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The Unexpected Gift

When I wrote this article in 2011, I heard from several readers who told me they appreciated it and how it encouraged them.  I still pass it along to people today who I believe it may encourage.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

 

After moving to Long Island this year, so much had changed for me and with those changes came undeniable growth.

 

Yesterday I decided to do something I loathe – shop. I haven’t really had that “Christmas Spirit” for about three years now. In dealing with a death in the family, a divorce, a change in careers, and an illness a few years ago, I had been in a state of limbo.

No longer do I have the “victim” mentality of the world being unfair, no longer do I feel defeat as life has thrown quite a few punches my way. I had written a poem during the hardest time of my life that helped me see things differently. I had written that as I had been knocked down continuously from “a storm” that I was able to stand once again. I shook my fist at the storm and dared it to strike again. That was a pivotal time in my life.
I remember going through the storm frightened, scared and wounded. I was literally trampled as I had never been before. I really thought I had nothing left inside. My self-esteem was extremely low. I was drained and weak. I had let someone beat my spirit down to “nothing” (and that is about as close to death as you can get without actually physically dying). But the day I wrote that poem was the day I shed the protective cocoon that I had wrapped all my brokenness in, as I had hoped to never feel that pain again. That day, instead of trying to escape pain or pray it away; instead of asking “why me” – I began to embrace the pain as a gift.
I had to see all of the tragedy that happened in my life all at once as something “good”. If you have ever been “sucker punched” in your life before – when you least expect to have your whole world fall apart, you know that seeing it as a “good thing” is quite a challenge. Most of the time we fight against hardships and injustice, but when we have done all that we know that is right- yet we suffer through circumstances beyond our control – fighting is futile. 
When I changed my whole perspective and took off my bloody cloak; when I had looked at the horror of debris at my feet… I knelt down and gathered it in my arms. There was nothing to save. I knew God felt my pain. I knew he cared. I began to take all of the broken things in my life one by one and I examined my part in it. I needed to know how the brokenness occurred when I had done everything I knew that was right to the best of my ability. No, not perfect but I did my best.

It was a little different from feeling blameless and asking “why me”. I had to dig through the rubble a little deeper. Beyond the outward things that everyone else could see, beyond even “my heart”. I knew that I have always had a good heart and that I genuinely cared about people – so much that I would sacrifice whatever I could for them. But what about caring for me? Did I ever care about me? In Sunday school I was taught to put myself last. Throughout church sermons, I had heard that we are not to think higher of ourselves than we ought. But that is where I got it all wrong and took those words too far.

In my marriage, I “excused” the first lack of respect from my husband and after a while it became normal. I learned to excuse and accept bad behavior. I thought surely God would know my heart and it would turn out okay… because I was “doing what was right” in giving all that I had.

As I picked up the shattered pieces, knowing this was not the first time that I had experienced pain; this was definitely the worst and I did not want to experience it again. I lost monetary things, sentimental things … but more than that I lost “me”. How can people, male or female, lose themselves so completely? How do you get yourself back? A victim is always a victim. If I expressed to others all that I lost, who could change it? I could blame the obvious and have many empathize with me, but what about what was ‘not obvious’ – even to me? The fact that I allowed myself to get in the situation that I did was “not taking care of me.” I still had a “good heart” but what was that going to do (except put me back where I was all over again in the future). Would I become jaded?

All of a sudden, these little broken pieces lying at my feet began to shine and sparkle! I began taking each piece and polishing it, caring for it and trying to make it new. I was amazed to see how the pieces started to fit together. As I put my heart into the brokenness around me, as I cared for the pain and focused on the shining gold that I was seeing – I saw that my pain was truly a gift! I had lost everything… but the pain was mine.

Oh, I didn’t wallow in my pain…I did not carry my pain around as baggage or worse… as “my identity”. I privately took my pain in my arms and I loved it. I loved me. I began to see my worth after feeling worthless. What I had was gold and no one else could possibly understand. What I had was priceless!

I was dealing with more pain than just my divorce, but what I was learning in regards to marriage is – here in the South it seems we are brought up to believe marriage completes us. I was on a magnificent journey in finding that you must be complete before you can have a good marriage. When I first married at 18, I had not had the time to grow up and experience who I was or would become. My life was not developed yet; I gave my life to my husband and my children. With the next marriage, I still had the same mentality – to give “all of me” to the person I loved. His friends became my friends; his family became my family. Life was about him and I was so in love that I thought I enjoyed being the “little woman”. This woman became smaller and smaller until she was invisible.

Yes, the last three years I have experienced healing and a major amount of growth. I tried to date after two years but it never really got out of the starting gate. I realized that a relationship at that time was not where my needs would be met. My time on Long Island was not about me running away or about starting over… I had been starting over already. LI was about me growing up, taking risks and learning about confidence. It was about being brave and stepping out in this world. I always loved a saying that a friend of mine had in a frame – “A ship is safe in the harbor… but that is not what ships were made for.”

As people are shopping for loved ones at Christmas time and going to Christmas parties, you would think I would get depressed once again. For three years now, I have not had my own home. I have shared rent or stayed with others, but before Christmas comes yet again I just may be in my own “home”. I don’t have one stitch of furniture but just to be in my own place is such a gift! As much as I loved living with Mama after my Papa had died and also staying with friends that truly cared about me, there is just something about having your own place even if it is an apartment.

I know that Christmas is hard for so many. This past Sunday I went to see a Christmas play in which Susan’s daughter Alex had a part. One of the children sang lines to a song, “Being alone at Christmas is the saddest thing of all.” Three years ago, I would have had tears streaming down my cheeks. I remember a few times during ‘my storm’, trying to visit churches and hearing “family” or “marriage” preached about and it sent me flying out of the church doors in tears. This year, my face was beaming with pride as I watched Alex recite her lines in the play; as I hugged friends that I hadn’t seen for a while and as I went home to my best friend’s house in which I am so grateful to be staying.

I have acquired gifts in abundance these last few years; each person and life’s lesson to come into my life is very special to me; but I will never forget the gift of pain and I never WANT to forget it. It was that pain that gave me strength and wisdom. It was that pain that I thought was going to kill me – that taught me to really live.

If you feel that you are at your rope’s end, don’t give up hope. What we see with our small vision is not always what it truly is. What I thought was something terrible in my life ended up becoming a valuable gift… an unexpected gift I will treasure all of my days.

God bless everyone during this Christmas season. Pay attention to “all” of the gifts placed at your feet.

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