There are going to be times and seasons in life when it feels like no matter which way you turn there is no right way to go. It seems like quite often when one stress-producing problem occurs, it is followed rapidly by several more. It can start to feel like you are drowning in your personal sea of problems and you cannot see any possible way out. The hurt and fear and stress you feel absorb and overcome you. When I was homeless I was overwhelmed with feelings of worthlessness and concerns for my daughter Maddy. My mind would constantly dart from problem to problem, issue to issue. I hate conflict and fighting and yet I found myself drawn into one battle after another, some of which had to do with my divorce; but I also had to deal with “Church” people judging, criticizing, kicking me, and forgetting I had been their friend. In addition, I was searching for a new job which would pay me a living wage at least and allow me to see a reason for having a Masters degree. I thought that was how life was going to be forever and the bleakness of that threatened to sink me. I couldn't eat. I couldn't sleep. I couldn't think straight. I couldn't pray.
I learned a lot from that time in my life. One lesson I took away is: I can’t fix everyone. It doesn't matter how good my intentions are or even how much I pray - I cannot fix broken people. Much of the stress and pressure I was under was brought on by my mistaken belief I could fix people. Then, to top that off, people would call me or text me or send me a message on Facebook and unload their problems on me. And I would try to help and be supportive, but really, there was nothing in me for them. I was at a point where every emotional resource I had I was using for myself and Maddy. Some “friends” were angered by that. I let them go from my life, which was hard. I hate to let people go, especially when I don’t know if they have seen God’s hand in my life. But I learned I can’t fix them all.
Another lesson I learned is: sometimes you have to walk away from a fight. That was hard on so many levels. For one thing, the people who were attacking me were wrong and I really wanted them to see that. For another, some of them owed me something in one way or another. Walking away was like giving up on what was rightfully mine - and giving them what they wanted. But I came to understand being sane is more important than being right. And, even though I was struggling mightily, I asked God to help me forgive them and I stepped out of the arena.
I also learned not to try to look at the big picture. It really doesn’t help when pressures crush in from all sides. I had started applying and interviewing for jobs when I graduated with my Masters Degree and nine months later, when I was homeless, emotionally a wreck, physically beat down and mentally overwhelmed, I was still applying and interviewing for jobs. Years later, I found myself still applying and interviewing for jobs. Had I known how long the job search was going to take, I might have totally despaired. It is truly important to only look at the day you are in, the moment you are experiencing, and to focus on only that moment. Worrying about and fearing a bleak future will drag you down even more and I found life doesn't stay pressure-filled forever.
I discovered during times of great stress you have take care of yourself. You have to get rest. When I couldn't sleep (and often I couldn't) because my mind wouldn't shut off - I tried taking some melatonin. It is natural, and helped me relax. As a child, I was a terrible insomniac. During that time I had to learn how to turn off my brain. I would force myself to imagine nothing but a blank white wall. Whenever another thought crept in, I forced it out and focused on the white wall. Often, even with melatonin, that was the only way I could fall asleep. Also, I forced myself to get exercise during the day to help tire my body out. I know stress feels utterly exhausting, but I would always be surprised at how much better I felt when I got some exercise. A break from it all is also important. I was able to get away for a few days here and there, and I did. When I needed a break, but couldn’t get away I took time out to watch movies or read good books. Novels, not self-help books. Anything to give my mind a break from dealing with the constant stress.
Definitely, one of the most important things I learned during that period of my life, is the importance of true, praying friends and family. I have been a person who prays daily for most of my adult life. I was frustrated to find I could not pray for long periods of time anymore. My prayers would come in short, desperate bursts and I ended up crying in frustration many times. Enter friends and family. I know there were people in my life who were praying daily for me and for Maddy. Even if there is only person out there bringing my name before God, He hears and responds. I never felt God was not with me, but I often found I couldn't control my thoughts enough to focus on prayer. He understood. My friends and family stepped in.
Finally, it is important to never ever EVER give up hope. Life did not go back to how it was before, but it has eventually gotten to be something “normal”. I realize people love me for me and no problem I face is so great I cannot get through it. Same for you - you can and you will. There was a point in time when I doubted I would ever be allowed to serve God again. I marvel at where I am today: poised and ready to receive the food truck and launch The Torch. I want the trials of my life to provide hope for others. Keep going. Lean on friends. Let go of the things that drag you down. Don’t try to look too far down the road. Take breaks. Exercise. Rest. And never forget you are loved, valuable, and important and this world needs you.
Today I am praying for everyone out there walking in that dark tunnel. I've got your back. You are loved.