Along the Way

My husband knew I loved sunsets.  I would pull over on the side of the road, or drive a few miles out of my way to find the perfect spot to view God’s daily grand finale. I had so many pictures saved on my phone but still didn’t want to miss the opportunity to stop and capture the moment. My husband was a man of few words, but he showed me how much he loved me all the time, in a million little ways.  Last week, he was out of town for work for a few days. One night while he was gone, he pulled over to take this picture of a beautiful sunset over the water and then sent it to me. No words, no text.  Just the picture. It made my heart smile.

The sky was so beautiful and the road so clearly stretched out ahead.  That picture seemed like an advertisement for a movie about a group of friends going off on an adventure.  It seemed like everyone was always looking forward to what came next, to where they were going – focused on a place they were yet to arrive.

I missed my husband and it meant so much that he saw a sunset and thought of me. I studied that picture many times that day, looking at the road disappearing into the corner of the picture. Just like real life, most eyes would naturally follow the middle yellow line along that darkening road reaching out into the distance.  If you looked closer, you could see the tiny flowers growing on the roadside, the tips of the tall grasses dancing atop the rocks, and the ripples in the water.  You could see the darker clouds scattered across the amber sky and the lighter clouds set aglow by the evening sun. Across the river, you could see the strip of land that barely stood above the other side of the river. It was so beautiful, but if your eyes were only fixed on the road; you would have missed all of that.

How many times did we do that?  How many times did we reach for a goal and forget to enjoy the journey? How many times were we in a rush to get somewhere and then once there, realized we missed the best part — the part that was ‘along the way’?

Before I got sick, I did that all the time.  In high school, I prepared for college. In college, I prepared for my career.  In my career, I prepared for the next promotion or position.  Everything I did was a means to something else. Everything I did was to move on to the ‘next thing’ as quickly as possible.  I didn’t have time to look around, I had things to do and places to go.

I arranged my college classes so I could work the most hours.  I approached my boss at work to request additional responsibilities.  I wanted to get as much experience as I could while I was in school so that I would be more prepared.  When I worked as a director at an amazing center in Washington, DC; I signed up for every conference, volunteered for every research study, participated in every peer enrichment program, and took on every community-based opportunity that came across my desk. I wanted to experience as much as I could – you know, because it would get me somewhere some day.

When the kids were little, there were times we started the morning at a soccer game, left the field to head to a birthday party, and then left the birthday party early to get to a baseball game. In the morning, I grabbed snacks, and uniforms, and bags to put the dirty uniforms in once we changed, the clothes and shoes to wear to the birthday party, the baseball uniforms, and of course, the snacks and the lunches and the sunscreen and the first aid kit.  As I sat at the soccer game, I planned the best way to get the kids changed and the easiest route out of the parking lot once we did.  When I got to the birthday party, I worried about the timeline of the party, not wanting to miss too much, but not wanting to leave abruptly to get to the game on time.  When we made it to the baseball game, we were all tired and I was counting down the hours until bath time and bedtime.  My mind replayed the day’s events as I tried to go to sleep.  It was all a blur.  It was all too much. I saw nothing ‘along the way’ because I was too worried about getting where we needed to be.

That was a learning process for all of us. After that season, we realized that two sports was too much.  The kids gave up soccer and focused on baseball. We learned that it was okay to politely decline an invitation when there just wasn’t time.  We cut back on activities and tried not to pack our weekends so tightly.

Once I got sick, my career was no longer my priority.  Opening four centers in 5 years was no longer a career goal. Writing a curriculum was no longer important.  Keeping up with my training business on the side was no longer even an interest.  Now that the centers were closed and my early childhood education career was over, I was saddened by the countless hours, the endless weekends, the stress and anxiety, and the time I invested into a career that I was so willing to give up when I was diagnosed with terminal cancer.  When I think of all the moments I missed with my family, all the things I missed ‘along the way’ during that time, it brought me to tears.

How quickly my priorities changed. How quickly the things that were once so important, faded from view.  How quickly my goals were replaced with more meaningful ones. How quickly life fell into place when I started to intentionally enjoy it.

How sad it was that it took a cancer diagnosis to figure that out….

Both of those situations were extreme. Making adjustments and changing my priorities were easy fixes, but what about the normal day-to-day activities?What about the things we missed because we just weren’t paying attention?

Think about a recent dinner. Did you plate your food and sit down at the table? Did you savor each bite? Or rush through it to get out the door?

Think about the last long drive you took. Did you take the scenic route? Did you notice the trees and the flowers on the roadside? Or did you drive over the speed limit and not see a thing but the car in front of you?

Think about today. Was it a beautiful day? Did you spend some time outside, smelling the fresh air? Did you hear the birds this morning? Was it raining? Did you listen to the rain playing that soothing rhythm on your windows? Or did you spend your day at your desk, on your phone, or stuck in the house?

Did you notice how fresh the bread was on your sandwich? Did you notice how pretty the flowers were in your neighbor’s yard? Did you smell the sweet scent of your child’s freshly shampooed hair? Or did you just go through the motions and get through the day?

Blessings and beautiful things were all around us. We didn’t have to go far to find them. We just needed to stop looking ahead, open our eyes.

When we stopped worrying about where we were going, and focused on where we were, it was amazing what we could find “along the way”.

 

Author: Jennifer Lilley Collins

I'm a Mom, wife, daughter, and friend navigating life with metastatic breast cancer while finding joy in the everyday and spreading hope, love, and inspiration along the way.

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