For the past 90 days, I have been living life as what-I-would-like-to-call an “in-betweener”. Faced with an expiring student visa and a wedding date in August, I found myself getting on a plane in Edinburgh airport on a grim February afternoon to fly back to the US. I would spend the next 90 days away from the man of my dreams, my friends, my church, and any progress towards securing a job. My life was, in every sense of the word, on hold. My life felt frozen in time. I was in a constant state of limbo. I felt sandwiched in between two phases of my life: graduating from my uni and beginning my future as a married working woman. I dreaded the ever-present question of “So, what are you doing back here?” or “What are you up to these days?” or my personal favourite, “How long do you have to wait for that visa now?”
You have no idea.
As an “in-betweener”, I found life to be somewhat monotonous. My mind and body were dissatisfied and on the brink of disillusionment with everyone and anything. For those first few days of readjusting into life back in America, I was severely unhappy and wondering how one earth I would get through the next 89.
But then came May 29th.
Unlike most days, I did not log into my email a thousand times before dinner. I did not rush to the mailbox each day when the postman drove by at noon. I stopped counting down the days like an advent calendar at Christmastime. That day was the day I had been waiting for since I left what I thought was my entire life back in the lovely town of St Andrews.
Waiting for the rest of your life puts a lot of things in perspective. It revealed to me a thing or two about myself. I was impatient, untrusting, and extremely sceptical. I had placed all of my happiness on whether or not I would get that $2,000 little piece of paper in my passport. It was my ticket to sheer bliss. I needed that little stamp to catch a plane, marry my fiancé, start my first job, and build a life in a foreign country. You can understand why most of the time, I felt desperate.
Waiting also revealed to me another cringe-worthy fact about my personality: I despised people’s consolation. Especially when it was unwarranted.
You’re going to look back on this period fondly.
I think you’re really going to enjoy this season in your life.
It might be nice to have a break from Scotland.
I’ve never been that kind of person who looks on a difficult situation and rejoices in the suffering. I mean who walks around and thinks, I love how difficult life is right now. I’m learning so much.
Give me a break. Let’s be real. I’ve never been that way “when the going gets tough”.
But if that is you, then please please please let me in on your dirty little secret.
If anything, I found myself taking a series of baby steps. No, not steps. I was crawling. Little by little, I told myself “If I could just get through another day.”
It sounds melodramatic. I mean I wasn’t suffering from a disease. There was no cancer patient in my family. No one had lost a job. But I had lost my source of joy.
At least that’s what I thought.
The funny thing about waiting is that, not only does it reveal to you who you are when the going gets tough, but it gives you a glimpse into the future.
How would I react if things didn’t go according to plan?
How would this affect my future plans?
What if I didn’t get this visa? What if the one thing I have been waiting for the past 90 days doesn’t come to pass and I am left with a plan B. What is my plan B?
Then it hit me. I not only didn’t have a Plan B, but this realisation gave me more anxiety than ever before. I was placing my entire happiness in something that may not come to fruition. More importantly, I was putting my hope in something that was temporary.
I wasn’t content.
My discontentment would have me fast forward the next 90 days as quickly as possible. Discontentment would allow myself to wish away 90 days of my life. Wasting 90 days pining for my life back in Scotland and being downright dissatisfied with everything around me. I would be wasting what could be 90 days of joy.
It was in this moment that I realised how much I was capable of. I had the power to choose joy. I had the ability to be happy, even if I didn’t feel that way. I’m not saying we can choose our emotions. In fact, often we cannot help the way we feel. But we can choose how we act. We can choose how we respond to trouble. We can choose to be content with our circumstances, even when they are not ideal. While my heart was in another time zone and my anxiety was at a record high, I purposefully chose to find something each day that brought me joy. Even if a frozen yoghurt or rays of sunshine was all I could muster, I was determined to find at least one thing each day to be grateful for.
Contentment is a hard lesson to learn, especially when you already suffer from anxiety disorder. But that’s the thing about waiting on life to start up again. It’s easy to be content when life is going according to plan. The trick is being content when things fall apart. I can honestly say that I didn’t waste these past 90 days. The temptation was there. I wanted to grumble, I wanted to throw things, and I wanted to wallow in self-pity. But I knew better. Sure it would have been easier to give into discontentment, but I didn’t just want to get by these past 90 days. I wanted to enjoy them. I wanted to savour them. I wanted to look back on them fondly. I don’t wish I could go back and re-live it all again. I would be lying if I said I did. But I am thankful for what being an “in-betweener” taught me about happiness: we can choose to be joyful. I’m not saying it’s easy, but it’s certainly worth it.
“I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.” Philippians 4:11