I received an early birthday gift last week, though the giver has no idea what she handed me that evening.

A new friend and I were having coffee. She had just moved to the area and was feeling homesick for the West Coast. And I, of course, have been living in the midst of this great restlessness. And since we didn’t really know each other well, we started from the beginning.

We’re a lot alike, the two of us who on the surface have little in common. Though we were raised in different parts of the country and were born in different decades, we’ve both struggled to find our place in the world, to do big things for God by going far or sacrificing much. And we’ve both wondered if we are settling by doing small everyday things for him in regular jobs and regular lives, where widgets are built and money is made.

Because I didn’t want to monopolize the conversation with the minutiae of me, I used broad strokes, just really putting chunks of color on the canvas. As I shared my life with her that night, I felt in some ways like I was hearing the story for the first time myself.

Seeing my whole life, all 40 years of it, as one picture, I began to notice themes and patterns I hadn’t picked up on before. I realized that my first few years out of college felt too small — I had wanted more. And what I mistakenly thought was a desire to build God’s kingdom was actually a need to build my own. That’s probably why the transition from “secular” work to “sacred” work didn’t pan out for me. There were still too many small things involved.

Then there was the section of the canvas I think of as the shrinking years. When my vision for my life slowly deflated to the size that my ill body could handle. Over a six year period, I had twelve hospitalizations, two stays in a rehab facility, two surgeries, two rounds of radiation, six rounds of chemotherapy. I gave up dreams, quit thinking about the future, and did really small things for Jesus. It was all I could do.

After I had blocked out the landscape for my new friend that night, I noticed a patch of light just beyond the horizon. Slowly I began to understand my present restlessness. This season is not about being discontent or disappointed. I’m surprised.

I can’t believe I am still alive! And not only am I alive, I seem to be well. With a future. And room to dream again.

Soon enough, we finished our chai lattes and left Starbucks. My friend felt a little better about missing home, and I felt a little better about missing out on life.

Neither of our situations had changed, but with the perspective we had given each other, we could look at them a little differently.