It’s not a secret that my life isn’t exactly going as planned at the moment and at times the proverbial wrenches in the works are so outrageous that it’s almost as though God’s throwing the worst at me to see how I will respond like a modern day Job. I’m not going to lie, there have been a couple points where I was not doing well and at one point several doctors put in referrals to have social work come to the house because they were certain I was going to do something drastic; to be clear, I was never that low but I was pissed that my stump was rotting away to the degree that I could taste the rot in my mouth and that since my surgeon wasn’t in town no one else wanted to touch me because I’m such a strange case. Even with a third surgery and the discovery of three more drug resistant bacterial infections and my world seemingly falling apart around me, I’m still… happy, cheerful, and able to laugh.
Despite the shit show that is my life right now, I’m still happy. Which has made me ponder what happiness truly is if I still feel as I do despite everything.
I think genuine happiness possible in any conditions if your heart is… right. There has to be an openness to hearing the still small voice speaking to you, a willingness to accept the negative as well as the positive rather than only being accepting and acknowledge things that are “good”, a purposeful filling of your soul with the good feelings rather than with things, and the acceptance and acknowledgment of who you are.
I’ve written before about how when you need a certain message it always will be sent to you and if you just pay attention you will hear it. I recently shared a video and song about being Kintsukuroi that reminded me of why I’m writing here; I could have scrolled past them thinking, “yeah, I already know,” but I listened instead. I know sometimes people come into our lives, sometimes back after being absent, seemingly randomly but always at the right time for where we are. They have a purpose, a message, a mission they’re not even aware of as they simply exist in your world and choosing friendship and fellowship others allows them to speak life into your life but also allows them to fulfill something deep within themselves. I’ve said many times in the last month or so that my friend James has a sixth sense of when I need him to be a voice of reason because he always pops back into my life to be that voice when I need him. It may be months or years between conversations but he is always pulled back when I need to hear what he has to say. I remember my first teaching job going to hell when the principal decided to try to use me as a buffer between himself and the board that wanted to fire him and one day driving home in tears asking God what to do because I wanted to quit; I turned on the radio and heard Rodney Atkins’ “If You’re Going Through Hell” for the first sign. Ok God, I’ll keep going. A week later the evil boss was canned and all his shady dealings and illegal actions came to light with the board, making them realize he had manipulated everything they saw, how he treated me, how he allowed the students and families to treat me. No teacher should HAVE to listen to boys in her class talk about her sexually, discuss their fantasies about her openly, and make physical contact with her… but that’s what I dealt with and when the offenders were sent to the office he sent them back and sent parents who never heard the truth about what was happening in class to the board. If I hadn’t kept going through that hell, I wouldn’t have ended up in a meeting with the board and five other teachers who finally stepped forward to share what they had seen now that the tyrant was gone and they were no longer afraid for their own livelihoods. I survived and the school was better off for it, and despite what I experienced I was better for it too. My point is, if you listen you will hear the wisdom, encouragement, and hope being sent your way.
All too often I see people pushing for happiness thinking that happiness is the absence of sadness, struggle, grief, and hurt. So what people do is they deny the unhappy feelings thinking they will become happy. If I say I don’t have PTSD, alcoholism, relationship issues, addiction, escapism, depression, bitterness, anger, brokenness, if I deny it then I won’t have it. If I don’t feel those feelings, then what they’re connected to won’t be real for me. But your heart doesn’t work that way. Those other feelings are raw and painful but they are also strengthening, healing, and edifying.
Without darkness can you appreciate the light?
So when the unhappy things are denied access to their rightful place in our hearts, there is a hole in our hearts that still needs to be filled. And fill it is what people try to do with the things they enjoy and that distract them like alcohol, drugs, sex and meaningless relationships, and all other forms of escapism whether legal or otherwise. The problem is, though, that the happiness you get from playing at escaping doesn’t last. It is fleeting. The feeling of happy euphoria gets shorter with each attempt to fill that hole and the hole feels bigger and more vacuous with time until it is overwhelming and hopeless.
If you want to know happiness you need to embrace sorrow and despair as your companions when they come to you.**
Along the same lines as accepting all the feelings and letting them be a part of who you are is the purposeful filling of yourself with good things not just stuff. A nice car, big house, fat bank account, and busy social calendar are what our society typically touts as signs of success and happiness, which is obviously why so many Hollywood and Washington elites that have all those things have no problems with drugs, alcohol, prostitution, theft, broken relationships, anger, hate, conceit, blah blah blah… oh wait. When you hear the haves who have had lasting healthy relationships and who aren’t always mired in a scandal talk about what makes them happy, they’re the ones that talk about living simply and filling your time with people you love and experiences that bring you joy not striving for the next big thing. They’re humble. And they often are those who thank God and talk about going through their own hell with faith as a life raft waiting for what God had in store for their lives. They fill themselves with good thing, good people, memories, and such.
I think it’s sometimes hard for the have-nots to accept the idea of not striving for the shit you can’t take with you but the things that truly fulfill you instead. If you’re anything like me, you’re still waiting for adulting to seem easy and to not feel like you’re always striving to just make sure the ends meet while Murphy and his law reign down one problem after another. I get it. But being happy is more important to me than having the newest car, the most expensive handbag, the biggest house, or name brand clothes. They can never fulfill the way having healthy relationships with friends, family, a lover, or yourself can. I’d rather be broke and happy than have all the worldly goods I could ever hope for and still be unable to find happiness in who I am.
Which brings me to the last point I want to make: to be happy you need to accept yourself for who and what you are.
Accepting yourself means looking at the traumatic events you’ve witnessed and lived through and knowing that they happened to you and around you but they aren’t you. It means acknowledging and addressing your mistakes and shortcomings, but it also means letting the guilt and insecurity about those things go as well.
You fucked something up?
Roger… we all have.
What will you do now?
Quit or get up and carry on?
Accepting yourself means not defining yourself by what you’re lacking and what you can’t do but seeing what you do have, what you can do, and how you can close the gap between what you aren’t but want to be and what you are now. I’m missing a foot but I’m not the 5% of my body that’s missing. The rest of me is still 100% me.
I’m not less sassy or less smart-assy because I have only 5 toes to paint. I’m still the chick that irritated her professors by turning their logic against them and always having a snide, sarcastic, witty, or sardonic quip ready. I’m the mouthy girl that yelled at a dozen soldiers who kept checking me out asking if they were just going to sit there looking or if someone was actually going to say hello. (Yeah, I did that.) I am the woman who can single-handedly make a cross country move look easy and isn’t afraid to start over when where my life has taken me isn’t where I want to be. I own my nerdiness and will win every dorky dance-off I find myself in. I’m not afraid to speak my truth and I’m not afraid to be vulnerable with my story and my feelings. I’m not less of a woman because I’m missing a foot any more than I am less of a person for making mistakes at work or in relationships. I’m not defined by how I look and what I have or have not done. I’m defined by who I am and how I choose to live in the world with each new day.
So listen for the whispers telling you what you need to hear and do. Don’t hide from sorrow and despair, they’re good friends and teachers. Don’t try to hide from the hard feelings or fill the hole you feel with poor choices and all the things you can’t take with you. Build meaningful relationships. Find people that inspire you to be and do better. Let people call you on your shit and own it, then grow from it and be better tomorrow than you were today. Accept yourself for who you are with all the dorky bits and quirks and show that person to the world. Don’t be afraid to be vulnerable because vulnerability isn’t a weakness, it takes courage and strength to do.
Hold fast when the storms come.
Do the things that cultivate a heart open to happiness and it will find you.
**To read about accepting sorrow and despair in a profound allegory, read Hinds’ Feet on High Places, by Hannah Hurnard. It’s life changing.
Originally published 13 October 2017