Finding Hope In The Chaos

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It can happen at anytime, that feeling of being overwhelmed by circumstances and getting steamrolled by life.  And it can be anything  that does it: a broken car, and cluttered home, a natural disaster, or a death in the family.  Sometimes, it’s not even a big thing.  It’s  that last straw that reminds you just how out of balance things were in the first place.

And when we reach that point, it can be so hard to restart again.  Some people, after hitting a derailment,  struggle for years trying just to find a foothold somewhere and to hang on.

Others, though, seem to bounce back a little faster.  They are bit battered, but they manage to center themselves and get moving.

Why is that?  What is so different about those people, that they keep going no matter what happens?  What’s the secret?

What I think it boils down to, is one word: HOPE

It’s a very simple, four letter, tiny word, with amazing powers to heal, to create love, to inspire, to resurrect, and to free. It has the ability to lift up a single person, or an entire country and remind us that the possibilities in life are endless.

Where does this wonderful hope come from, though? And again, why does it seem to be so elusive to some and instantaneous for others?  How do we find hope?

Well, let me tell you a quick story from last week, and then I’ll share my thoughts on bouncing back and finding hope.

Last week, was week two, of our stay-cation.  Greg and I had decided that this year we would save some money and spend our vacation at home, doing some things in our area that we just don’t take the time to enjoy. We went to the Great Reno Balloon Race to watch the early morning launch and we interacted with wildlife at the Animal Ark rescue park. We took the dogs along the Truckee River and went down to Genoa for a day trip. In between, we did projects at home and just enjoyed each other’s company.

Monday, we drove down to Placerville to stock up on fall apples. We love the trip and I pick up enough apples to make applesauce and pie filling for the year.  It’s a beautiful area and a pleasant drive.  This year, we decided to extend the trip a little farther and visit some small towns on our way back home.  We took Hwy 49 through the gold country, then caught Hwy 20 to get back on the main interstate.

Things were fine until we reached the Donner Pass Summit rest stop.  As I pulled in to park, the car’s steering locked up, the motor shut off, and the engine began to steam.  There was no warning, no hot temp reading on the engine gauge. The car had been running fine.

But the car was not fine.  We let engine cool.  We had packed extra coolant for the trip, because I had to add some before we left on our outing that morning. I thought it was good to have more on hand.  As we waited, we called our roadside assistance company to arrange for a tow home.  We were about 40 miles out,  but since our  roadside plan included  a 100 mile free towing, we weren’t too worried.

Two hours later, our assistance lady was still trying to find us a tow truck.  We were getting concerned now, because the pass was getting cold and rainy.  There was a storm coming in that we hadn’t been aware of and we were afraid we would be stuck there into the night.

After talking to roadside assistance one more time, we decided to trust our instincts and try to make it home.  We filled the fluids to the brim, and started off. We both felt that we could get some kind of help once we crossed the border into Nevada, since the DOT runs regular patrols looking for stranded motorists.

In the end we made it home, but later found out that we had blown a head gasket and our 20 year old car was toast.  We had been extremely fortunate for the whole trip.  The fact that we made it home, under our own steam (no pun intended) was a small miracle.

Then reality set in.  We didn’t have the money budgeted for another car.  We  were used to being a two car family. We weren’t sure how to manage buying a new car without going into debt.  Currently, we are saving and budgeting for other things. We were worried.  We thought about all of the what ifs, what coulds, and whatever crises we could think of. But after a day or two, we came up with a plan that we both felt somewhat comfortable with: Trying life out as a one car family.

In the grand scheme of things, this wasn’t a major crisis.  Yes, the car was gone. But we had been so very lucky to be  where we were when we had broken down. We were able to find  resources to get us going again.  We were safe.

In my younger years, this would have been a major crisis; but now, not so much. I think a lot of it has to do with how my perspective has changed. When I lost my job 12 years ago, it was a terrible time for me.  I had many, many crises hit me during a short 9 month period.  My best friend, sister, and brother in law all passed away. I became guardian, for my nephew in another state, I lost my job, my Mom developed Alzheimer’s.  To get my severance pay, I had to train others to do my job and personally set up a manufacturing  replacement warehouse in Mexico. I also had to tell my team that most of them were being laid off, as well.  I had to adapt to survive.  Slowly, I found my way through it. Since that time, things just don’t phase me for long anymore. When you go through a lot of challenges, you learn to roll with the punches.

So, back to the topic at hand: How do we get hope?

Here is my basic strategy to find hope, when it seems elusive.

Be kind to yourself.  This is probably the last thing we think about when the world is caving in. Our first instinct seems to be to dash out and deal with the problem.  And truthfully, sometimes, that’s just what you need to do.  You have to handle the immediate crisis.  But, as soon as you can, you need to stop and make sure that you are okay.  You can’t handle extra stress well, if you aren’t sleeping, eating, aren’t  healthy,  or getting support. And  you definitely won’t manage well if you are blaming yourself for the situation.  Maybe I could have kept double checking the water in car, since it had been low that morning (and truthfully, I did mutter this to Greg a few times at the rest stop), but I also trusted the car would give me a sign ( or a hot reading) if things were wrong. It didn’t. If I kept blaming myself or played the what if game, I wouldn’t be doing what I really need to do, which is to figure out a solution.

Know that the chaos will end. Everything has an ending, including whatever is currently overwhelming you. At times, this can be  really hard to see because the situation seems all-encompassing and can feel like it’s the only thing in your life.  But it’s just the current moment in time, and it will end. Keep that in mind when you start to feel like it’s going on forever.

Look at the big picture. You know the saying about the squeaky wheel getting the most grease, the same is true with whatever is challenging you at the moment.   It can seem like it’s everything.  But, even the really traumatic events, are just a piece of your life, and not the whole thing.  There have been good and wonderful things in your life.  They’re still there.  They will be there when you are past the chaos.  Just hang on, and try to see where, what is happening now, fits into  your overall life.

Focus only on what you have control over. Part of the feeling of overwhelm comes from trying to tackle everything in your path.  But there are some things that you can’t change. And if you try to put your attention there, you’ll just add to your frustration. Find things that you can deal with and change. If your house has flooded, you can’t do anything about the damage until the water recedes.  What you can do, is make sure  that you and your family are safe.  You can  find  shelter, help others find shelter, find food and water, and talk to people about what services are available to help you. Any time you can take some positive forward action, no matter what it is, you’ll feel better, and hopeful.

Focus on what you value.  What do I mean by value? Well, now that you gained some control over the current situation, you’ll have choices to make. In the case of our dead vehicle, we needed to decide when or even if, we would get another car. But just because we had two cars, that didn’t necessarily mean we needed both. Buying another car would have put us into debt, and challenged some of our current goals. We needed to decide what we really needed, and go from there. We asked ourselves questions, looked at our schedules, thought about what was important to us, and reviewed what costs were related to the second vehicle. Then we looked at options for the times when we might need to get to town separately. To us, it was worth trying to manage with one car.  Even if we eventually purchased a second car, we would be in a better position to afford the expense.

Decide on your next steps.  At this point, things will most likely be  a little more upbeat. You are in a safe place, you can see the big picture,  and you have regained some control over the situation. Now it’s time to look forward and plan the rest of your journey out of chaos. Maybe you can’t plan all of the steps now.  Maybe you can only get to the next fork in the road.  But you can plot out a general guideline to keep going when you get there.  So much of what hope is, comes from having a plan or direction in which to go.

Lastly, BELIEVE.    Believe in your dreams.  Believe in your faith. Believe in the people around you.  Believe that things eventually will be okay.  Believe that you will get there. Believe that there are greater things coming, that you can’t see … yet.  It may take a little longer than you think. It will probably be more challenging than you want. You may need to stop in the shade and rest more you planned, but you will get there.

I’m a firm believer in hope.  It keeps me going each day.  It makes  my bad days much better, and the good days, awesome.  There seems to be a solution to every situation I’ve encountered. They may not be quick to reveal themselves, at the time.  But they do seem to show up, eventually.

Here’s to hope and joy, and many peaceful days ahead for everyone.

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