Stop Wishing for the Next Season of Life and Start Living Today’s
Tell me if this sounds familiar.
You’re seventeen years old, a senior in high school, and all anyone can ask you about is where you’re going to go to college and what you’re going to major in. You finally choose a college and a major, pack up all your belongings, and move into the dorms.
On the first day of class, you meet a cute guy, and after a few dates, the two of you decide to make it official. Months later everyone starts whispering and wondering and asking when the two of you are going to get engaged. He finally pops the question, and you, of course, scream yes and change your Facebook status to “engaged” and post a picture of your new diamond. After everyone’s exclamations of congratulations, they immediately want to know when the wedding will be.
Your honeymoon isn’t even over yet when family members start dropping hints about having kids. And while you are still pregnant with your first child, people start asking how many more kids you hope to have.
What’s next? What’s next? What’s next?
It’s never-ending and dizzying to think about. Sometimes, everything in life feels as though it’s focused on the “what’s next” mentality. If you’re not careful, your life can start to resemble a rat race. As soon as you’ve reached the end of one tiny maze, the “wall” opens, and you realize there is an entirely new race to run. It’s exhausting. We reach one stage of life — earn a degree, get married, or have a baby — then the finish line moves, and we need to keep running. There’s no time to each the cheese. Living life this way means there is no time to sit and enjoy the season of life you’re in, because your eyes are always focused on what’s to come.
There is a better way. There is a way to live this life and fully enjoy the moment. We can wake up to how fragile and fleeting this life is in comparison to eternity and make our days memorable and our relationships important.
We can sit in the moment — the today — look around, and be grateful for what we have without wishing for the next season of life.
As Better Life Bags was growing, podcasts had begun popping up left and right. In these early days of podcasts, I was asked to be a guest on quite a few. And no matter who was interviewing me, one thing never failed. After hearing the story of my hobby getting bigger, the hiring of Nadia, the leather being added to the bags, the hiring of more women, and my realization that this was an actual business, one of the last questions of the podcast would always be: “So, what’s next for Better Life Bags?”
I realize this was a genuinely curious question and perhaps fair to ask a person who runs a business that needs to keep growing and changing in order to thrive. But, honestly, I never quite knew the answer to that question. And I wondered why the answer mattered so much. Why did everyone want to know? It seemed to minimize all the stories I had just shared. The “what’s next?” always sounded as though I hadn’t done enough already. As if starting a business, navigating taxes, and hiring women from our under-resourced neighborhood wasn’t enough. That there had to be something more. Another goal to reach. Another race to run. Another definition of success.
Maybe that’s the problem. Everyone’s definition of success skews the conversation. I had felt very successful in transitioning a hobby into a business and was so proud to have fifteen skilled women from Hamtramck working at Better Life Bags. Success to me would be maintaining that. Success to someone else might be making $1 million of product per quarter. Success to another might be selling the business for a profit and starting something new. But what if my business never grew beyond these fifteen women in Hamtramck? Would that mean I had failed? I didn’t know the answer to that. So I’d muddle my way through the interview, telling them something I thought they would want to hear.
One day I got tired of it. I got tired of feeding into the lie that we were not okay right where we were. That our fifteen-woman, six-figure business was somehow mediocre compared with others around us. And my answers to those frequently asked questions changed.
“You know,” I’d quietly start out, “if we remain exactly the same size for the next twenty years, I’ll consider that a success. Even if we get smaller but still invest well in the people God has put in our company, we will be winning. We don’t have big plans to grow or lots of money invested in marketing campaigns. We are simply doing our best to follow God’s leading and step into the opportunities He sends our way — your podcast being one of them!”
The podcaster would wholeheartedly agree, and I hoped my message of being okay where you are would reach the heart of someone listening. Growth does not always equal success. Sometimes the best plan for your dreams — and even your business — might be to stay the same size you are now. Or — gasp! — even get smaller.
The Bible instructs us in 1 Thessalonians 4 to lead a quiet life — to mind our own business and work with our hands.
This is extremely hard to do when today’s world of social media is shouting at us that big is better than small and explosive growth is better than growing slowly.
I’ve learned along the way that it’s not about the destination. It’s not about the finish line or checking off the final task on the list. The real living happens in the journey of getting there. The lessons, hardships, challenges, and celebrations of today are the moments we are asked to enjoy — to be present for.
I went into my daughter’s room the other night and leaned over her bed to kiss her goodnight. She put her hands up and grunted while scrunching up her face and turning it from me. It was clear that she didn’t want a goodnight kiss from me. I stood back up and gently rebuked her. “No. We don’t do this. We don’t know when this might be the last night we will see each other. We have to take all the opportunities to say ‘I love you’ and give out hugs and kisses to people we love. It’s not worth the risk to play these games.”
Her face turned toward me as she realized for the first time that this life is temporary.
“You mean you’re going to die tonight?” she asked with tears pooling in her eyes.
“We don’t know, little love. We don’t know when our last moments together will be, so we have to really live out the ones we know we have — the ones right now.”
I lay down in her bed and held her until she fell asleep, inhaling the smell of her hair and watching her chest rise and fall with each breath. I counted the freckles on her cheek and noticed the way her eyelashes curl up when her eyes are closed. This was my moment with her — I was guaranteed this one but not the next. We are not guaranteed tomorrow.
No one has modeled this more than my friend Ashley. We lived in the same apartment complex as her and her husband, Josh, when we lived in Savannah. Wanting to join our mission to invest in the people of Hamtramck, they moved up to Michigan a year after we did. She was there with Better Life Bags in the corners of my house since the beginning. Our kids would play together in Jonah’s bedroom while Ashley and I finished packaging orders. She would answer as many customer emails as she could, becoming our first design helper.
Our lives were so connected here in Hamtramck. We often clung to each other as one of the only familiar-looking faces in the city. We ate chocolate-chip-cookie cake on her birthday, devouring it all in my tiny living room before Fat Tuesday was over and we would start our fast from sugar for the next forty days. She would make Starbucks runs to the closest location twenty minutes away and bring coffee back to enable us to work late into the evening together. And we would hit the McDonald’s drive-through in town for dinner before heading back into the workshop to answer emails and to ship more orders.
One day Ashley and Josh sat Neil and me down on our couch and told us they were moving back to Georgia. Things weren’t working out for them here, and they needed to go back. They were so far from family. The winters were so cold. The jobs for Josh were lacking. But mostly, they felt a pressing need from God to move home. We would soon find out why.
I was so sad. Sad to be losing my friend. Sad to be losing friends of my children. Sad to be losing a chapter of Better Life Bags.
A few months after Ashley and her family settled back in humid — but beautiful — Savannah, Georgia, I got an email from her with the subject line “Cancer.”
Her John. Her five-year-old John had just been diagnosed with cancer. And not the good kind — as if any kind can be good. It became a matter of prolonging his life until a cure could be found — which was hopefully soon. The cure wasn’t found in time, and we said goodbye to John in October 2018, one week before I gave birth to Gavin. Death and birth all within seven short days. It was a lot for me to process, and I imagined that Ashley was reeling.
As we’ve talked together in these recent months after losing John, remembering his life and visiting the places in Michigan that he loved, I’ve been reminded again that this life is temporary. Half of Ashley’s heart now lives in Heaven, while she continues to put one foot in front of the other here on earth. But she calls herself “one of the lucky ones.” She wrote this in a Facebook post:
When John was diagnosed in June 2016, something in me broke. It was a very good and necessary breaking. My ultimate worst fear had come true. My son was nowhere near perfect. He was so sick, and God used his disease to surely plant my hope elsewhere. My hope is not in my kids, their abilities, or their futures. The dreams that I used to dream for our kids and our family now seem so futile. This world and all its desires are passing away, and I’m so grateful for God — the dream crusher — who uses these hard life circumstances to train us. Those of us with sick kids just might be the lucky ones in light of eternity.
Troubles really are light and momentary in this life. This is a short ride that we are on… While we are grateful and take pictures along the way, we remember who God is, what He has done, and what He is capable of doing again. He is doing miracles every day that have nothing to do with neuroblastoma. Cancer is His useful tool. And while we wanted God to heal our son’s body so much, we need Him to heal our sick hearts so much more. Have I ever said this? GOD IS GOOD.
Excerpted with permission from A Better Life by Rebecca Smith, copyright Rebecca Smith.
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Today is challenging for so many of us. But today is what we have! Today is all we are promised by God. Let’s cherish it! Come share your thoughts with us on our blog. We want to hear from you! ~ Devotionals Daily