advisor at the local junior college to discuss starting classes this coming fall.

    My purpose in life has become helping HER to find her purpose in life and I think we may have found it!!

    • Wouldn’t that be fun, if Ms. English found her calling was English?
      My daughter’s decision to pursue certification as a veterinary technician was one of those, “Gee, why didn’t I think of that?” career choices. She handles the science easily and loves animals–duh.

  16. I think most recently my purpose in life has been to laugh so that the people around me can relax a bit more. Sometimes earthly profundity is more palatable when a bit of odd-ball-craziness is interjected. A couple mornings ago I walked into the kitchen and greeted my husband with an on-the-spot-made-up-out-of-tune love song. Corny! But, ahh, the happy sparks were flying in his eyes… and ping-ping-pinging inside my own creative spirit.

    • Leigh, I often ask foster parents if the children in their care laugh spontaneously. If the children are laughing, I’m pretty sure they’ll be OK. Play–and laughter–are among the last things to come back when we’re trying to get over a trauma.

      So you and hubby must be doing a lot right–keep smiling!

  17. Thank you, Grace, and my thanks to all of your post-folks. I really appreciate that everyone has written about real and lasting life purpose rather than tasks or means to an end. It would be so very enjoyable to sit with the varied women here and share a cup of tea.

    I reviewed a book in the library that referenced the best gift of “The Present” and it may have been placed on hold because I couldn’t check it out to read the whole of it, so I don’t recall the author. My own mother described it as giving each person you encounter “good attention” and as others could guess, she was also an instructor on behalf of The Golden Rule.

    I’ve been teaching my twelve year old son that he already has superpowers and that they should be used for “good.” I reference his intelligence, heart, kindness and sensitivity as evidence and he seems to be recognizing those as powers comparable to those advocated by his peers, and other societal influences.

    Thank you for the pleasure, laughter (out loud), tears, love and insight into humanity shared in your stories, Grace. I’m right there with you!

    • Deborah, you are most welcome. As much as people enjoy reading my stories, I enjoy writing them even more. Your characterization of intelligence, heart and kindness as superpowers is both accurate and brilliant, especially to somebody who’s at a time in life when it’s easy to feel powerless.
      Go, Mom!

  18. Years ago, Peter Jackson’s movie “The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship if the Ring” was released in DVD. Like any good nerd, I lived off that movie for months. Then one day I discovered the commentary feature. I watched the movie again, seeing the scenery, the monsters, the action all while listening to the story behind the story. For several years after that I would always wonder what it would be like to be part if something so great and epic. Not just as an elf or Hobbit or dwarf, but as one of the people CREATING such a fantastic world where people can disappear into another world for three hours. What an adventure that would be! But real life sets in after the credits roll and I went back to my schooling and part time job.

    Now, years later, looking back on it, I have lived an adventure! The adventure of that forst trip to Washington state and four women scaring the living daylights out of each other with stories of serial killers only to realize the isolated cabin we rented had no external lights and the key was hidden under a rock somewhere in the woods behind the cabin.
    The adventure of driving five hours in the opposite direction of home just so I could say “I was standing in a corner in Winslow, Arizona” and sit in a flatbed Ford.

    Of taking a squirmy, hyperactive black lab puppy and turning him into a well behaved “teenager” so focused and driven that he passed Search & Rescue training in record time.

    The drama and trauma of buying and almost losing my first house.

    Of discovering a passion for chemical free household and beauty products that I cook up in my kitchen.

    Of developing and fine tuning my love of writing and story telling.
    Of the simple joy of smiling to cheer up a coworker having a rough day.

    This is my purpose. To make my life an adventure and take whatever gets thrown at me or you or anyine else and turn it on its head either to make me laugh or to make it appear in a better light. To remind those going through a rough patch that no matter what is happening right now, be thankful for what you have because it could always be worse.

  19. I’m only 23 so I haven’t discovered my full purpose in life. For right now it’s to be the best aunt, and best sister I can be to my little sister and older sister. My nephew is a year and a half so he’s just learning new things and I want to be there to teach him how to be a good person. The same with my 9 year old little sister. Right now she needs a good role model and I want to be that for her.