How we choose to respond to tragedies when they come (notice I say when, not if) will determine our course. Like it or not, we are the product of choices we make in life, not victims of circumstance. The fact is, heartaches are often opportunities for us to learn and grow the most! The way we respond to hardship will cultivate one of two attitudes:
1) Survivor. We take charge of ourselves, choosing a new course or trajectory. We are moving forward, gaining strength and wisdom along the way.
2) Victim. Assigning blame and making excuses keeps us victimized. We feel powerless and stuck, replaying the same tapes over and over again.
One experience from my own life that comes to mind involves my third pregnancy and the story I shared HERE. We were in the process of building a new home, my head and heart filled with dreams of all that was to come.
Anticipating only joy, I felt blindsided by the loss and subsequent complications. It would have been so easy to blame my doctor for the lack of follow-up care, for perforating my uterus during surgery, and the two miscarriages that resulted. In truth, I was desperate to blame someone for squashing my dream. But God had something else in mind.
I kept seeing this bible verse everywhere (Jeremiah 29:11) that spoke of hope and a future. Instead of tucking myself into a bed of self-pity, I asked God to show me what these “plans” looked like.
And the door opened. What followed were multiple speaking engagements and scrapbooking events; opportunities to share my story while connecting with hundreds of beautiful women over the years.
More than I ever could have imagined, God used the lives of the children I had lost to inspire myself and others to live differently. My eyes were opened to the fleeting nature of everyday life and I had an overwhelming desire to bottle moments, leading the way to blogging and photography.
A new and unexpected trajectory that has brought with it joy in abundance. So how exactly do we set out as “survivors” in the face of pain and sorrow? Here are a few things I have learned through my experience:
1. Be willing to ask tough questions of yourself. What choices have I made (action or inaction) that might have contributed to where I am at? If there is something, OWN IT. Resist the temptation to blame anyone – others, God, even yourself. [I came to realize my motive for having another child was more about “job security” than anything else; this insight eventually helped me to “let go and move on.”] What do I have control over in this moment? What am I responsible for? Own that as well and let the rest go.
2. Embrace alternate possibilities. Life often has a way of giving us what we least expect, dreams crash and burn. While it may be the end of one dream, it is the beginning of another! Keep your eyes open for the next step. And the next. How might God be using this experience for something or someone else? Keep an open mind and a watchful eye.
3. Make a choice and take a stand. What stirs you? What moves you? What do you want your life to say to others? If this is the beginning of a new chapter, what would you like it to include?
4. Act and behave in a way that lines up with your stand. It might feel awkward in the beginning (stepping into unfamiliar territory always does) but just keep doing the thing and eventually it will become part of who you are. [I am NOT a public speaker, but an introvert who does well in very small groups. When I first shared my story, the group was pretty small. It kept getting bigger and bigger with each event and before I knew it, I was speaking in front of a group of 50 women! Knowing what moved me and wanting to share that with others is what pushed me forward. I didn’t feel like a public speaker but had to act like one to share my message.]
As Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “In the long run, we shape our lives, and we shape ourselves. The process never ends until we die. And the choices we make are ultimately our own responsibility.” We may not have a say in circumstances that come our way but it is wholly within our power to make the best of anything that does.