My grandmother has faced so many enormous struggles in her almost 100 years on this earth. And it seems she has emerged from each one wiser and more joyful. Not because of the struggles, but because of her determination to not allow the bad days to steal her smile.
When my own bad days threatened to consume me, I thought of my grandmother and her continued joy. It seemed like a good mindset to strive for.
Guest poster Dave Scott has also reached that mindset and he shares with you his story along with some encouragement to keep your smile bright.
How Life’s Struggles Shouldn’t Rob You Of Its Joy
Life has never been easy for me.
There’s never been an ‘simple-street’ that I got to live on.
My journey on this earth has been one challenge after another, and it often times seems like one monumental conflict.
Can you relate?
I’m pretty sure I’m not alone in this.
When I was seven years old, I was diagnosed with Tourette Syndrome (TS).
Tourette’s is a neurological disorder that involves uncontrollable repetitive movements or unwanted sounds, called tics.
Some tics that are common to those with Tourette’s are repeatedly blinking the eyes, shrugging shoulders, or blurting out offensive words.
Ever see the Rob Schneider movie, Deuce Bigelow: Male Gigolo? There’s a scene where he goes on a date with a lady that’s afflicted with TS. It’s actually a hilarious scene, but definitely not for little eyes, if you know what I mean. This scene will give you an idea of what TS is..albeit a bit skewed.
TS isn’t catchy, or dangerous. I got because someone in my family has it. It’s a genetic disorder. And it sucks.
Because I was diagnosed with TS back in the 80’s, there was very little knowledge about the disorder. Many of those in my life were incredibly ignorant about what I was going through. (my family excluded; they were amazing)
I was labeled a “trouble-maker” and “weird” by school counselors, and mercilessly picked on from the age of seven through middle school. (the harassment died down the bigger and older I got)
TS is a part of me. I embrace it. I don’t run from it. I also don’t have any super-crazy symptoms that you would notice, today.
But if you ever notice me doing a weird motion with my face, I promise I’m not chewing on lemons.
If you’ve ever watched the movie The Goonies, you’d undoubtedly remember Chunk. He was the main character’s best buddy, and he was also the resident chubby kid.
I resembled Chunk’s body-type from about eight years old until I turned twelve. At twelve, my body leaned up and I’ve been the same, semi-fit shape ever since.
As you know, kids can be cruel. Not only was having Tourette’s tough, but I was overweight as well. It’s like having two strikes against me for the kids who enjoyed making fun of others.
I got into fights (just a few), struggled with depression, felt lonely and sad. I was suicidal and a very angry young man.
Being overweight was nothing short of terrible, coupled with having Tourette’s.
A brush with death
To add to the messiness of life, I then almost died in horrendous skiing accident in December of 1994. I was skiing over Christmas break with my brothers and was attempting to keep up with them.
Trying to keep up with my brothers was my first mistake, as they’re both much better athletes than I am.
In my feeble attempt to chase them, I decided to hug inanimate object, while traveling at a high speed.
I was rushed to a regional hospital where I was immediately thrown into surgery.
While on the operating table, my blood pressure dropped and my heart stopped.
I had lost so much blood because of internal bleeding that my heart was fighting to keep beating. I didn’t know any of this, of course, as I was sedated during surgery, but found out afterwards.
Post surgery, I’ll never forget the conversation with the doctors. I remember the doctors giving me their grim prognosis. They told me that I may not walk again, and probably wouldn’t run again due to the injuries. (I fractured my hip, shattered my pelvis, and broke my tailbone)
Life was not awesome in my teens.
I’m also not sure which was worse: being diagnosed with a weird, neurological disorder, the consequences of being overweight, or being paralyzed for a period of time.
The encouragement of your experience
During all this, I heard something incredibly profound.
I heard a pastor say “your experience is your testimony.”
This is one of the wisest things I’ve ever heard. The meaning of this nugget of wisdom is simple: your journey in life, however tumultuous, is a period of time that when shared, can encourage others.
My life-experiences have shaped who I am, today. I’m proud of them. I’m grateful for them, despite the pain.
But my story, and yours, shouldn’t be be kept a secret. The intent is to share them, with the appropriate persons and under the right situation.
The trick is to use your experience as a tool to encourage others to rise above their current pain and become better.
Not finding joy
It’s hard to find joy when you’re in a heartbreaking season. There was a time that I was miserable, going through what I did.
You might have a lot of unhappiness in your life. The idea of joy in your everyday routine may seem like a distant memory.
You might have a physical ailment that’s limiting you. You may be suffering from some rare physical condition that’s not ideal. Or you might have a terrible addiction, or be in a marriage that’s completely dead.
Perhaps you’re living through a time of financial or professional stress. Maybe you’re about to become an empty-nester as your child goes off to college only to be faced with the reality of having to get reacquainted with your spouse after years and years of putting the needs of your kids first, and your marriage second.
Whatever you’re going through, there are definitely plenty of reasons that can keep us from finding joy.
You have 2 choices
As humans we were created with a thing called freewill.
Whatever your circumstance, you have the power of freewill, which is the ability to make choices that affect your overall mindset.
When faced with these times, we have 2 options:
- Let your circumstance consume you with fear, anger, and self-doubt.
- Choose to use your current condition to as a stepping stone to something bigger.
When the doctors gave me my grave outlook, I was angry. I was so angry. But within a year, I was running, jogging and playing soccer. The joy I found took years to find. I had freewill and made the decision to change my mindset, and as a result, the joy came over time.
With my Tourette’s, instead of avoiding people in public for the fear of ridicule, I chose to walk with my head high and chest out, with a sense of God-given confidence that no one could shatter.
I was determined not to let what I was going through define me or keep me down.
What’s your mindset?
Or are you depressed and playing the victim? Or are you willing to approach life differently by choosing joy, instead of being defeated?
Is your choice to simply say ‘I can’t‘, thus self-defeating yourself before you get started, or is your decision one that finds joy in a mindset that lives in confidence that you can accomplish anything through the power of your Creator.
It’s okay to be emotional
Let me add a disclaimer here, so you don’t think that what I’m saying is some kind of always-be-positive-mantra from a Joel Osteen book, or a Deepak Chopra meme.
It is more than okay to be emotional, when facing a difficult period in your life.
In the book, The Emotionally Church by Peter Scazzero, he’s very clear about grieving. Grieving is a natural part of our DNA as humans. It’s how we were created.
Grieving, and more importantly grieving your limitations, is normal and should be celebrated.
It is okay to allow grief and sadness to be a part of your emotional journey, in order to get through hard times. You need to allow this to be a part of your emotional process.
But you can’t live here forever.
Bitterness, anger, and generally treating people around you like a jerk, is not part of the healing process when experiencing hardships.
And perhaps that’s you. If you’ve spent a period of time in your life, whatever the length, being mean, letting bitterness, anger and frustration rule your emotions then you have some apologizing and reconciling to do. I’d encourage you to do some introspection and then create a list of people that you need to reconcile with, because chances are you’ve allowed your feelings to hurt those around you.
Again, it’s okay to be emotional and extend yourself grace. We are often our worst enemies when it comes to self-criticism. So go easy on yourself, and instead have a plan to grieve, and then eventually you’ll heal and be able to successfully move forward.
Don’t rob yourself
In life you’ll encounter trials. You’ll have moments where you simply want to give up, because you’re facing insurmountable odds. Times where the joy may seem like complete darkness.
But it’s not. Joy is present. It always is.
What are you facing today that is requiring a mindset change, and a good dose of joy?
What joy can you find in your life?