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WHERE DO I GO FROM HERE?
Bold Living after Unwanted Change
By MIRIAM NEFF
Copyright © 2012 Miriam Neff
All right reserved.
Chapter One The Biggest Loser Is ...
Lost: your dream, your cozy home, your career, the job you thought would carry you through. Lost: your marriage. Lost: the last breaths of life of someone you cherish—your child, your soul mate, your mom or dad.
Each loss is different. Though some are more sudden, others engulf our lives slowly, one foreclosure letter at a time, one cancer cell at a time, one inch of water at a time. Some losses thrash us in an instant: "Put your personal belongings in a box. An officer will accompany you to the door."
Crisis means we're punching numbers on the phone—911 numbers we never thought we'd punch with such desperation.
But here we are.
Of course, I don't know your story. But you have one, or you would not have picked up this book. I have my stories, but this book is not about me. It's about you, where you are now and where you can be.
There are "survival" books that just don't raise the future bar high enough for laughter, love, and adventure. These should not be considered possibilities for people after great losses, but actual probabilities. I want to try to paint that picture with words and a practical perspective that will turn your head from facing backward to looking ahead expectantly and then moving forward, from pain to gain, from loss to love and laughter.
Likely you feel beaten down. Not just your bank account if you're in bankruptcy. Not just moving into a space you never imagined you'd need to cram into again. Not just rehashing why you lost your job, rehashing the "what-ifs." When you face the death of someone you cherish, your soul weariness is unreal. Your emotional tank is empty, and your body lets you know it's feeling the hit as well.
You may feel you'll be down forever.
But, my friend, the human spirit, though feeling crushed at this moment, is neither docile nor capable of being submerged forever. While you may not feel it now, or even believe my words now, there is an irrepressible possibility within you for a different life you can't imagine at this moment.
Our human spirit is resilient beyond our imagination. But that strength, even rebirth, seldom exerts itself when life is smooth and easy. When income is steady, creativity is unnecessary. When good health and strength for the day are givens, seldom do we improve our diets and self-care. When death has not touched cherished lives around us, we seldom contemplate what is truly worth investing the last ounce of our strength for someone, or a cause that matters. A life of ease is seldom a catalyst to catapult us to a more meaningful, expansive life.
When life happens, tragedy happens, whether we participated in the cause or not, we have that sense of loss. Whether we reel and are swept from our feet, or we feel just a gentle unsettling breeze, at some point we ask ourselves, "Where do I go from here?"
It's not uncommon for our thinking to be clouded by thoughts of "I'm a loser." We remember with anguish folks people have branded as losers, and now we're doing that to ourselves. Let's change that script like a popular television show once did. At that time, they gathered folks who had poor health habits that had resulted in unhealthy bodies and too many pounds. The competition to slim down was a good thing and the biggest loser was actually the winner: a healthier body, money, and other perks as well.
We can change our big loser events into big winner outcomes.
You can live a life you never would have lived had this crisis not happened. But don't let me convince you; rather let the evidence roll.
Steve Jobs was once squeezed out from Apple, the company he birthed. Apple is now the most valuable company in the United States. Valued at $338 billion, it creates products that Grandma Hattie would never have dreamed of. She and Aunt Minnie would be shocked at the things I can't live without today that did not exist in their world, like Apple computers, iPads, and iPhones. Steve created this company, led it most of the way, and was key in its huge success.
We don't know how long Apple will be the most valuable company, the hot stock to own. But Steve Jobs came back after being squeezed out to become the human symbol of technology, creativity, management, and marketing acumen. He had a career most would envy. And, remember, he was once, for all practical purposes, fired!
Having lost his battle with pancreatic cancer, Steve Jobs leaves a legacy of innovation, a company responsible for the employment of almost 60,000 people, the most admired company in the world since 2008. Customer loyalty for Apple products is unprecedented. Would Jobs have envisioned such success back in 1985 when the board removed him from management decisions and he resigned rather than stay on the sidelines? One can say that Jobs experienced quite a party in his life after that initial loss.
Basketball star Michael Jordan was cut from his high school basketball team his junior year. He is regarded as the greatest basketball player of all time with an average of 30.12 points per game, achieving ten championships with seven in a row.
Opera singer Marion Anderson was denied the opportunity to sing in Constitution Hall on Easter Sunday because of her color. This rejection marked a milestone in the Civil Rights movement. The president's wife at the time, Eleanor Roosevelt, arranged for her to sing on the steps of the Lincoln Monument instead. Overnight she became an icon. Dr. Martin Luther King was in the audience.
My friend Ginger found herself in an unimaginable nightmare. Ginger initially experienced all the negatives of being the biggest loser. When her husband was incarcerated, she lost her marriage, her job, her home, her insurance, and her identity. Here are Ginger's own words:
"Top 5" Things Lost in One Year
My Marriage. Our once secure, thriving marriage of sixteen years was changed forever due to a prison sentence my husband received for white-collar crime.
My Job. My successful, full-time job as the CFO of three businesses was lost.
My Insurance. Both medical and dental coverage for our family were gone as a consequence of losing my full-time position.
Our House. The town house where we lived for ten years was lost through foreclosure.
My Identity. I no longer knew who I really was as I struggled to redefine my roles and purpose in life as a wife, mother, management executive, and sole provider for six children ages three to sixteen.
The Ginger I know today, many months into this ordeal, has become a more direct, loving, Mama Bear mom. She's discovered financial resources and ways to live on less that few of us ever imagined. Working with flexibility in a part-time job, she juggles being personal taxi driver, homework supervisor, home manager, and single parent for her growing children.
Ginger's small space is so efficiently utilized, you'd think it was her home of choice. I see her identity changing to become self-sufficient in ways not only necessary, but satisfying. And more changes are yet to come. We'll come back to her story later. But for now, are you beginning to see, as I am, an indomitable spirit within that Ginger never knew she had?
As I've listened to people in their times of loss, I recognize that we share similar experiences. Life as we knew it stops. In our jumbled thinking, we first try to analyze and sort it all out, to make sense of the chaos. "What If?" is the major theme. In the process, we discover a new view of people and things. Unwanted change brings surprises in our perceptions. We also feel alone—and in fact we may be. This becomes a foundation for new connections. Let's explore these shared experiences.
What's the difference between the person who stays in the stagnant space of looking backward, whining, bitter, and even taking on the permanent mantle of "victim," and those who begin to see a glimmer of hope and grasp it with a tenacious grip they never knew they had?
The answer depends on what they do with the big "What If?" question.
First, let's be honest and admit that we all do play the what-if game.
If I had parented differently, my child would not be ... addicted, incarcerated, involved with the wrong crowd, whatever. The list of what-ifs for parents of struggling children, even adult children in their fifties, is endless. This particular what-if is a double-barrel loss. First we revisit every mistake we ever felt we made while raising our child who is troubled, destroying his or her own life, or at least not moving forward by our definition of success. Second, we are tempted to compensate by over-care, overinvestment, overindulgence, and overcompensation. These overreactions deplete us, and keep that child—young, middle-aged, or vintage—in a dependent state.
If I hadn't taken out that home equity loan ... I wouldn't be facing this foreclosure. The national foreclosure rate is now one out of every 583 homes in the United States. Realtors predict millions more in the next few years. The upside is for those who purchase that foreclosed home at a savings. Here is the percent saved in several states by purchasing that foreclosed home.
44% New Hampshire
However, that savings to so many buyers also represents great loss for many others. Those numbers represent people who have lost their homes, and you may be one of them. The buyer may have saved from 40–52 percent of your home's value. But the money they saved is money you lost. Losses are rarely lone events. That home loss likely represents loss of credit rating, loss of treasured memories, and devastation to your personal pride.
If only I had not charged all that stuff, I wouldn't be sitting in this bankruptcy office today. That assessment of blame may be perfectly correct, but planning a solution and forgiving yourself while committing to a different future is better than rehashing why you purchased each item you could not afford.
My friend Ginger moved from 1,900 square feet to 1,100 square feet with her family of seven. Other young widows, families, and adult children have had to move in with parents or friends. So an initial devastating loss is accompanied by loss of solitude and personal space. As difficult as this sounds, I've heard many follow-up stories, of three-generation regroupings who've made huge changes learning to flex with the needs of the new family group. They've come to love and appreciate each other in a way they never would have experienced had they not combined their households.
The three recent home foreclosures in my neighborhood all started with divorce. Personal esteem usually hits the skids among the many losses with divorce.
I've listened to close friends in painful divorce proceedings go through a lengthy list of what-ifs. Secret keeping, wandering affections, addictions, self-centeredness, overspending, excessive thrift, hoarding, giving away too much, being in denial, being truthful or blunt—the if-only lists alone could fill a book. While divorce, of course, means loss of your spouse, typically a squadron of other losses accompanies this:
Loss of companionship
Loss of support—financial, intellectual, social, and emotional
Loss of hopes, plans, and dreams
What-if thinking is normal, common. Thankfully there are support groups and you may even have trusted friends and family to come alongside you, and be a measure of reality against what your perceptions might be.
There is some value in spending some time and mental and emotional energy considering the what-ifs. We humanoids have the capability of learning from our mistakes. Let me share exhibit A from my own life.
I love hiking, especially hiking with women friends in new places. We've hiked Acadia National Park in Maine, and also headed to Oregon for new adventures. The trails were beyond awesome, beautiful, serene, and sometimes strenuous. One Oregon stop was Crater Lake, the deepest, purest lake in North America. We hiked its rim and marveled at the change of water color as light and sunshine touched its surface and depth with lavender, even magenta, and more shades of blue than I have ever seen.
A boat ride was available so we trooped on, settled in, and began to see this work of nature, the handiwork of our Creator God, up close. The ride was too short; I hungered to experience more of Crater Lake. As we landed and prepared to leave, an additional option presented itself. A few folks (in hindsight I realize they were mostly young people) were leaping into the lake from a cliff. Intriguing! Our family has, many times, jumped from the twenty-foot cliffs above Table Rock Lake, Missouri, into the warm, summer waters—a pleasure indeed. Two from our group, our fearless leader, Carol, and myself, trooped up the path to the jump point. Hmmm. Thirty feet looks a lot higher than twenty feet. My mind was not computing that the water was sixty-six degrees—in other words, COLD. Also, that temperature means the molecules are more tightly packed together, more like a board than a soft comforter. These facts weren't getting my attention.
What I was very aware of, in every nerve of my body, was the beauty below that I must enter, experience, feel! I could imagine the sunshine in the free fall on my face. Wouldn't the sheer beauty of this water be heaven-like to enter?
The descent was more than I dreamed. Descending through the clean, pungently scented air was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. As I neared the water, its colors seemed rainbow-like in variety and softness, yet intensely exciting. Exquisitely alluring Crater Lake beckoned. And then I hit water.
Immediately I knew something was terribly wrong. In one instant, I wondered if my legs would move. Pain told me something was amiss. I seemed to be going deeper from any dive I'd ever taken. Then—yes, my legs moved. And even the pain could not take away the gift of the beauty of the multicolored layers of water that I plunged down through and then began to rise through; they were more exotic than I had imagined.
Eventually I surfaced, thankful for all my moving parts. The rocky place where one could clamber onto the shore looked much farther away than it had from my lofty dive point. There were no options, but simply a requirement to swim to it.
Can you imagine being thankful when your knees hit submerged boulders? I was glad to feel them. It meant I could climb out! Carol sat on a magnificently shaped protrusion looking like a mermaid. I was glad to reach her outstretched hand.
It would be weeks later, after lots of black and blue skin returned to normal colors, when I conceded that something else was wrong and went to my orthopedic doctor. The diagnosis? Compression fracture of vertebra lumbar one. Had the broken bone moved one more inch, my spinal cord would have been severed—and there would have been no walking, no swimming, no leaping again.
Why confess this goofy, impulsive, practically life-threatening act to you? Because I've learned from it. The first and obvious lesson: No more cliff jumping (especially with my Medicare card tucked safely in plastic in my hiking bag!).
Actually, I've learned several more valuable lessons from this. One is that my adventuresome spirit can morph into risk-taking. I need to pause and consider the possibilities. Is this risk worth taking? I also learned that my children are still adjusting to the loss of their dad. My foolish action frightened them. "What will Mom do next?" I needed to think more thoroughly about possible outcomes and about impact on others who care about me.
Life happens! Crisis, chaos, brokenness, death, and destruction are part of every human's experience. Some good can be derived from pondering "What If?" Evaluating our behavior keeps us from repeating our mistakes. What was our part? What might we have foreseen? Were we part of the catalyst? Could our actions and reactions have led to a different outcome?
Realize that you and I may never be able to figure out the answers to all these questions, though. If other people are involved, we do not control them. In fact, we often discover that we have less influence than we thought. Weather, another driver, a law we ignored, medications, and reactions—the list of variables we can't control could go on forever.
Excerpted from WHERE DO I GO FROM HERE? by MIRIAM NEFF Copyright © 2012 by Miriam Neff. Excerpted by permission of Moody Publishers. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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