I get asked every day how I am doing with all that is happening in our family. A little question that people sincerely want an answer to. I share that I am seeing God work in all things and that it is an adventure-of-sorts that we are on. I talk about how every week, I am traveling back and forth from Wisconsin to Illinois to take care of things for my parents, and how my brother and sister are also making the same trips from where they live in Wisconsin. I explain that I have been spending hours on the phone some days with doctors, nurses, my parents, or whoever needed to clear things up for my parents’ care.

Recently, while answering that question, I realized that I wasn’t actually answering “the” question. The question I was answering is “what” are you doing? Now that; that is a completely different question than the one I was answering.

The truth is, the “what” is easier than the “how.” If I focus on the “what,” then I convince myself that I am making progress. That each appointment is getting me somewhere. Each week’s medication filled is a week closer to something and we are on our way. That the trip back and forth to Wisconsin is a mission, and I am filling the needs of my parents whom I love dearly. If I am focused on the doing, each thing we arrive to on-time for my kids is a win.

“How” I am doing opens more doors of the heart. It makes me put aside the “what” for long enough to wonder, “How am I doing?” The “how” reveals a kind of indescribable pain. It is not on the surface – it is under…beneath the surface. It is a pain that is not easily accessed. It is not even always accessible. It requires something of me. It requires my presence in it long enough to see the truth clearly.

After I had reflected, I had another opportunity. God always give us opportunities to practice what He is teaching us.

“How are you doing?” A complete stranger that heard what is going on with my family asks me.

I happen to have this one brave moment. I wait just a little bit longer to answer the question. I am present with the question and the truth. The tears stream down my cheek and I whisper, “I don’t know.”

And there it is – I don’t know “how” I am.

Things are moving fast. The “doing” can overpower the “being” if I am not careful. The feelings with this kind of unknown are very uncomfortable for me. I want to know, and so, if I am not careful, I can fill the gap of not knowing with more doing and lose myself even further.

And so I sit in it. I sit in the pain and discomfort of not knowing.

The stranger hugs me and says some kind words. She does not try to fix it. It was as if God sent her to remind me of the permission I have to just “be” and not do. She let me be okay with not knowing how I am doing.

And when I don’t have to know, I find relief. Relief that nothing I do is going to fix it all. Relief brings a reminder to re-set myself and reconnect with what is important. The reconnection is what it takes for me to know how I am doing.

There is a reason airlines tell you to put on your own oxygen mask before assisting those around you. I see that visual and I remember my oxygen mask. My oxygen mask is spending time on water, so we spend the weekend at my parents’ house enjoying the lake. My oxygen mask is quiet space,  so I cancel a days worth of meetings to be quiet and not be needed. This time around, I learn my oxygen is un-rushed time with my family, so I make plans to breath it in through all the demands. We leave late and we don’t stress…because we are together.

“How” I am doing is much slower than “what” I am doing, and I feel more at home here. I am thankful for the brave moment that allowed me to see the truth. And I am thankful for the stranger who gave me permission to not know.