And the phoenix rose from the ashes…

Happy New Year! I am not sad to see 2014 go, no more than I was unhappy to see 2013 disappear. These have been destructive years, of both the inflicted and self-inflicted type, with a few highlights here and there, blessings, or moments of extreme happiness. I woke up on this first day of 2015 with two questions. The first one to God, yes, I’m a believer, and I make no apologies for it. I asked Him, “You see my messed up life—what are You going to do about it?” The second question was for me, the same question, but slightly modified. “You see YOUR messed up life—what are YOU going to do about it?”

Before my husband died, every day was a new beginning, a chance to start over and never, ever give up, no matter the circumstances. It was that attitude that helped me through difficult times, including being married with a young child and disabled mother, working full time in a sock factory while commuting to Athens, sometimes four nights a week to attend night classes at the University of Georgia. In addition, for most of my life, there were people I could take care of:  my mother, helping her with cooking when many teenagers were enjoying being typical teenagers, Dan and Kim—people who needed me, making me feel like I had a purpose. Mama died, Kim grew up, went to college, and moved away, leaving Dan, and me alone; empty nesters, enjoying life as he began his well-deserved retirement. His health deteriorated, and my focus became doing everything I could do to keep him alive and happy. I failed.

After Dan’s death, my purpose in life changed. So used to taking care of others, I didn’t know how to take care of myself. I shoved the grief off to the side, so I could handle the seemingly never-ending cycle of problems. The first four years I managed to keep things together and accomplished a few goals: improved my health by leading a healthier lifestyle, I completed my MBA, which kept my mind busy, and I went on two happy and unforgettable trips to Europe with Kim. Then things started to change.

My Mama used to say, some people would cut your throat and laugh at you for dying to protect themselves. I finally realized there are people who will never respect me or value my presence. In their eyes, I’ll always be second-class no matter what I do or achieve. There are selfish, mean-spirited, condescending jerks who masquerade as decent human beings everywhere, including in workplaces and churches, social media, male and female, all races, and religions. We all deal with them. The trick is not letting these germs and parasites define your self-worth.

I messed up there. Despite being raised by a widow, I didn’t understand that being a widow meant being vulnerable. For the first time I measured myself by other people’s yardsticks. In addition, I foolishly looked for comfort materialistically to help fill the emptiness, which isn’t possible, by the way. I stopped taking care of myself, stopped taking my medications, my weight ballooned again, along with my problems. The attitude that got me through most of my life dissipated, replaced by discouragement and a severely tested faith. I crashed and burned, sinking into unchartered territory, for me, at least, convincing myself there was no hope.

Kim and I attended the Fleetwood Mac concert in Atlanta a few weeks ago. Before they began singing “Gypsy,” Stevie Nicks gave an inspiring speech. Below is an excerpt:

“So, the reason I’m telling you this very long, drawn out story is…if you have a dream and you believe in it and people will always say….no, no, no, you can’t have that, you have to do this or go that way. If you believe in your dream, don’t ever let anybody stand in your way and tell you can’t do it……Just focus and say this is my dream, this is my world, and I’m doing it.”

Her words slapped me in the face. I used to tell people this all the time to encourage them to make changes if they weren’t happy with their circumstances. If I could do it, they could too. Stevie Nicks hit me over the head with my own sermon. I will never forget that moment.

I love the capital of my state: Atlanta. Her symbol is the phoenix; the mythical bird consumed by fire, and then rose from the ashes. Atlanta rose from the ashes after the Civil War. It’s my turn to rise from the ashes. As I start this journey, I pray God will give me the words to encourage other burned out survivors to renew their strength too.

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© Dee Hardy | Encouraging the Discouraged, 2015. All rights reserved.

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