How Suffering Can Build Character

Ever since I was an infant, I have always hated suffering.  I don’t only hate going through suffering and trials, but I hate to see other people I love in pain. Violence on television sometimes makes me cringe.  However, in the past few years, I have learned over and over again, had it not been for certain bouts of suffering in my life, I would have never been the kind of person I am now.  I am still far from perfect. However, I can attest that most, if not, all the trials in my life have served to strengthen and better me as a person.  Here is what I learned about how certain areas that I experienced suffering in my life have helped build my character.

Suffering physically/health-wise

For regular readers of this blog, you have probably read the story about when I almost died in June 2014.  To make a long story short, I started having more and more pain in my side area of my body. I thought it may have been from heavy lifting, until I started throwing up blood. Thankfully, the doctors and nurses found the source of the problem: my gallbladder, which was twice the size it should have been, inflamed, and had at least several gall stones in it.  Then, the next day, the gallbladder was taken out before it could have burst—just in time.  During and after this ordeal, I learned many things.  First of all, I learned not to take life for granted, especially the time spent with loved ones, because you never know when your time is up on this earth.  Secondly, I learned how lonely and depressing being sick and/or bed-bound can be. I only experienced this for about several days, and already I was depressed and had cabin fever.  I could only imagine how people who cannot get out of bed for weeks and months at a time must feel! Thus, this incident has caused me to pray more for people in my congregation who are sick and have more compassion for those that cannot get out of bed.  One of my pastors told the congregation about how people in our church who have been battling cancer do not come to the pastors first, but to other people who have been through the same thing they have, and thus would have more experience and compassion in how to best deal with their situation.

Being bullied in school and elsewhere

Some people I have met in the past few years would probably not believe that when I was growing up, I struggled a lot with making friends and was getting picked on regularly by my peers, because my life is so different now. However, I remember, especially in middle school and my first year of high school, people mocking me for everything from my ethnicity to the clothing I wore.  To make matters worse, most of the teachers were either unaware of what was happening or partly blamed me for being victimized by my own peers and thought I should try to “fit in” better.  (NOTE: Abuse and bullying is NE VER the victim’s fault!)  Also, some people pitied me and tried/pretended to be my friend, but they never stuck around long.  Even though these years were some of my most miserable and depressing, these events also served to strengthen my moral character. Out of these events, God developed in me a heart of care for all those who have ever been abused and/or bullied by others before. To this day, I have a strong urgency to do something to help those who have experienced abuse, bullying, or any other type of injustice. I do not want other people to experience the loneliness, desolation, and depression that I had experienced during some of those years in school.  I also don’t want people to think that they are unimportant or insignificant to this world, because every single person can make a positive contribution to this world. (Yes, this includes you!) If I had never been bullied in school, I would probably be extremely narcissistic and self-centered, as I was before this experience.  Even though I would not wish these experiences on anyone, I am thankful that I learned how to not treat people and thus, by default, know to treat others the way I would want to be treated.  I learned the high value of all people, even the ones that don’t stand out as much in this world.

Being unemployed or underemployed

There are many people I know that assume that most people can find a job in several weeks, and if they take longer that they are either “lazy” or “incompetent” in some way. I used to be one of those people when I was growing up.  However, during the times when I was looking for a job, I realized how arduous and discouraging the task can be, especially if you struggle with a disability or are somehow labeled as “different” from the normative idea of an “employable” person.  The interview itself can be very nerve-wracking. Something as insignificant as clothing choice or perfume smell can negatively impact an interview and also the chances of the applicant getting the job. This trial helped me in at least two ways: 1) I have more compassion for people who have a difficult time finding a job, but who still try, or even those that cannot work at all, no matter how hard they try.  2) I appreciate the job that I now have more because of the work and time it took me to get to where I am even now.  I work harder because I relish the joy of being able to be productive and make a difference in other’s lives.  I don’t take my job for granted, but have passion in what I am doing.

General suffering

In general, going through the trials I have has made me be able to comfort others who are going through similar things that I have gone through before. I am able to relate to them on a deeper, more intimate level, than if I couldn’t relate to them at all.  I have been able to develop more compassion for those who are suffering.  Also, I have hope, that, through the most difficult things that I experienced, that future trials will a.) Either not be as bad or b.) I will be able to overcome them with the help of God and of the people that will come into my life to help me through it.  Finally, through all the pain and hurt I have been through and witnessed others go through, I have realized both the value of people and time.  Because of this realization, I have been able to let certain irritants go  and just focus on making the best of my time with the people that love and care for me.

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Soul Healer

written : 5/11/2018

dedicated to  J, Erica*, Veronica*,  Kelly*, Alice*, Holly*, Anna*, and my managers Chris* and Hope*  (*= all are pseudonyms) 

I was alone and in pain

I was also going insane

I felt so much shame

And I was in despair

 

I felt so unworthy of love and care

I dared never to lay my soul bare

Because I knew they’d condemn me

And all I came to be

 

But then, as water

That refreshes the soul,

On a hot, dry day

You came to me

 

You affirmed me with your love

The one from up above

You gave me a reason to hope

When I was on my last rope

 

Now I want to always love you

And bare my soul to you

Because you saved my life

And showed me God’s love

To Those On Their Last Rope

Disclaimer: May trigger—mentions issues surrounding depression, self-harm, bullying, and suicide.

Intro:  Many people I know around me are struggling, not only physically, but emotionally as well.  As you may know, I have struggled with depression with many years, and I just wanted to share the hope I found with them—and with anyone here, reading this that may be struggling as well, that there is hope.  If you are feeling strongly suicidal or need someone right away to talk to, please call this number: 1-800-273-8255. It’s free and there are trained professionals that can help you through this tough time, so you never have to be alone.

_________________________________________________________________________________________________

Dear Friend,

I see that you have been struggling so much lately.  You may wonder through your daily routine, “ Is this life really worth it? “ You wonder if your suffering, your pain, will ever end.  You wonder if anyone really cares about you—or each other– for that matter.  You may not wonder these questions out loud, but subconsciously, you do.

I sometimes wonder these same things.

When I was in my sophomore year of high school, the pain was sometimes so great, I wondered if I had the strength to go on in life. I considered (more than once) a way to end my own life.  . In one of my diary entries from that time, I had written: “I wish I could be more […] effervescent (lively). I feel dead without being physically killed. I hope I don’t die emotionally, but I am dying. If I could only find that zest, that greatness life is supposed to hold. But where is it, at least in me?”

I also see that you are emotionally dying.  The spark, that smile, that I once saw, is now faded.  You seem really stressed and broken inside—like I was when I was in my sophomore year of high school.  I know you now see joy in my spirit, and a bounce in my walk. You also may think that “everyone likes me.” However, know that this was not always the case.

When I was in school, I struggled with being bullied, almost on a constant basis.  People would mock my way of dress, my hairstyle, and even how I looked.  This almost drove me to suicide, several times in my life.

Because of my history of being bullied, and being regularly excluded by my peers, I never really like I “fit in.”  I felt that in order to be part of any group, I had to beg. Then, maybe someone would feel sorry for me, and hang out with me for a while. That would, of course, never last for too long.

Then, in high school, I had an instructor that basically made me feel like I was worthless and would never amount to much in my life. I had almost no friends that could uplift and encourage me during that tough time, and this was before I knew about God’s love and presence in my life. I didn’t feel like I could talk to my family because I had assumed that they would not be able to really relate to my problems. Also, I had felt hopeless that I would find anyone around me who would truly accept who I was, inside and out. I didn’t think anyone would be able to really love me, especially if they really knew who I was inside.

Sometimes, I hear that you are being mocked and bullied by those around you too, and for that I am sorry.  I wish I could do more than just offer an encouraging word to you. I wish your bullies would know how much damage they are inflicting against your soul and your Creator as well, and repent of (i.e..stop) their bullying behaviors.

Know though that you are a valuable creation.  No one in the world is exactly like you (even if you have an identical twin!), and no one can touch the world in exactly the way you do!  Sometimes, I know you feel that you can’t do much positive, or live a legacy worth living.  However, that is the depression speaking, and it is lying!  Even if you are bed bound, you still can make an impact by greeting people who visit you with a cheerful and positive attitude, despite your pain and suffering. This will then make people look inside themselves, and say, “ Even with all the stuff that I’ve been through, I am grateful that even if I become bedbound, that I could make someone else smile!”

Also, reach out and get the help you need. You are NOT weak for asking for or needing help. On the contrary, depression is often a sign that you have tried to be strong too long. Know that you are not alone in your struggles. I sometimes still struggle too, but I know that there is hope for me.

I find that hope in a relationship with God and knowing that I am still able to make an impact on this world. It’s never too late to do something positive with your life—as long as you are still here!

So, what happened to me since high school?

I continued to struggle, off and on, with depression and suicidal thoughts, through my early twenties, though it was less than before I knew God’s love.

Then, about twelve years ago, I found a church that embraced me, and some friends who were willing to support and love me through the long haul. I am still in contact with some of them today.  I am eternally grateful that God brought me to that church.  I explored my passions for helping others and also began to write more often.

About two years ago, one of my managers, Chris* (NOT his real name), interviewed me for a position at my current job.  This position I still hold to this day.  Then, about a year ago, God brought me to another church, which has shown me how to love others, at a deeper level than I have ever known before.  Both, through my current job and my church, I have found a joy and love that I had only dreamed of before.

It may take a long time to realize your dreams, but it is never too late to start somewhere. Don’t give up. There is always a light at the end of the tunnel.

Sincerely,

Patricia

Letting Go of Past Hurts

I know many people who hold onto grudges and the darkness of the past for dear life.  For a long time, I was one of those people.  Sometimes, I still glance at the past darkness, but it no longer affects me as much as it used to, and I am finally healing from the people that have hurt me in the past. Because of so many great people that I am blessed to have in my life, I have learned to let go of many of my past hurts. Here is what I learned in the process, and I am still learning, day by day:

A) Dealing with Past (and Present) Rejection

I have heard of many instances where Person A is rejected by Person B in, let’s say, a long-term friendship, and Person A has a very tough time letting go of Person B.  In some cases, the person being rejected even takes vengeance against the person rejecting them, with deadly consequences.

Being rejected, starting at the tender age of two, at a daycare center, I know how it feels like to not be wanted. I was also often the last to be picked on a sports team, or any group, growing up in school. If I had the attitude of some people in society about being rejected so many times, I would probably be a miserable, cruel person, similar to people who abuse or hurt others regularly.

Thankfully, I learned to let go.  I learned that though rejection is painful, I don’t need a particular person (other than Christ) to make me happy or fulfilled in life.  I learned that people always come and go out of our lives, and that my goal in life is just to make a positive difference in as many people’s lives as possible. If I am only with the same group of people my entire life, yes, we would be very close, but I wouldn’t be able to make as great an impact to the world, as if some of them chose to or had to leave me. Tell yourself, “I can live without them.”

Also remind yourself of your own value and worth, even in the face of rejection. Repeat after me: I am not a less valuable person because someone else fails to see my worth to them.  Truth! Your value does not change based on how popular you are, or how many people love or don’t love you.  You are infinitely valuable, no matter what people say about you. Remember that.

Finally, ask yourself what you can learn in the face of the rejection. If someone rejected you because you did not treat them well, resolve to learn how to treat others better, so you won’t be rejected in that way again. If someone rejected you for superficial or other flimsy reasons,

don’t take that personally. Use that experience as a lesson in how not to treat others.

B)Dealing with Past Hurts

When someone hurts you.—I’m sure almost everyone has experienced someone hurting them in the past. Some of you have even experienced some horrific abuse by the people who were supposed to love and protect you.  For those people, I am sorry, and I hope you will be able to heal from that, at your own pace and timing.  For others of us, however, we may have been hurt emotionally by someone who isn’t even that close to us, but for whatever reason, have not been able to fully let go or forgive them.  This following advice is more for you.

First of all, if I was dealing with someone that hurt me emotionally that didn’t live in my house and was not family (and even if they were family),  I would try to remind myself of all the times that I was shown mercy  when I hurt someone else.  Sometimes, when you are able to put your hurt into perspective, it alleviates the pain a little bit.

Second of all, intentionally strive to be kind to your offender. This is what I did for several people at work when they had hurt me emotionally.  Important to note: You cannot have a “martyr’s” attitude (i.e : the “I guess I’ll be nice so they know how much it costs me” attitude) towards them, otherwise this doesn’t work the way it should.  Being kind to them must be from the heart.  You must have some compassion and love for them, even in your hurt.  What I found when I intentionally tried to be kind to them from my heart, they eventually softened towards me, and in many cases, we were even able to be reconciled to each other!

Another thing that can be useful, especially if you believe in God, is to pray for your offender or offenders.  Praying for them is different from praying against them. Do not pray, for example, that they will get cancer or die. Pray instead for their success in life, their repentance, their joy, and positive things like that.

If you hurt them.—We also all have hurt someone else.  When someone tells you that you have hurt them, or if you know somehow that you have offended someone, seek forgiveness from them. Offer them a contrite and humble apology. Any so-called apology with “but” or “if” in it is not a real apology because it excuses or blames, and does not take full responsibility for one’s actions.  In an apology, never blame the victim. Also, always be willing to do anything you can to restore the situation and make amends for your wrongdoing and hurtful actions.  For instance, if you slandered someone else out of envy, you could try to amend the situation by admitting to all those you bad-mouthed the victim to that you lied about the victim, and asking for forgiveness.  However, if the forgiveness is refused by any of these parties, then you need to let go. Demanding forgiveness is evidence of a proud, unrepentant heart.  Forgiveness must be given freely in order to be genuine.  Don’t try to force it out of someone.

C) Dealing with Fallen Dreams

If I got a U.S dollar for all the dreams that I had for my life, beginning when I was five years old, that failed, I’d probably be pretty rich.  We all have had wishes and goals that never have come to fruition, or plans that have changed.

Several people I know have had their career dreams cut short or been changed by a certain event or events.  I know I have. For instance, when I was a little child, one of my career goals, was to be astronaut. However, that fell on its head when I had to get glasses a few years later. (They don’t allow people to be astronauts who don’t have 20/20 vision, at least, as far as I know.).  Also, when I was in college, I wanted to do something in biology, until I realized that chemistry and physics were required, and they were not my strong suits.

One thing that has helped me deal with these (and other) fallen dreams is to see the good in my current situation. For example, I believe I am able to make more of a difference at my current job as a sales associate, rather than I would as an astronaut with maybe ten other people (max) in the shuttle. Yes, astronauts do make a world of difference still, and I am not discounting that. Rather, I am saying that for me I am better suited in my current job than I would be as an astronaut.

Another thing that has helped me overcome fallen dreams is learning from my mistakes.  For instance, I failed a course in school, but later relearned the concepts again to the point that I would be able to probably pass the course if I had to take it now.

Also, if a lot of your dreams are shattered, sometimes you can get so discouraged that you quit trying. That is what happened to me with driving. Luckily, I found my mentor J that encouraged me to try again. Find someone who will encourage you to persevere, and don’t quit.  Try not to set too lofty goals, at first, but set small, reachable goals, and do whatever it takes to reach them. Be determined and believe that you can accomplish your dreams… because you can!

 

These are the ways that I have let go of my past hurts. Yes, I have been through a lot in my past, and yes I still carry battle (emotional) scars, but my past has only made me a stronger person.  Your past doesn’t have to get in the way of being who you were meant to be.  Letting go may not be easy, but it is worth it.

Further (a poem)

Further  written on 2/11/2018

You said I wouldn’t amount to much

You said things that invalidated me as such

You made me cry and cry

And you almost made me die

 

But you don’t know my Savior

You don’t know how far

He has taken me

And what He has created me to be

 

You don’t know the love

He has lavished upon me

And how far I’ve come

Because of the one from up above

 

And the loving friends He sent me

Because they believed in me

When you wouldn’t

And just couldn’t

 

Yes, you wouldn’t even believe

I would make it this far

But what you couldn’t perceive

Is that I made it further

Letter to My 13 Year Old Self

Dear 13 Year Old Me,

I know things have been difficult for you lately, and you feel that there is little meaning and purpose to your life.  You feel that no one would want to get to know the Real You if they found out all about you.  You feel that in order to be truly loved and accepted, you would have to be reasonably thin and look like a model in the magazines and in the movies. In other words, you have to not only be perfectly sociable, you have to look the part too, if there ever was such a thing.  Consequently, because you don’t measure up to these standards, you think that is why you don’t have any friends—or any confidence in who you are and what you are becoming.

You have a lot of other stressors too.  You just moved to a new house, and will move to a new school soon. The old house hasn’t sold yet, so your parents are busy with that and have less time for you.  You also feel the need to keep your grades up because you don’t want your parents to get upset at you and you want to be able to compete with the intelligence of your very smart younger brother.

You want to give up, or at least wish all these problems away. You want to run away from them because life is becoming increasingly unbearable for you.  Even in the midst of all the stress and anguish that you are facing, let me tell you, there is still hope for you.  Don’t you give up on life! I know it is very tough right now, but things WILL get better. I promise.

In fact, three years later, you will meet the Greatest Friend there is—Jesus Christ!  He won’t give a care how you look like or how sociable you are.  He will accept you. Just. as. you. are. He will change your life for the better. No longer will you have to worry about being loved and accepted by your peers and other people in your life, but you will be more and more secure in who you are because Jesus loves you!

You won’t have to worry about competing with your brother for grades. Heck, grades won’t even matter nine or ten years from now! You will even have a full-time job, though it will be different from what you imagine it to be, and even though it will be tough to get at first. God will make you and your brother successful in your own ways, so you won’t worry about competing with him anymore.

Moreover, you won’t have to rely on your parents alone or even your brother for affection and attention, because God will provide you with many friends. Though God will always be your Ultimate Friend, these other friends will help you see the goodness and love of God ever more clearly. Best of all, you will be able to open up about yourself more without fear of rejection or criticism because it won’t bother you anymore. God will always be with you, and He is the One that will ultimately matter the most to you.

Finally, don’t give up because God will do something great and wonderful in your life if you let Him. Your love for everyone and everything (except, of course, the devil and the evil in this world) will overflow to others. You will experience joy in your life like never before!

Keep going! God will help you through this!

Love,

Patricia (in her 30s)

What I Learned From the Toughest Years of My Life

DISCLAIMER: Triggers for talk of eating disorders, abuse, and suicide.  Absolutely no disparaging comments about anyone, or your comment will be deleted! I will also put resources for anyone or a loved one you know that needs them. Remember, there is still hope as long as one is still alive!

 

On April 9, 1999, I wrote the following, a desperate cry from the depths of my soul: I feel dead without actually being killed. I hope I don’t die emotionally, but I am dying. I want to get better… […] If I could only find that zest, that greatness, life is supposed to hold. But where is it, at least in me?” This was a year before God took a hold of my heart, the year that my faith hero, Rachel Joy Scott and thirteen other lives were taken in the infamous mass shooting in Colorado.  This was also the year that I was verbally abused by a teacher, and he instilled a fear so great that it was fifteen years later before I was able to overcome it.  I don’t recall having any close friends at all at this time. I remember having a lot of tough classes too.

The years before that were not so much better. Three years earlier, I struggled with an eating disorder, which thankfully did not end up with me being in the hospital, though it almost got to that point.  I struggled with being bullied and verbally abused by a good number of my peers. I don’t recall being invited to any parties or gatherings with friends, unless I asked them first, and even then people didn’t really want to hang out with me.

During those years, from 1996-1999, were the toughest years of my life. Though I thought the pain would never end and I didn’t know if there was anything different for my life, I learned so much from these years of pain that I continue to strive to apply to my life today.  Here are some of them:

  1. Don’t reject someone just because they are different or needy.—I felt rejected by a lot of people during those years. Some people probably didn’t want to be with me, simply because I wasn’t “cool” to them. I didn’t have the right clothes, the right look. Some thought I was unkind because I was a bit depressed at times, without them taking the time to figure out what was wrong and invest in me.  Yes, there are times when it may not be safe to invest in someone at the time, but at least don’t assume they are “rude” or “arrogant” without learning their story. What if that “rude” (read: really depressed or angry) person’s parent or spouse recently died or is being abusive to them? What if they are going through things that they don’t tell you about because they assume you are too judgmental to caringly listen to them? You never know what another is going through. For instance, some people at my job may seem rude and abrasive at times, but then I find out that they are going through some things that are really traumatizing and/or difficult, and because of my experiences during those tough years that I mention, God helps me to listen with compassion, and I try to encourage and be a listening, supportive friend to them.
  2. Be careful of hurting someone with your words. It can ruin or hurt their very souls.–This is what happened to me when a teacher (I am not upset at him anymore….and if you are reading this today, I forgive you and I wish you the best) verbally abused me so badly that he instilled a fear that took me a long time to overcome. I think I internalized what he had said to me, and just gave up hope of ever becoming competent in the subject matter that he taught.  It wasn’t until my mentor, J, pushed me, that I was able to overcome this fear several years ago. I was also verbally teased and berated by my peers at school, who made me feel like an outcast and a pariah.  This is why when I say something out of anger that could really hurt someone, I apologize as quickly as possible.  This is also why I try to build up people, rather than tear them down. I want to improve other people’s lives and prevent them from ever having to suffer as I did with hurtful words.
  3. Pain and heartache may last awhile, but it doesn’t usually last forever—During those tough years, sometimes I thought so much that my emotional hurt and anguish I felt would never end, that I wanted to end it all. However, I am living proof that joy does come in the morning, as it says somewhere in the Bible. The next year, not only did the pain subside, but God also came into my life! Shortly after I graduated from college, I met one of my closest friends to this day. Almost two years ago, I started this blog, God’s Whisperings.  About a year ago, I became full-time at my current job. There is hope, as long as you are still alive. The pain may take some time to subside, but hang in there, so you don’t miss the hope, the love, and the joy you can have if you persevere in life and don’t give up.

These are major things that I learned during the toughest years of my life. I hope if you are going through a similarly tough time, whether it be dealing with a loss of a loved one (My grandmother died in 1996.),  dealing with abuse or bullying, struggling with an illness, whether it be physical or mental, or any other tough situation, that you will know that you are not alone.  I hope you will know that there is hope for your life, no matter how desperate or bleak it looks right now.  And I hope that you know that good will come out of this tough situation, even if you can’t see it right now. Don’t give up.

 

Resources for those dealing with some tough situations:

  • NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness)- This is an organization that helps people and their families dealing with mental health issues.  https://www.nami.org/Find-Support
  • Suicide Hotline- https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/
  • Grief counseling/support groups page—This is a webpage dedicated to helping those who have lost a loved one and are looking for support or ways to get through it. https://grief.com/group-resources/
  • RAINN (Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network)—This is a website dedicated to those who have been sexually abused and/or assaulted. There is a hotline one can call in a life-threatening situation or just for support.  https://www.rainn.org/
  • Jodie Blanco—She is an advocate who speaks on behalf of the bullied, both people who are currently being bullied, and adult survivors of bullying. There are some great resources for survivors themselves, parents, and teachers. There are even some resources on how bullying in schools can be stopped. http://www.jodeeblanco.com/