Putting Meaning and Purpose Into (Hard) Life

The theme for Hannah’s Junior High Dance this year is 90s fashion. I thought that it would be easier to just buy fabric and send it to our dressmaker rather than browsing online or sending the husband and daughter to look for 90s cocktail dress in the malls. I graduated from college at the turn of the 90s decade and wore a very shiny black and silver dress with puffy sleeves. My mother borrowed it from our neighbor whose daughter then worked in Japan as an entertainer. But then, Hannah’s dress requirements excluded dark colors and only allowed pastel ones. Since my daughter is endowed with the Filipino brown skin like a perfectly toasted bread (well, not quite), we had limited choices. We settled for a very light peach satin fabric which Felix bought at our favorite shop, Carolina’s House of Lace.

I used metallic gold and other metallic paints in painting this rose.

I used metallic gold and other metallic paints in painting this rose.

It’s also a good thing that Hannah’s school, although one of the few fine international schools in the country, is a school that doesn’t promote luxury or sexy dresses for its students, two things that we ourselves avoid like the plague, being Christians. Also, in keeping with a modest and simple Christian life, it is already a given that I will not commission an expensive fashion designer, or dressmaker for that matter, to make my daughter’s dress. So, as usual, the fabric was sent to a sister in Christ who also happens to be a humble dressmaker.

When the dress was finished though, it looked too simple and unattractive. It was just plain peach all over, like pale lips. Even Hannah, whose taste is really simple and who doesn’t have a fashionista bone in her body, found it plain and boring. But rather than toss it away and buy one from the mall, I thought of ways of embellishing it. At dawn the next day, I had my solution. Before the day ended, Felix had gone back to Carolina’s to buy a lovely appliqué. And because it was my idea and there was no other who could do it, I took in the task of laborious needlework.

Now you have to understand that my illness makes me constantly dizzy and there are times it’s hard to focus. I also have overall body weakness. My legs, arms, and hands are not strong, so much so that I cannot carry more than a glass of water (and that with both hands) or cannot clip my own nails.

For days I labored with the needlework of Hannah’s dress, sewing the appliqué into the sleeves cascading down beyond the waist. Every leaf and vine and around every petal. One time I got so tired that I went through a suffering bout once again. But when I had recovered, I went back to it again, like a soldier that waxes bold with every wound sustained.

Felix warned me of exhausting myself and suffering in the process, but I told him that I wanted to do it. I needed to do it. With my ailing life, I cannot do things that most mothers normally do. In fact, as a sick person who lives on this earth, there are so many things that I am unable to do. My life is not normal. And because of that, I want that the little things that I could actually do, I would do it with my whole heart, even when it involves sacrifice. Maybe especially so. Then that would be more meaningful.

I told Felix, with a crack in my voice, that I want to perform my role as a wife, a mother, and a Christ follower to the best of my limited ability and strength and lots of God’s grace. It is only through it that my life, no matter how hard and limited and not normal, finds purpose and meaning.

Two posts ago, I wrote about life’s ultimate purpose and meaning, and that is knowing, receiving, and living in God’s love and being one with Him in spirit. But that truth needs to be translated into daily life. How does it look like woven into the individual threads of our ordinary moments and days?

When I was well and strong many years ago, finding purpose and meaning to life was easy. I embarked on a career that was my life’s dream and put up my own company. To the strong, valiant and meaningful pursuits are all possible. But not to the weak. The physically weak. Like me.

I have read many of Ms. Joni Eareckson Tada’s books especially her autobiographies and had frequently visited her website and I have observed that she has accomplished so much, maybe more than a strong and healthy person could ever have. And for me, that’s not too hard to analyze. Although she doesn’t mention it in any of her books, I understand her need to find meaning, purpose, and fulfilment in her life. I understand that very much. When one is an A-1 person, the desire and need to make one’s life meaningful, one that leaves a mark, are great.

Joni is an A-1 person and she is also a quad. But she worked so very hard to put meaning and purpose to her life. Never mind that she’s a famous Christian author, founder and CEO of her organization, Joni and Friends, and an accomplished artist (she paints holding the brush between her teeth). But she also does gardening (I imagine she supervises the gardener) and many other pursuits.

It’s the same with me. No, I’m not following Joni’s footsteps (or wheelchair marks). I also want to pour meaning and purpose into my life even if I am homebound. I didn’t plan in writing two books and blogging, or learning to paint with watercolors, or learning to bake. I just followed my heart and ended up there. Then I realized that, yes, maybe that’s the heart of the weak and disabled: they want their life to matter in spite of.

So, they work harder than the strong no matter how hard it is.

When I was in high school, I had a favorite quotation and it somehow guided me through college and beyond.

“The secret of life is not just to live, but to have something worthwhile to live for”.

(I’m sorry but I have forgotten the source).

We live for God. But that is translated into countless, manifold ways. We may do it through our roles as mother, wife, friend, writer/blogger, artist, sister, daughter, neighbor, employer, co-worker, and so on. Whatever role we play, we want it to be meaningful and with purpose. Especially – eternal purpose.

Hannah's dress and the appliqué I sewed onto it.

Hannah’s dress and the appliqué I sewed onto it.

By the time I finished Hannah’s dress, I couldn’t lift my left arm. It was limp and shaking from its socket. Sacrifices. Maybe they bring the best meaning to life.

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