An Open Letter to the Struggler

Dear Reader,

I have friends who struggle and it breaks my heart. I’m sure you struggle too and my heart goes out to you as well.

I know it is normal to empathize and yearn to help my fellow strugglers but sometimes I want to get on my knees and scream with frustration because I can’t make it better. I cannot miraculously get the strugglers of this world to believe that they are beautiful, that they are worthy, that they are a necessary part of this world, and that they have purpose. I can tell them these things until the world ends but it won’t matter until they begin to actually believe those things about themselves.

Above all else I want to help the strugglers because I have been there. I’ve been in the pit of despair and on my last leg. I’ve felt the world weighing down from above as it crushed me. I have felt the soul sucking pain of loss, abandonment, of being forgotten. There are still nights where all I want to do is crawl under the covers and never wake up because in the midst of it all I feel too tired to move on.

The thing that keeps me going, though, is the fact that I’ve tasted hope.

I’ve seen the brighter days. I’ve overcome exhausting obstacles. I have experienced the light of forgiveness, of letting go. It sure as hell hasn’t been easy and I really hope that I never come off seeming like it is anything short of life’s work to overcome the crap we carry with us every day. But the tastes of joy, of peace, of love, and friendship, they keep me motivated. They keep me fighting. Even when I’m stuck in a valley I know somewhere up the hill there is something worth pursuing and I have the strength to get there.

The crux of it though is the hardest thing to admit and that is this: it’s on us. It is on the individual to make the choice as to whether or not they are going to pursue a new path. It is up to the person to decide if they are going to fight or continue to live with the status quo. I will always remember so clearly the day I was sitting in my chair at church and realized that if I kept doing what I’ve always done, I’d keep getting what I’ve always got, and I was tired of what I was getting.

It wasn’t a friend who made the decision for me. Not my parents or my siblings, and it wasn’t God’s decision on my behalf or any other sense of divine intervention. It was my choice and mine alone and once I made it, everything else could fall into place.

I was sitting in church, during my first year in Southern California, and the pastor got up to speak. He told a story, something he was very good at, and I listened eagerly. He spoke about therapy, how he went to meet his therapist one day and they sat down and started talking. As their conversation went on there came a point where, after the pastor shared his story, the therapist looked at him and said four words,

“It is your fault.”

As a psychology student I was mortified. I felt myself tense up. I wanted to fight for my pastor, and more than that I wanted to fight for the little girl inside of me that objected vehemently to those words. How could the pain I felt be my fault? How could the circumstances of my upbringing which so heavily influenced me be my fault? The bullies, the people who tore me down, how could their actions be any fault of mine?

The pastor continued.

You see, he wasn’t upset about it. He had been at the time, but what the therapist said after the fact made sense. It came down to this: You have to choose to move on. Crap happens. Crap happens every single day of our lives whether it is happening to us or happening to someone else. We can allow the crap to bog us down and make us victims. We can blame the people who have hurt us for our bad habits or our terrible thought processes. We can even blame society for its part in our misery.

But in the end blame isn’t going to change a damn thing.

Waiting for everyone else to change, to apologize, to repent, is stupid. Hoping to control other people’s outcomes and get what is owed to us will just leave us bitterer in the end. As the saying goes, unforgiveness is like taking poison and hoping the other person dies.

Your parents can never parent you the way they should have. You can’t go back in time and change what that boy said to you on the playground that made you feel like you were worthless. It is impossible to erase the harsh words of a teacher who said your work wasn’t good enough, or wash away the feeling of betrayal when a friend left you high and dry when you needed her most. Society will never stop telling you that you aren’t rich enough, smart enough, thin enough, or fashionable enough.

The only thing you can change is how YOU see yourself and others. And that starts with owning up to the fact crap happened but you’re no longer willing to rent out your headspace to it. Tell your father to get the hell out of your head and cover his lies with truth. Tell the image of the bully at school that sits in the back of your mind and laughs at your flaws that he’s done, he’s being evicted. Unfriend the kid on Facebook who makes status updates that make you uncomfortable in your own skin.

Choose to move on. That’s the first step. It has to be the first step. Because anything else we try to do before we choose to really move on is going to fall flat on its face because we’re still clinging blame and bitterness and ignoring our own power to change our status quo.

I’ll end on this note: there are pains that far surpass choosing to move on and I highly encourage people who have been abused, neglected, or otherwise hurt to seek out professional help. Yes, everyone still has to make the choice to change but once the choice has been made you do not have to do it alone. Also find strength in the fact that making the choice to move forward gives you back some of the power over your life that has been taken from you along the way.

Flip those voices in your head the bird and choose to stop letting them be the ones that dictate who you are and how you act. 

Borrowed Thoughts

I was reading an interview with Kerri Caviezel (wife of Jim Caviezel who played Jesus in the Passion of the Christ) and her answer to the last question struck me as profound. In a few paragraphs she manages to sum up a lesson that I am continuing to learn about what it truly means to be in the moment with God and let everything else fall away. You can read the rest of the interview here. 

Q: What is the most valuable lesson you have learned?

A: We have this plan for our life—and it doesn’t include any of the challenges. And yet every life at some point, whether at the beginning, middle or at the end there is some challenge. Suffering is universal. What God asks—He puts us on earth at that special time for a special purpose—we have to be present in that moment, not in the past and not in the future.

And we can’t know these things are going to happen. If we did, we wouldn’t have accepted any of them. But He gives us the grace we need at the time we need and asks us to live in that moment. When I have done that I’ve seen amazing things happen.

We all think we’re supposed to do these amazing things—that they are valuable and important—whatever we’re doing at that time, like “when I get married,” or  “when I have a child.” We focus too much on what we think needs to happen and we lose what we’re supposed to do at that time.

We have three children we adopted. My husband and I used to say that if we had had three or four children like we thought, we might never have chosen to adopt. And we would say to each other, “Can you imagine not having them?” We cannot understand God’s plan for us. It’s too immense.

Just some food for thought.