Is life feeling overwhelming for you? Does your anxiety leave you with an ever-increasing sense of failure; in business, parenthood, or life in general? I’m about to share with you some important life lessons from my (then) homeless little girl that will help ease your overwhelm.
In this fast-paced, high-tech world, it’s easy to lose perspective…and sometimes, even hope. When I get caught up in the busyness and stress of a day, or start to feel buried by overwhelm of circumstances, I reflect back on a time in my life that was truly overwhelming; and remember an important life lesson that was taught to me by my (then) homeless, four-year old, little girl.
When life caves in
The year was 2006. My little girl and I were in the midst of four and a half years of homelessness; caused by a brutal home invasion and loss of our entire family and support system. Sick from the exacerbation of multiple sclerosis and still reeling from cognitive effects from a traumatic brain injury which ended my Olympic bid, I struggled immensely to retain a sense of “normal” despite our very abnormal and dire circumstances.
The exhaustion, pain, and seemingly hopelessness of my situation had brought me to my knees; which, in retrospect, was a perfect time for a miracle to happen…
2007: It’s been a difficult year to say the least. My daughter, service dog and I lost our home due to a vicious home invasion/attack right about this time last year. For a while after the attack, I was numb. Post Traumatic Stress froze my emotions in an attempt at self-preservation. I tried to remain strong for my daughter, waiting until she was asleep to cry the tears of fear, loss, and panic that gripped my heart.
I tried desperately to rationalize the situation, but no matter how I looked at it, I came up empty. I kept thinking, “On the whole, I’m a good person. I give of my time, possessions and my heart to others. I treat people fairly and always try to do the right thing. I’m teaching my daughter the same morals and values that had been instilled in me as a child,” and yet, though I was a good person, and my daughter was an innocent, we sustained a brutal attack brought on by alcoholic rage of a once-loved and trusted family member.
I couldn’t get my mind around the betrayal. I prayed a lot. I was disheartened that I didn’t get any response, and felt that God had betrayed me as well. I became obsessed with my loss, and the injustice of the whole thing. At one point, I felt as though my daughter might be better off without me, that I was holding her back from having a secure future. If she were placed with a real family, then she would have a chance at a good life; one with a permanent roof over her head. The enemy’s voice told me that I was the one who was disabled and unable to provide adequately for her; I was excess baggage. The guilt felt like a wet coat, gradually getting heavier, wearing me down and preventing me from moving forward.
The need for a miracle…
Children are so resilient. I’ve learned so much from my little girl over the past year, and I look at her with a new wonder and admiration these days. Though she clearly remembers the horrors that no child should ever have been witness to, she forgives as we are taught early on. For most, true forgiveness is lip service. “I forgive you,” is a benign phrase we are prone to say when we know we should, but we often lack the ability to truly let go. Not my little girl. She still remembers the attack, still feels the loss; yet she has somehow found it in her heart to completely forgive our attacker who hurt us so badly.
My little girl never complains, although she has every right to. She went from having a beautifully decorated bedroom of her own, to having only what the police could load into our van that cold, scary night, and a few subsequent, police-guarded truck loads that permitted us a few more boxes of belongings. The rest was left behind…along with the only home she ever knew, all her friends, and the innocence and security that should be a child’s right–all that was cruelly snatched away from her.
At bedtime, she thanks God for the blessings in her life and offers up prayers to others, never asking for anything for herself, because she feels as though she has all she needs. She doesn’t complain when I’m sick and can’t play with her, or that I can’t afford to give her the extra things I know deep inside she would love to have…only issues an “I love you Mommy…you’re the BEST Mommy!” whenever possible, seemingly oblivious to my disabilities and my shortcomings.
I dug through the change at the bottom of my purse and bought her a lollipop at the store today. She’d had her eye on it the entire time we were in line to pay for our purchases. It was the kind of lollipop you’d see in days gone by that are twisted with different colors; a neat old-fashioned pop that cost $1.00. She never asked for it, never whined or even gave me the “look” that pleaded silently…which is exactly why I decided to get it for her. I really couldn’t afford it, it’s the end of the month and I only had $1.35 left to my name. I wouldn’t have any more money coming until the first of the month, almost a week away, when my scant disability check arrives… but she’d been such a good girl, and I really thought she deserved a special treat. I foolishly worried that my last few cents should’ve been better spent.
When I reached into my purse and counted out enough for the pop, you would have thought I gave her the key to the magic kingdom! “Thank you Mommy! You’re the BEST Mommy!” She shrieked with sheer joy, thankfulness gushing from her lips and unabashed love and joyous tears shining in her eyes as she hugged me with every ounce of strength her tiny body could muster.
All at once, the cloud of despair that had hung over me lifted and I shed the coat of guilt I’d been carrying for so long. In that moment, I felt the divine presence and grace I’d been praying for. He broke through the wall of protection I’d erected and sent His Message through the thing He knew I loved more than life itself; my daughter.
I knew without a doubt in that very instant, that I was the family that my little girl needed. I knew that I wasn’t baggage holding her back; I was the glue that was needed to keep us together. I knew that my daughter needed me and loved me despite my shortcomings, and despite our situation. I knew without a doubt that my prayers had been answered and I had been blessed from above. With tears in my eyes, I realized that the angel that stood happily devouring her unexpected treat at my feet had also blessed me; and I was never going to be the same.
My overwhelm turned into weath
I had been awakened from my nightmare. I was ready to continue my journey, willing to embrace whatever challenges may lie ahead; secure in the knowledge that I already had all I needed; the rest was a bonus!
I was in awe at this child of mine, and I was so thankful for the lesson she’d taught me. While I’d wasted my time feeling guilty and focusing on what we’d lost, my daughter had moved on and was focusing on what remained: something that was more important than anything else. Through it all, we still had each other. Though I only had 35 cents to my name, I felt richer than ever!
My daughter’s youthful insight to an adult situation brought me to a place where there is no longer any room left for doubt or worry, leaving me with the ability to put all those useless feelings that had been cluttering up my mind behind me, ultimately freeing me up to enhance my life through opportunities I have since created from my new perception.
Though she’s only four, my daughter has the ability to be able to look past what she’s lost to find true joy and satisfaction of having only the very basic necessities–and being truly grateful for them. She rejoices in the simplest of kind gestures and goes out of her way to do the same for others.
How many of us adults can claim that?
I’ve learned a lot from her; I hope you have, too. In the spirit of giving, I wish for your life be blessed with the insight of my little girl, the shedding of your wet coat, a new and positive perception of life…filled with an unlimited supply of lollipops.
–Proud to be the one Sarah calls, “Mommy”
In retrospect, this situation was a crucial turning point for me in my return to success. The lessons derived from this dark time in my life served me well in re-building a better life for my child and myself; and putting myself in a position to help others with what I’d learned.
Here are 3 life-changing steps to take when you feel defeated:
- Focus not on the overwhelm; or what has been lost, but what still remains. No matter how hard it is, you need to have laser focus on the positive…no matter how small at this point. Focusing on the positive begins to retrain your brain’s perception of a given situation, leaving you better able to make the best decisions.
- If you can’t get up and fight for your dream or yourself; do it for someone you love—as I did for my daughter in “The Lollipop Lesson.” Sometimes we lose the ability to care enough for ourselves, but love for one another trumps our own desires and can pull us out of the mire of defeat.
- Do what you can, with whatever you have, right where you’re at. When huge problems engulf us and we don’t have the adequate resources to solve them we feel overwhelmed. Not being able to get ourselves free of all our problems can make them seem insurmountable. I’ve learned to take very small steps to ensure tiny victories throughout my trials. Each victory strengthens us and gives us the internal drive needed to continue to push forward. As we accomplish small goals and begin forward progression, we gain momentum and are adequately equipped to deal with whatever comes our way.