A week or so ago I got a message from someone with a question I get asked a lot (and I ask a lot to others); How do you keep going? How do you cope when things are hard? Because I find it nearly impossible to write short answers to anything I care about (ask anyone that I’ve ever sent a text message to), I wrote back a small dissertation that I thought I’d share, as I find it to be a vital question and something so so soooo important when living out any peace-waging effort.
I have not cornered this market, but here are some things I have picked up along the way:
Counseling. I have been in and out of counseling for years. I first started going after being held-up/car-jacked in college and started displaying really odd behaviors, fears and nightmares. I was interning at AIDS Project Los Angeles and slowly a job that I had LOVED was turning me into a complete wreck. If needed, counseling is one of the greatest tools, once you can humble yourself enough to say “I freaking need help.” (That part took me a long time- in fact, someone else made my first counseling appointment for me and strong-armed into going. That said, I think everyone in the world could benefit from it.) It has really assisted me in processing things when I’ve thought I might lose my mind. It’s also helped me learn how to set up healthy boundaries- learning where to let go and recognize that I can’t make people’s decisions for them even if I want to and that at the end of the day, I really have very little control over anything has helped me a ton.
Art/Writing. I am not some incredibly talented artist- most of visual art is in a closet at my parent’s house and a good majority of the things I’ve written are in journals that I’ve made four different people promise they’d burn unread in the event that I die unexpectedly or decide to run for presidency- but finding a way for me to express myself has been a huge processing tool for me. Sometimes in the midst of something it’s really hard to see it for what it’s worth, I’ve found that reflecting upon things after the fact can be a pretty powerful healer and motivator.
People. I am INSANELY lucky in the human department. I have the best support system. I have a group of girls I call my “home team”- we send each other texts constantly updating, making jokes, asking for prayer, encouraging one another, screaming cuss words when we’re frustrated, etc., as well as a family that just won’t quit. Knowing that I am never walking alone has changed everything for me. Getting to a place where I was not too prideful to reach out and ask for help is not always easy for me, but it’s ALWAYS worth it. Having the right people around you who know you and know when it’s time to be gentle and empathetic and when it’s time to call you out on your crap is everything. I am not always easy to call out- I am super sensitive and more often than not will either cry and/or get defensive, but the people who love me the most are not afraid of that, they love me enough to push through those barriers. They also love me enough to know when what I need to hear most is “give yourself grace, Rachel.” This doesn’t mean I am never lonely- I think everyone is to some degree or another, but there is crazy freedom in being loved by people who understand you.
My faith. It took me a long time to really understand that God loves me, but He has really made my eyes open to that in the last few months in a way I’d never seen before. He’s done a lot of reminding me where I’ve been and how present He’s been from the beginning. Faith has always been a huge part of me, but it’s fluctuated, it’s never been simple or easily packaged- the thread it’s woven in and out of the facets of my being though make it impossible for me to deny. God has been really, really good to me and again, placed really amazing people in front of me who constantly reminded who He is when I fail to remember. I went through a period where I really, reaaallly doubted that God was real and found so much grace in my questioning. God is not afraid of my spinning head and through His allowance of me being in that place, I would say, I can see Him more clearly now than I ever had before.
Recognizing that I am fighting WITH God, not against Him. For a long time I would get really pissed at God and scream things like “If you were really good you wouldn’t allow injustice” or “DAMMIT, FIX THIS!” and the response I heard back the loudest: “That’s what you are here for, Rachel.” We, as solo humans can’t fix everything, but God will call you where He wants you to right the wrongs you can for His kingdom. Often times that calling looks less like a huge blaring sign and more like this is what fires me up the most- this is what speeds my heart-rate, I’ve gotta do this.
Looking at the micro, not just the macro. I HAVE to celebrate the small victories, not just the large. Looking only at the bigger picture constantly threatens to swallow me whole. Lao Tzu’s quote “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step” is one of my favorites, because it’s TRUE. Very few things will ever change overnight, but each step, each victory makes a dent and should be celebrated. Some days that is celebrating that one of my residents has been living indoors for an entire year, while other days it’s that someone who struggles with alcoholism ate a sandwich before they started drinking instead of doing so on a dangerously empty stomach- BOTH are victories, both deserve to be accounted for.
I know there are a million other, perhaps better, ways* to cope with the messiness of life and seeking shalom, but this is what I have learned to be most effective for me thus far. There’s a chance I could look back ten years from now and think wow, I sure was naive… but for now, these processing tools are working for me. I have a piece of paper taped to my computer at work that says “we’re all just kind of winging it” and I think to many degrees that’s true- it’s simply a matter of finding what helps you wing it with the most sanity, inner-peace and motivation to keep you fighting for what’s good in this world.
*wine, definitely wine