I hate to admit it, but I might have been a bit of a mean girl as I roamed the halls of my high school in the early '90s. It took me a long time to say that aloud because I had somehow convinced myself it was me surviving the battle of the fittest. I learned late in life that you don't have to be rude to express your opinion, and being aggressive doesn't necessarily represent your strength.
If you need to step on other people to make yourself feel good, then that's a surefire sign that you popping off is more about your shortcomings than the other person. It's like whatchamacall-him used to tell me, "If you punch me in my mouth, it doesn't stop bleeding because you said sorry!" While as an adult, I may have regretted those words and actions as a teen, it didn't mean that I wasn't enrolled in the school of life. And it was eagerly waiting to test me. Fate was somewhere around the corner waiting to jump me like I'd stole its lunch money.
Once Upon a Time
I remember being a chubby little girl who could walk on her toes and do handsprings in the grass all summer long. I was the limber but a pudgy teen who could keep-up in the liturgical dance crew with the slimmest of them. So it was ironic when the one thing that made that kind of flexibility possible was the area that immobilized me. Every joint severely inflamed became the source of many painful days ahead. Regardless of how distressing that time was, I know one thing for sure, I would rather have physical pain any day than deal with rejection and heartbreak.
By year 5 of what I call a state of enduring, I wondered how on God's green earth did folks who were going through look so unbothered? Where did they find this strength to go on? I'll tell you it was an adjustment for me: no heels, limited mobility, no mad dash up the stairs, and constant trips to the doctor. I was over it! As I tried to navigate life with a handicap of sorts, my mental state took a beating more than the physical. On a regular day, my mind was all over the place, judge smack-dab in the middle of a health dilemma. Would I still be able to work? Who would take care of me if one day I could do nothing for myself? Would I ever find love, and could someone even love me despite this now shortfall? This pivotal moment in my life showed up, sucker-punched me, and went on its way as if it had served its civic duty! I had some choices to make, and I had no clue where to begin.
Misery has NO Empathy
Eight months into what I considered a death sentence, I'd been told I should get a cane, or maybe that I needed a Hoveround and a life alert. I mean, at one point, folks called me 'Grammy,' and I was only 31. Folks laughed, and I was the butt of many jokes. I won't lie, I laughed too, but on the inside, I was crying. I'll tell ya, people's reaction to me that first year of being sick stripped me of every ounce of pride. You'd think I was a leaper rather than just semi-incapacitated. After that, I swore nothing else in life could hurt more than this. It didn't matter that no one knew I couldn't comb my hair and ended up having to shave it bald as a result. No one was concerned that I had great difficulty feeding myself, so I went from a whopping size 10 to a size 2. Most people weren't the wiser that I needed help to sit or stand, and physical activity was out of the question. It wasn't public knowledge that it took me 30 minutes just to put on a pair of pants. Hardly anyone knew the struggle, and even fewer people cared.
In retrospect, that whole experience made me think of how we're often seeking repair where we've been damaged. Sometimes we're looking to the person who broke you to fix us, and in hindsight, that makes no sense. As for me, that's usually what I wanted. It was what I always thought was needed. Especially that time when whats-his-face did me that dirty trick. I honestly thought if he just said the right things, it would make all the bad stuff disappear. If he'd just change this one little thing, then all the other chips would fall effortlessly into place. I needed it to work. I didn't want to be left with the messy end of the stick, not again. Sickness was different, though. There was no finger to point, no one to blame. It was the hand I was dealt, and I could play it out or fold. I had to choose, life or death. Procrastinate or participate.
Hard Pill to Swallow
Honestly, a part of me expected everyone to run to my aid. How was it that folks around me were just carrying on with life as usual? It reminded me of the man who laid at the gate called Beautiful day in and out (Acts 3:2-11). People saw him and knew he was sick, but they were minding their business long before it was a thing. That made it more evident that folks are gonna live their lives, and sometimes that doesn't include me. It was a hard lesson, but very necessary.
On the contrary, like so many other times in my life, I was stuck. Stuck in the what-if. What if I had just turned left instead of right? What if I had chosen Peter instead of Paul? What if I had made a different decision? I thought, if I could make sense of what went wrong, then it would be the fuel I needed to move from this place of stalling. It wasn't. I needed to pivot. Believe me, I wanted to throw in the towel. I wished with all my heart that I could avoid seeing the light of day. And if at all possible, I wanted to stay away from people altogether; that would be a bonus. Suffice it to say, people weren't my problem, and they definitely were not my solution.
All that made me consider how many people's aid had I run to in my life? Not very many, I'll tell ya that. Yeah, I bought a steak-out ticket here and there, but even that was contingent on who was selling it and who it was for. Yeah, I gave some money to the person asking for a sponsor, but it was only the loose dollars I could miss without feeling the pinch. If someone needed my help, I could help but not at my inconvenience. So there I was, neck-deep in my own crisis, now what? I wanted to shrivel up and die, and as much as I prayed for it, it seemed not to be an option. This was nothing like hitting the reset button after a heartbreak. That I knew how to do. This was life-altering and outside my element. But you want to know my unsung truth? I was scared. Grim diagnosis or not, this could not be my final chapter.
Back to the Drawing Board
First things first, I needed to get my mind right. Hear me when I tell you it was no easy fete. I finally understood the old song that goes, "If you ever needed the Lord before, you sure do need him now!" All I knew was I had to draw on those old prayers I'd heard from the church mothers all those years I spent in the pew. There I was, singing the hymns I knew but had never really experienced. 'Tis so sweet to trust in Jesus was no longer merely words to a medley, but it was a testimony. It wasn't enough to just say any ole thing; everything from that point on required action. I couldn't be declaring I shall live and not die while laying in bed, swaddled in self-pity. No, had to get up and take a step. Even if that step took me 20 minutes from the couch to the door. I never thought I was a fighter until I was literally in the fight of my life for my life. That's when I knew I had gumption.
Secondly, I had to learn to accept help when it was offered. I was no longer singing Destiny's Child, "All the women who independent throw your hands up at me." I couldn't do this on my own. It was my first lesson in 'life was not meant to be done alone.' Even now, I'm honestly grateful for those that were there with me in the trenches. Lastly, I needed a plan. My legs were wonky, but my mind was sharp and very much capable. Why was I complaining? There are people with no legs who've won gold medals at the Olympics. Helen Kellar was blind and wrote books. I mean, Donald Trump was President; need I say more.
I can't sit here and tell you that it was an overnight victory. No, I battled for eight long years. Even more, if you count the signs that I ignored. I endured many nights of pain, where I couldn't go to work the next day. I ebbed and flowed from tears to moments of joy because I refused to give up. Every day, I woke up and drew from the strength that only God could give. I slapped on my smile and refused to be defeated, even though that was often how I felt.
Make a Decision
So, how did I refocus? Well, I stayed on the pivot (meaning the most essential thing that everything else is based on or arranged around). I anchored my entire being to the immovable rock Himself. Having a genuine relationship with God was one of the only things that kept me afloat. Like many persons, I didn't have a kid I was fighting for, nor a husband I was clinging to. I had to find a reason to live in my purpose, like you reading this, so you'd know that you are not alone and can overcome. My survival was not contingent on wanting to see my babies get married or looking forward to grandkids. Still, I had to find a motive in my testimony and realize that my living is not in vain because I had to be here, at this moment, just for you.
Living a life of a person we deem perfect doesn't grant magical rewards, void of trials and opposition. Good girls don't always end up with good guys, and nice guys don't always finish last. Just as smart people don't end up with high profile jobs. The myth that hard work guarantees you'll be rewarded is just that—a myth. Truth is, the prize for hard work is more work. The award for passing one test is another test. Think about it, you work hard, and while you may get more money, it also comes with more responsibility. They don't pay you more to stay at the same level of productivity. Micheal Jordan said this: "Obstacles don't have to stop you. If you run into a wall, don't turn around and give up. Figure out how to climb it, go through it, or work around it." Whatever you're going through today, pivot—because you have yet to make your final move!