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Lesson # 12: What to do when the going gets tough

It has been my observation that life is a thrilling journey—one that offers vast variety along the way as if the Universe doesn’t want anyone to fall asleep. I believe we all need to be awake on this journey. We want to observe everything, feel everything, be eager to continue to see what’s coming next, and stay on the journey to the end, just to find out how it concludes. But it is not always that easy to do. Sometimes, we don’t like what we see. Other times, we really hate the feelings we have about a life event or two. We get tired of “being jerked around” and we want to end the journey now! But wait, is that some beautiful scenery ahead? Oh wow…I want to see that majestic mountain and endless blue sky in front of me. That is perfect. I can live with that forever. Or so we thought. And just as we get comfortable in our bliss, a scary storm rushes in. Such is life. Change is a part of life. Nothing stays the same.

Change happened to me a lot, too. I never stayed in one place, emotionally or physically, long enough before something exciting (good or bad) happened. In my short marriage of seven years, I had moved at least twelve times. We lived in California (twice), Texas (three times), Florida, Ohio, Iowa, New Jersey (within a train ride from Manhattan), Maryland/Washington DC area (twice), Virginia, and Illinois. We were on a first-name basis with U-Haul. What an adventure that was!

I knew what sudden, frequent change felt like. I became an expert in packing and unpacking. I got used to learning new things all the time. Years later, I was even highly skilled at getting two dogs and a baby ready to hit the road in a snap. I could entertain a fussy baby for days as whenever we drove cross country to a new state. I knew there was a reason why God gave me a creative bent. I’d been caught in a major storm with 75 miles/hour wind and heavy rain while traveling with a forty foot long trailer; and I had been stranded in the middle of nowhere in the wintertime because we blew a tire. I had slept in a truck with a baby and two dogs while my husband was going somewhere to get help because our truck was stuck in the mud. No one could argue that I had lived a colorful life (like those characters in Little House on the Prairie), where danger and excitement were tempered with tender love. But nothing prepared me to face the biggest change ever: one minute my husband was here, the next minute he was gone forever! Just like that.

I don’t have to explain that things were rough for a while. And when the going got tough, there was always the sneaky temptation to end it all. I never told anyone, of course. And I definitely never let it play out, but one time. I actually drove through a red light with my eyes closed! But God must have had a plan for me because no one hit me (well, people honked at me and gave me the finger, but that was about all). I never entertained the thought again no matter how bleak things seemed to be from that point on.

It took me years to realize that what I really needed to do when the going got tough was love myself. But the concept of loving myself and showing compassion toward myself was foreign to me. No one taught me this. I thought that was the job of someone else, like my husband, for instance. I thought that was what family, friends, and relatives were for. Little did I know love was supposed to be an inside job.

How do we begin to love ourselves?

Well, when you love someone, you will pay a lot of attention to that person’s overall well-being including their needs and wants. You will do all that you can to ensure they are taken care of by listening to their fears, pain, and frustration—offering compassion for their struggle and gathering extra help for them if needed. You will recognize their beauty and goodness while accepting their shortcomings. You will forgive their wrongdoings quickly and restore your relationship with them as soon as possible. You will believe in their dreams, trust that they can achieve them and support them all the way. You will not criticize, judge, belittle, shame, or reject them. You will encourage them when they want to give up. You are not ashamed of them no matter what they have done. You will not abandon them. You will give and do what is best for them.

Now pause for a moment. And ask yourself: "Have I loved myself in that way?"

If you have not, what or who are you waiting for? Love yourself first, and the rest of the people you meet will be inspired to follow suit. So when the going gets tough, remember, that’s the time to be kinder and gentler with yourself. It is time to tell yourself that it is okay to struggle, to not know everything, to be afraid, to want to give up, to make mistakes, to feel what you feel, to take a break, and most of all, to reach out for help. We are all on a journey. And we need help from one another every now and then to stay on course.

Life is full of changes and it can become very challenging at times. But life will also be good again. Decide to stick with the journey, buckle up, and let the adventure begin!

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