I’ve been through a couple of trials this year that have caused significant pain, feelings of failure, and extreme dissapointment. In February, most of my family went through a devastating court trial and our whole community got to see our family’s problems through the front page of the local newspaper. In July, I filed for divorce from my husband of four years. It’s been an eventful year to say the least.
Throughout this year, however, I’ve committed to learning everything I could from these struggles and using what I’ve learned for good. I believe we are always given opportunities to grow and that we will never get to a point in this life where we “just get it”. But we can certainly sit in the pain we grow through, learn what we can, and maybe not be hit so hard the next time we have to learn it. So, while I know God is definitely not done with me and that I have so much more wisdom to ask Him for, here are the things I’ve begun learning this year:
You Have To Love Yourself
I’ve heard it said that you cannot love others well if you can’t love yourself. I can’t tell you how absolutely true this is and how much this lesson has been in my face this year. With my family, my ex-husband, my clients, even my dog… if I am drained and not in touch with myself, I won’t be a help to anyone else. I tend to be a people pleaser by nature, which is something I always saw as an advantage. I saw myself as compassionate and giving, putting others first. And that was a great thing, until my ignorance of my own well-being left me completely depressed and void of emotional connection. I spent so much energy focusing on others that I lost myself and all attachment I had to the things I loved. I literally couldn’t take care of anyone else’s needs because my own were so depleted. And I still felt selfish when I finally decided I needed to pull myself out of this funk and learn to take care of myself. But I did eventually, and I am such a different person because of it. My relationships, my focus, my future, everything in my life is different since I’ve started taking care of myself. Even clients at work who have no idea what’s been going on in my life have told me I have a new glow about me. For the first time in a long time, I actually feel completely happy. It may be selfish to have taken time out and let go of certain relationships and things in order to get to this new beginning, but I’m learning it’s okay to be selfish sometimes. Right now, the people in my life benefit a lot more from me being able to love them fully and completely than I could when I was too drained to do so. And moving forward I know that if I keep this a priority, I will just be able to love that much better, starting with myself.
There Will Always Be Critics
Some people in your life love and care about you tremendously and want to be there for you. The words of advice they speak to you are so incredibly invaluable and some of it you might not want to hear, but they are key to living and learning. My Dad’s fiance was this person to me while I was going through my divorce and making some tough decisions. She listened to what I needed and how I felt, and gave me advice accordingly. One of the best things she told me was, “There’s a reason when a plane is going down that the flight attendants tell you to put your oxygen mask on first.” She, along with a handful of other people, were invaluable in their constructive, loving criticism and analysis.
And then there were some people who just wanted to get the juicy details. Or they truly did love and care about me, but were on a different page than I was about some big ticket items. Or they just felt the need to remind me what they interpreted the Bible to say about my actions. Whatever the case was, their criticism was not necessary and just caused even more negativity and confusion in an already bad situation.
What’s important is figuring out who is there for you through thick and thin to support and love you, and who is there for whatever other reason. And once you’ve done that, the next step is to spend precious time and energy on the people you know support you and listen completely to what they have to say. And to know you might not like everything that comes from them, but they love and support you. There were definitely things that my Dad told me that I thought would be too hard to carry out or that I wanted to avoid, but I knew how much he wanted the best for me, so I listened. I wanted to file for divorce a lot sooner than I did and he kept me on track, encouraged me to try counseling, and to not make quick decisions in the moment. He literally made me do everything I could in moments when I didn’t want to because he didn’t want regret to follow me in my life and I am so grateful that he did. And I knew no matter what he would be there.
There were a few people that I ended up cutting ties with simply because they judged every action I took. Questioning my motives, my heart, and sometimes my relationship with God for thinking or doing certain things. I believe it’s possible to disagree with someone about what they do in life, but to do it in a loving and non-forceful way. And the people in my life who were just causing more drama and negativity, I chose to let go. As tough as that was to do, I knew that some criticism just wasn’t helpful and I’m so thankful that I did have family and friends to be there.
Loving Is Hard, But It Always Wins
I have become completely convinced this year that love always wins. No matter what. Whether no one else is affected by it, even if just for your own heart, love will always win. When my family was going through our court trial, I had to remind myself constantly to choose love. Among the stares, the harsh words, the tension in the courtroom… I had to keep sane by choosing to remember that I loved all of these people. It would have been very easy to choose bitterness and revenge and match their stares with glares of my own, but instead I found myself breaking down in tears often, my heart breaking for my family. It was bitterness and hate that got us here, after all, and I believe that by choosing love I am ending that cycle. At least for myself and for the children I will hopefully be able to bring into the world.
So, I told the jury the truth. That I loved everyone in my family and that I was there to see the anger and court trials stop. That it broke my heart to see my four siblings and I split apart. And that I wanted this to all end, and I was there to say just that. I believe I grew as a person those three days, learning in the midst of supreme hatred and judgement to choose love and reconciliation. The biggest lesson I’ve learned while reading about the life of Jesus is to love those who persecute you. I used to think that meant I had to be a doormat and “love” those who hurt me by allowing them to walk on me. Now, I understand love to be bigger than that. And I can look at everyone in my family with love in my heart for them, but with boundaries and rules in place to keep the bitterness out of our hearts. Possibly the hardest kind of relationship to have with someone is one that has to have boundaries, but for how hard it is, it is worth it to choose. Forgiveness is possible and love always wins.