"Life." It is a precarious word. It means different things to different people. Ultimately, though, it is yours. You live your life. You set the direction. You maneuver the bumps that are inevitable and numerous. You have to be present in living your life. For what reasons would you let your life live you? You cannot let your life circumstances run you over and make you submissive to them. They are circumstances. While they are often unfair, challenging, or difficult, they are merely circumstances. And circumstances change. Your circumstances do not determine your happiness or satisfaction with your life, although many people allow them too. Many people get stuck in their circumstances because they are so focused on what is wrong or what they don't have, they forget to look for what is right and all the things they do have. We all have imperfect circumstances -- we live in an imperfect world. How you respond to them will be paramount to the direction your life will go. If you let your circumstances take over, your life is living you, you are not living your life. I have known this as I face the circumstances of my life head-on, but it was not until a recent conversation with a friend that it all became so much clearer.
The conversation began with me expressing that I was feeling a little lost in what God has planned for me. Following God's commands since being widowed and suffering a traumatic brain injury has felt like more of a challenge because it still doesn't make sense to me on so many levels. At times, I am still grasping for an understanding instead of trusting. In those moments, I sometimes don't even have the emotional energy to get out of bed. But I do, every day, some days in a thicker haze than others. As I press forward, the haze always lifts for moments, but some days, I just honestly feel lost.
My friend replied the way I feel like I'm often met when these discussions happen. He said, "your situation is rather unique. As a matter of fact, I've never had such a tragedy happen to someone who I interact with. If anything, you are certainly the exception to any common wisdom." And beyond that recognition of the magnitude of what has happened to me, people feel like they don't have anything to offer because they haven't been through it. I completely understand their fear of saying the wrong thing. Thankfully, my friend didn't stop there! Although he cannot relate specifically, he can relate to having to take charge of your life and not letting the circumstances define you. Through the teachings of motivational speaker Jim Rohn, my friend provided me the most amazing illustration of "setting the sail" in your life. He said:
It's not what happens that determines your life's future; it's what you do about what happens. All of us are in a little sailboat and it's not the blowing of the wind that determines our destination, it's the set of the sail. The same wind blows on us all. The wind of disaster, the wind of opportunity, the wind of change, favorable and unfavorable winds, political wind, economic wind, social wind. The same wind blows on everybody. The difference is attitude and where you arrive next week, next year, tomorrow... the difference in arrival is not the blowing of the wind, but the set of the sail. This is what learning is all about, to set a better sail than last year. Sandra, the ability to change is not a law, it's an opportunity."
Wow... the set of the sail... I love this illustration for my healing as well as in my daily life. The confusion in my brain cleared up as I realized this is what I have been attempting to do all along. Through my grief and healing, I have had my sail set towards progress, towards forward movement, and then the reality of loneliness hit and I stopped properly operating my sail. I left it neglected and just hoped it was going in the right direction. I can now see that I have to continue in this journey with all the intentionality that I had in the beginning. The same resolve for better health and a better life. One of my favorite quotes since I was a little girl is, "there are no shortcuts to any place worth going." That includes this time in my life. Although it is uncharted and untraveled, I can see the shortcuts. As tempting as they may appear at times, they are really just a path to nowhere. A path to immediate needs and instant gratification, not longevity, a path to temporary, not everlasting.
As the conversation continues, I begin to understand that God's working on me. Because although the wind is blowing like crazy, God is showing me how to set the sail for His glory and the changes I need to make and I want that opportunity. I want that knowledge not only for myself but for helping others. The bottom line is that no matter what we have been through in our lives, we still have the ability to help others. The ability to say to someone, "I can't fix your circumstances, but I can help you set your sail in a purposeful and intentional matter. With your sail set, while you're out there, with the wind blowing, you'll know where you're heading." You now have not only encouraged them to set the sail of their actions, but also to set the sail of better thinking. In that moment, lives change.