Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Columns

May 23, 2014

Lessons during a difficult journey

— — The most difficult journeys usually teach us the most important, life-affirming and self-defining lessons. Over the last couple of years, I’ve often felt as though I’ve been forced to stand at the front of the class like an ill-prepared substitute teacher who is suddenly asked at the last minute to teach the course on Difficult Journeys. However, last week I was able to sit back and learn from a different voyage taken by someone else.

A friend from high school announced that, after four years, her divorce was final. The length of time it took to come to that end place in the road indicated to me that it hadn’t been an easy ride. Divorce is never easy, from what I’ve observed. But there are dozens of life lessons taught over the course of the dissolution of a marriage and — if it takes years — it seems one ends up with a graduate degree by the time they are single again.

On the day her divorce became final, Michelle decided to focus on the positive education she received. She shared with her friends what this “huge catalyst of change” taught her. Although it has been “hard and painful,” she wrote, “I am thankful for every moment. I would take the journey again, as I value the lessons I have learned and the woman I have discovered.”

Noting that she was still a “work in progress,” she shared what the end of her marriage and reforming of her family taught her. I asked her if I could share the wealth of her wisdom with a larger audience and she graciously agreed:

“First, a broken heart still beats.

“Attitude is everything. Joy is not a feeling — it’s the confidence that God is with you in everything.

 “Change is never embraced — but necessary and beneficial.

“Home is not a building — but anywhere you share space with the ones you love.

 “Perseverance is a vital life skill.

“Always chose to live life above the line.

 “Forgiveness isn’t for the benefit of others. It is a necessary act or decision to promote emotional health and well-being for yourself.

 “You don’t always get the answers you want or need — let go anyway and push forward.

“Embrace life under all circumstances.

“Laughter is one of God’s greatest gifts.”

Michelle is one who loves to laugh and bring happiness to others. That’s why she began working with a children’s theater group, involving students from eight to 18 years old. She also runs and manages a 1,500-seat concert hall and 400-seat theater.

I asked her what role creativity played in her healing process as she traveled through her divorce journey.

“First, being able to stay busy while being creative, giving to others, the opportunity to work collaboratively on projects — (that) helps you focus your attention outward,” she began. “By staying active, giving of myself to others and to projects, I didn’t have time to stop and wallow. It helped me keep things in perspective, helped me keep balance.

“There is so much lovely, and wonderful, we just need to keep our attention focused on these things. Creating, contributing and serving helped me see the good and not dwell in the hardships. Phil. 4:8 has become a life theme verse for me.

“You still reflect — I have filled journals — but you continue to live, create, and contribute. You find the adventures and chase them.

“Second, surrounding yourself with community is a huge asset.  I have been with the theater group for 11 years. I have met my dearest friends through this group. Their love, support, and encouragement are priceless. Shared passions, joys and interests create life-long relationships. These relationships don’t tell me what I want to hear but what I need to hear. They build you up. They have encouraged me to press on.

“I like who I am today, but embrace who I will be tomorrow.

“Finally, I would be remiss not to mention my kids. They were my motivation to get out of bed on some mornings when I felt so lost and broken. They were my motivation to be my best. I decided that I wanted to model strength and character, perseverance — to show them that in spite of hardships we press forward, and live life above the line. We may not be able to control what happens in life, but we control our attitude and choices in response to circumstances.”

That is the message that returns to me again and again during my own difficult journey — that we can’t control what happens but we can control our attitude, reactions and responses. Also, community is vitally important when one is struggling or stumbling along the path. I’ve been fortunate to be pushed, prodded or even carried on occasion. And, frankly, I don’t know where I’d be in the process without this space — where writing has allowed me some small taste of “creating.” Some days I feel like I wrote a column only for me and then I thankfully discover it resonated with someone else within the community of readers.

So I share today with the larger community the wisdom of one from within my smaller community. It is my hope, and Michelle’s hope, that her words will resonate with others traveling their own difficult journey.

Jaletta Albright Desmond is a columnist who writes about faith, family and the fascinatingly mundane aspects of daily life. She lives in North Carolina with her family. Contact her at jdesmond@bdtonline.com.

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