The Gift of Adversity
One of the greatest gifts of my life was to be born into humble conditions. Like so many, my family experienced numerous trials throughout my childhood. The two big ones included the loss of a young sister who drowned and a bankruptcy. Things seemed to go downhill from there. In addition to my family’s challenges, I was very shy and lacking in confidence. These may not sound like a gifts and, for 26 years of my life, it didn’t feel like they were either, but I’ll get to the good part in a little bit.
As a young teenage girl, I made the mistake of comparing myself to others, focusing on all the things I lacked, lamenting all the unfairness of life, and, sadly, believing that there was nothing I could do about it. I thought it was just our lot in life. My parents did the best they could to deal with the trials that continued to show up, but they struggled to find their own answers and understanding. While we had very little, at least I can say they loved us as much as they could and we always had the basic necessities of life.
I had a couple of girlfriends in high school, as well as a great young women’s leader, who helped me to become more outgoing, drawing me out of my shyness and into a little more confidence and self-worth. But, I still felt a lack. If I wanted nice clothes, a yearbook, a class ring or anything else that wasn’t a necessity, I’d have to pay for it myself. I learned early on to be self-reliant. I began working at the age of 16, in a city sixteen miles from my small town. I worked full-time throughout my junior year and part of my senior year. My first few paychecks went towards the purchase of the only car I could afford, a 1971 Chevrolet Impala (thanks, Dad . . . I really wanted the red Ford Mustang!) for $700 to get me around. Mercifully, my mom traded me her 1973 Chevy Vega for the Impala (thanks, Mom).
When I was 17, my parents made the difficult decision to move from Arkansas to Texas to once again start over and, hopefully, find better work. I initially elected to stay in Arkansas with a nice family to finish out my senior year of high school, however, after a month, I missed being with my family terribly, so in the middle of my senior year, I chose to move down to Texas to be with them. Attending a new, much-larger, and more affluent high school was challenging and a far cry from my small-town high school, but I managed to get through those five months, finding a few good friends along the way.
Following graduation, I could see no way to get through college, so I didn’t even try. (In hindsight, I realize I could have applied for, and likely would have received, financial support, but those thoughts now come from a much different perspective that I didn’t have at the time.) However, I did get a full-time job as a secretary and an apartment with a couple of friends. One thing I did have was the hope of marrying a nice young man and having a family of my own one day.
Shortly after I turned 20, I did marry a young man that I really loved. In retrospect, our courtship wasn’t ideal, but I just didn’t have the maturity to see that at the time. He was from a similarly challenged family, but we believed that, together, we could find happiness and success. I thought our life was good. We had some difficult moments together, but that’s to be expected, isn’t it? I truly loved him and thought he loved me, so we decided to start our family. It took a year and a half to get pregnant, but we were soon blessed with a beautiful daughter and, two years later, a darling son. What a joy parenthood was for us. Though raising children brings new challenges, I felt we were so blessed. I thought we had it all. I realize now, I had tied up all of my self-esteem in my marriage and this family we’d created together. We had financial struggles and didn’t always see eye to eye, like many young couples. Sure, we both had our own personal insecurities and issues to deal with, but I was happy to have someone to share my life with. So I was not prepared for what happened next.
When our youngest was just 6 months old, my husband made a series of choices that disappointed and hurt me. But, I loved him and was willing to work through this with him. He agreed we could work things out. I wanted our family to be together and I thought we were going to be ok. However, within two months, he decided he couldn’t do it, that life with me was no longer what he wanted. This was the beginning of a long and difficult road. I found myself alone with our two children under the age of 3 and still in diapers. I was struggling physically, emotionally, and financially. I was heartbroken and disillusioned. In short, I was miserable. I didn’t want this to be happening. I didn’t want to be divorced, but my husband’s choices and change of heart offered no hope for reconciliation.
With no college education, I found a job making only $20,000 a year in downtown Dallas, an hour’s drive from my home. Although my employer loved my work ethic, having had no children of his own just yet, he couldn’t understand the challenges of a single mom and he would often point out how frustrating it was for him and the rest of the department to have to deal with those few days that I was late, had to leave early, or call in sick. He simply did not understand. My mother worked and could not help. I had no one to rely on. To make matters worse, when the divorce was final, I was left with $17,000 in debt. On top of everything else, I was in a desperate financial situation and could not see how I could possibly get out of it. It seemed I had so many things working against me.
Another challenge was that, in my early twenties, I had developed some unusual health problems, not typical for a person of my age and had spent several years dealing with those issues as well. Now, physically spent and emotionally distraught, I felt alone and in despair. I would sob in my bedroom as I prayed. I would talk and cry to anyone who would listen, trying to reconcile how this could have happened to me. I was dealing with so many different issues that I became overwhelmed and didn’t know what to do about it. My upbringing hadn’t prepared me for this. While I had been raised with good values and principles for which I am eternally grateful, in that moment, I simply didn’t know how to apply them to my situation, especially with this victim mentality I had inherited.
The problem was that I was viewing my experiences through my own custom-made lenses. These lenses were how I perceived everything in my life and they were created by me according to the beliefs I’d accepted and how I had processed the experiences I’d had so far throughout my life. Whether these perceptions were true or false, right or wrong, supportive or non-supportive, they were mine and they were influencing how I saw everything and everyone in my world. As a result, I felt beat up. I felt betrayed. I felt small. I felt cheated. I felt helpless and hopeless. Through these lenses, I couldn’t see how things could be any worse and I certainly couldn’t see how they were going to get better. And so I lamented. I blamed. I complained. I justified. I talked and talked about how unfair it was and how it wasn’t my fault, or worse, I debated . . . was it my fault? I told my sad story to anyone who would listen so that they could validate that it was, indeed, true! I had been dealt a terrible hand!
As a result of this victim mentality, I felt like I was probably looked upon as that “poor woman” at church that people would talk about or feel sorry for. They might even wonder what I did to bring this on myself. Please understand that these were MY perceptions, MY limiting beliefs, MY insecurities. Perhaps some did feel this way or perhaps no one did. It’s possible others’ thoughts of me were truly kind, sympathetic, and loving. It doesn’t matter. What matters is that, at this stage of my life, I had created these thoughts in my own mind. The truth is, I didn’t know how to love, support, and comfort myself. It would be much later before I began to understand that it was these [my own] thoughts–likely encouraged by negative influences–that were beating me down into shame and misery, keeping me rooted in victim mentality–a mentality that offered no hope for something better!
The Aha! Moment That Changed My Life
Appropriately, I started looking for hope through prayer and good literature. One day, I was inspired to buy the book The Power of Positive Thinking by Norman Vincent Peale and, while reading, I had what I call my “light bulb” or “Aha!” moment, which has become a defining moment of my life!
Trudy, you can be divorced and miserable OR divorced and happy . . . it’s YOUR choice!
As much as I didn’t want to be divorced, the fact remained that I WAS divorced. It was a simple fact that could not be changed. But, in this moment, I finally realized that happiness IS a choice–regardless of my circumstances! I saw that my negatively-influenced thoughts were cheating me out of LIVING . . . with hope, happiness, peace, and joy and all that might be created from those states of being!
I decided, from that point forward, that I was going to BE HAPPY. This wasn’t easy, given my current state of affairs, but it was such a relief to know that I didn’t have to CHOOSE suffering just because my circumstances were difficult.
A New Empowered Life
- I began to view my life differently, taking charge of every aspect.
- I stopped telling the old, sad stories.
- I chose to replace negative thoughts with positive thoughts.
- I started speaking optimistically to those around me.
- I created positive expectations for my future.
- I posted supportive quotes all over my apartment.
- I made a dream poster.
- I wrote out a vision for my future.
- I started believing I was worthy of blessings!
My situation didn’t turn around instantly, but within three years, my life had transformed:
- Through word of mouth, I was offered a new career as a sales rep where my income tripled in my first three years.
- I was able to purchase a new car.
- I won a sales contest that enabled me to buy some new furniture.
- I could finally spend $100 at the grocery store without worrying.
- After sharing my hope of finding the right home for us, a friend told me of a friend that was looking for someone to immediately assume the loan on their cute little house on a cul-de-sac. They required with no money down, all I had to do was take over payments. It was ideal!
- This brought us to in a new city where we could start fresh, where my children would be enrolled in a highly regarded school district, and finally, where I was to meet my future husband.
- Most importantly, I was learning to transform negative into positive. I was learning to love myself, to grow in self-worth, to set healthy boundaries with others, to expect good things to happen, and to empower myself to grow in knowledge and truth.
Moving Forward in Faith
It has taken time to master the principles and techniques of living a happy and healthy life, but it has been a joyful journey. It’s not that my challenges are fewer now, nor have they ever been, but in changing how I view them, I am enabled to embrace challenges with strength and grace. I have learned important lessons and gained precious insights. The greatest gift has been in learning the principles, tools, and techniques to enable one to master their own thoughts and thought processes, something no one else can do for us, but that we must choose to do for ourselves.
The gift of adversity is a topic I will address throughout my writings, but suffice it to say that the challenges I had as a youth and as a young, divorced mother propelled me to find answers that I may have never searched for otherwise. Experience has taught me that challenges and trials are just opportunities for growth. These are just a few of the principles that I will share along the way.
Thank you for taking a moment to join me on my journey. I want you to know that I believe you are special. You are important. You bring something to this world that no one else could. If you know what that is, then great! The principles and tools I share will support you in fulfilling your purpose.
If you are one of the many who don’t know your purpose or that you are special, then you are also in the right place! I ask you to place your faith (or, at least, hope) in my belief that it is true until you have developed your own knowledge and faith that you are amazing and special and irreplaceable!
Join me as I share insights, tools, and techniques that will help you find peace in your life, master the principles of happiness, and become the creator of your own story! Soon, you’ll learn the principles that can help YOU find happiness, regardless of your circumstances.
Click here to begin the Lighten Up! Series