I have been asked by a few friends why my mood has been so different over the last few months and why things just seem to suddenly be (finally!) turning around for me.
I didn’t have a “come to Jesus” meeting. I didn’t change my attitude. It wasn’t positive thinking or the affirmations I read daily. (Although all those things work wonders and I believe in them and recommend them highly) For those things to work there has to be something to build on. You have to have one thing you can cling to that perpetuates the dreams and visions you carry in your heart. From January 2007 when I lost my house, to May 2008 when I became homeless and for the three years that followed as I was living sometimes in my car and sometimes in a bedroom or a basement in someone else’s house, I had nothing left to hold to. I had no home, no job, no routine, no escape from the grind of broken dreams and shame. Nothing but the fierce love I have for my daughter that kept me alive and enduring.
Well almost nothing…
What I was lacking was hope. Nothing was working. The plans I’d tried were failing. I put out 207 resumes and gotten ONE offer here in Nashville. It was for a part-time position at Publix. I began a move to Houston to take a job with an insurance company. I trained for three months. I took the Life and Health exam and scored the second highest score in the company history. Then Texas changed their licensing process and it was taking three months instead of three weeks to have my license. I couldn’t wait that long.
I drove back to Tennessee with my tail further between my legs and wondered if things would ever change at all. Life without hope is the worst kind of drudgery. I couldn’t point to one area of life that held promise. If you want to know how the class clown…the heretofore funniest guy in the room who never stopped making people laugh, can become an attack dog who prefers confrontation and harsh words over funny one-liners…take away his hope.
That was where I was when I got back to town in August.
The only constant I could point to during this prolonged period of loss (other than my stubborn love for my daughter) was school work. I had taken advantage of my destitute position and applied for grants and aid and returned to college to finish my degree. My alma mater has become the third largest online university and that afforded me the chance to complete what I’d started in 1984, and at the same school I’d attended without moving to Lynchburg Va.
So in August 2009 I began my studies again. I plodded along for two years while searching for a plan and a vision. Nothing worked and dreams continued to die while still in infancy. I worked odd jobs and lived in an embarrassing fashion. I studied at Panera or FedEx office or by flashlight in my car. I would love to tell you I made straight A’s but that would be a lie. Given the circumstances it was very hard to put forth my best effort day in and day out, but I did B / C work and I got through.
This past August 17 (2011) I was in FedEx Office uploading the last of my summer assignments and decided to run a Degree Completion Audit. (This tells you what you need to graduate, how much of it you have completed and what remains)
This was the day Hope arrived.
I need 120 hours to graduate. As of August 17 I had 100 with two semesters coming up. At 12 hours each, that meant I would graduate in May 2012.
I’ve recounted this story before so I won’t go into detail, except to say I had to run outside so nobody would see me crying.
What is it about a degree Audit that would drive a fairly large man to tears?
Prior to this moment, it had been four years since hope had begun to diminish. It had been three years since it vanished altogether. Nothing was working. No plans would succeed. Nothing. Take away someone house and it hurts. Take away someone’s job and it hurts. Take away someone’s family and it hurts. Take away someone’s dreams and it hurts.
Take it all away and it will kill your soul.
That’s where the night of August 17 found me and where God threw me a lifeline.
Looking at that paper and realizing that for the first time in three years one thing I’d attempted was going to work was a steroid shot for me. Seeing a real, tangible, valuable goal in front of me and being able to see it and touch it for the first time in three years was like a heart transplant.
Hope is an amazing thing. If you have it…even a tiny bit…everything looks better than if you don’t.
Instantly I was transforming. I was softening and dropping my guard. Within a week I had decided to return to carpentry and doors flew open. I’ve been able to earn consistent (if not huge) money since September. I leave the job each day with more of that tangible accomplishment in my soul. It’s a job that gives you something to see every day that tells the world you just worked a good day’s work. Pride returned.
Last week I moved into a beautiful 2 bedroom condo…this weekend I spent with my daughter...overnight. I cooked her breakfast and tucked her in. We went to church together for the first time in almost three years. I felt like a dad again.
Hope does this. Hope has made me start being funny again. Hope has made me let go of being angry for angers sake. Hope has made me a nice guy again. Hope returned when I saw something actually working out. I instantly transformed from a survivor to an achiever. There is a lot to be said for that.
If you know someone struggling with defeat after defeat. Pray for hope. Pray for some sort of success to come their way. People don’t really want hand outs. People don’t really want government-created pseudo jobs that really aren’t careers or life’s work. They want hope. They want something to hold to that says “I can do this and this will open doors for me”. I always wondered what the guy who chiseled Lincoln’s nose on Mt. Rushmore would have done once that project was over had WWII not happened. Chisel another nose on another mountain?
Hope is everything when you are trying to build…or rebuild. Without it we are sad, miserable, scary people. We are hopeless. With it we love, laugh, smile, joke, forgive and ask forgiveness.
Pray for hope.