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Is My Life Just Getting Started? Thoughts on Fulfillment


Back in the summer of 2005, when Gil and I were making plans to return to Tanzania, I got a phone call from the man who had been hired as the new director at Haven of Peace Academy. The elementary school principal had just stepped down, and the director wanted to know if I would be interested in the position. I thought about it a couple of days, sent a few emails back and forth, but never really seriously considered it. We had plans to start our family. I wanted to be a mom.

Now that I actually am a principal at HOPAC, I've thought about that phone call a number of times this year.

These days, I pinch myself because I can't believe that I get to do what I am doing. In some ways, it feels like my life has just gotten started. So this is what fulfillment feels like. I could have been doing this for the last thirteen years. Why did I wait so long?

I think over the previous ten years when I spent the majority of my time with my kids, and how restless I felt during those years. I wasn't the kind of mom who delighted in coming up with crafts and treasure hunts for my little ones. The days often felt like they would never end, and I would count the minutes until nap time so that I could write a blog or work on an on-line class. Being patient and attentive was a deliberate, moment-by-moment, conscious decision. It usually didn't come naturally and I often failed. And to be honest, it didn't feel particularly fulfilling. A lot of the time, it just felt long and boring.

This isn't about the whole debate between working moms and stay-at-home-moms, because I fully understand that it's a nuanced discussion, and for many women, they don't have a choice. But I do wonder--how hard should we run after fulfillment? It's amazing to get there, but is it everything? Should I have said yes to being principal thirteen years ago? Would I have been happier those thirteen years?

Maybe I would have. Adult conversations and building up a school is a lot more fun than wiping spit-up and listening to Dora the Explorer or wrangling a two-year-old while trying to grocery shop. It's a lot more satisfying to tell people I'm a principal than trying to explain that my profession is "mom" or "I help my husband with his job."

But is it everything? Should I have put a greater value on seeking my own fulfillment? That's the question. Was there value in being relatively insignificant and invisible all those years? Was there significance to what I was doing even if it didn't feel that way?

I look back and I think there was. Bringing my kids home was practically a part-time job in itself during those years. In those days, my labor pains happened through hours of Dar es Salaam traffic as I made weekly trips to social welfare offices. It was arduous, but it was worth it. And once they did come home, giving my kids the stability that they craved, spending hours, days, months bonding--all of it was worth it.

And I did do more than just stay home with my kids. I baked endless cupcakes for teenagers, I had the time to help new missionaries get settled, I helped to build up HOPAC--even if it was just behind the scenes. And in those years of restlessness, I learned that wrestling with contentment can be more valuable than years of fulfillment. That in dying to my own desires, I learned to live.

I want to remember that, because I also know that fulfillment is fleeting. Our future in Tanzania is uncertain, and despite how much I love what I am doing, I don't know how long I'll get to do it. It's quite possible that someday in the near future, I'll end up as a stay-at-home-mom again, needing to homeschool my kids. And if that happens, I don't want the thirst for fulfillment to cloud my vision of what is more important.

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