Today is kind of a big day for me.
Nope, it’s not my birthday. Not my wedding anniversary either.
One year ago today I mailed my capstone and finished grad school.
Yeah, so what? (you’re probably thinking) Lots of people finish graduate school.
And you’re right. But this anniversary is really not so much about finishing grad school or even finishing my capstone project and handing it over to the FedEx guy. It’s really about what happened when I walked out of the FedEx office and climbed into my husband’s truck. When I finally gave in to the tears I’d been holding back for weeks. The ugly, dripping, snotty, wrecked sobs. When I let go and let myself feel the weight of the previous three months — the hardest months I’d experienced in years.
Do you ever have a week, a month, or maybe even a year when you start to think, “Really God? What else could go wrong? What else could possibly come my way? Why is all of this happening to me?” And then finally, “God, I really can’t take one more thing. I just can’t.”
That was how things were for me last May. As already mentioned, I was in the throws of finishing up grad-school. I was already worn down and burnt-out from 3.5 years of going to school part time while also working and caring for a young family. And this final push was to be the most challenging as I worked to create an 86 page integrated marketing plan for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital — in 9 weeks. Then, just as I was starting on my project, my husband came home early one afternoon. He had lost his job.
We were shell-shocked. He’d been employed with the organization for 3 years and just received a raise three months earlier. We never saw this coming. But I knew it was no time to get sucked into worry and fear. So I steeled my shoulders, took a step forward and said “we will get through this.” And I prayed, “God, I trust you. Please help us get through this.”
The following week my husband started feeling sick. He went to bed and woke up the next morning and half of his face was paralyzed. The doctor diagnosed it as Bell’s Palsy. While treatable, the doctor said it could be months before the paralysis was fully healed. Treatable or not, when the face you wake up to every morning — the face of the man you love — becomes paralyzed, it’s freakin’ scary! But, once again, I thought, “I can’t show worry or fear. I need to be strong and help him get through this.” So I steeled by shoulders, took a step forward and said “we will get through this.” And I prayed, “God, I don’t understand why this is happening. But I still trust you. Please help us get through this!”
A few weeks later I was driving to pick up my kids from school and I got in a horrible car accident. My car was totaled. Miraculously, both the other driver and I walked away uninjured. I was very shaken up by the whole thing because I knew it could have been so much worse. I knew that if my kids had been in the car with me, it probably wouldn’t have ended with everyone walking away. But, I couldn’t go there. I couldn’t dwell on that. Instead, I steeled my shoulders, took a shaky step forward and said, “I’ll get through this.” And then I prayed, “God, really? How much more? I trust you, I do, but really, how much more can one person take?”
Then a few days later I noticed there was something wrong with my beloved cat of 14 years. She couldn’t walk straight or stand-up to eat. I took her to the vet and he said she probably didn’t have long, but he didn’t think she was in any pain. I watched her deteriorate over the next three days, while I struggled between making the decision to euthanize or to let her go on her own. Finally, she went, but it was not a peaceful death. It was painful and ugly and I cried for her and for me. Still, I knew I couldn’t give in to the grief. I had to power through; finish my project, show up for work, get my kids from here to there. So I steeled my shoulders, placed one foot in front of the other and said, “I’ll have to get through this.” And then I prayed, “No more, God! I just can’t take any more. Please, show me your plan. I’m finding it hard to keep trusting. To keep going. Please make it all stop.”
For the next five days, with head down and placing one foot in front of the other, I worked almost around the clock to finish my capstone. I finally finished everything the morning the project was due. I spent several hours proof reading and making edits and then raced out the door to the copy place. I knew I had to get it printed, bound and dropped off with FedEx before 6 p.m. or it would be counted late. Of course the printers at the copy place didn’t want to work. Then, the binding was off. I steeled my shoulders as I stood at the printing counter, watching the minutes on the clock tick by, waiting for them to resolve the issues. Finally, it was done. I ran out the door, one foot in front of the other, jumped in my husband’s truck and we raced to FedEx. Just as I was filling out the shipment slip, the driver came in for the final run of the night. I had made it just in time.
So, my friends, I’m sure you understand how it came to be that by the time I walked out that door and into that pick-up truck, I was done. I could not steel my shoulders any longer. I couldn’t keep going. And, honestly? It felt good to admit it to myself and just let the stress, sorrow and worry all come rushing out, flooding me until I felt like the pile of wet Kleenex accumulating at my feet. And that’s how I came to God — a soggy, crumpled mess — and said, “thank you; thank you for getting me here, on the other side.”
After a few days of catching up on sleep, clarity started to return and I saw just how much He had done to get me through it.
A few days later my husband was offered a job. A job he loves, and where he is much happier. And I realized what a gift those two and a half months of unemployment had been. He was able to spend time volunteering at our kids’ school. He took care of dinners and housework so I could focus on my capstone. He was able to rest and heal from his illness. And by the time he started that new job, the paralysis was gone.
Not only did I walk away unharmed from the car accident, but the woman who had caused the accident stayed with me until the police arrived, told them the truth and gave me her insurance information. Her insurance company gave me absolutely no hassle and cut me a check for more than I think my car was even worth. Certainly enough to put a down-payment on a new car.
While I still mourned the loss of my sweet girl, I realized how fortunate I was that she chose home to die, as so many pets escape to a hidden place to die alone. I was with her in her final days, and she went when she was ready, so I didn’t have to make the decision to end her life.
Oh, and my capstone? I got an A. And a shiny piece of paper that says I have a Master’s of Science in Integrated Marketing and Communication.
But the view is always clearest in the rear-view mirror, isn’t it?
In the months following I watched dear friends go through hardships and grieve losses that no one should ever have to experience. Things ten times worse than what I experienced last year. And that, of course, put my rough patch into perspective. But the thing is, in most cases they did the same thing. They woke up each morning, steeling their shoulders, putting one foot in front of the other and praying to get through it. Because sometimes…that’s all you can do.
Steel your shoulders so the pain doesn’t knock you over.
Put one foot in front of the other so the sorrow doesn’t consume you.
Pray to God for healing or help or strength, even when you don’t understand any of it. Even when you are mad at Him for letting it all happen.
Because, He will get you through it. One day at a time, He will lead you through whatever hardship you are facing. Whatever loss you are mourning. It may only be once you come before Him a wet, crumpled up mess, sobbing at His feet. But He will pick you up and brush you off and stand you up.
And one day, I believe in my heart, one day, you will be able to look back and celebrate that time in your life because you will finally see where He brought healing and mercy. The moments He loved on you and strengthened you. The days he gently steeled those shoulders because you didn’t know how, and moved your feet forward because you were too exhausted.
You will look back and see He heard your prayers. He led you through the storm.