Occasionally, life can be undeniably, impossibly difficult. We are faced with challenges and events that can seem overwhelming, life-destroying to the point where it may be hard to decide whether to keep going. But you always have a choice. Jessica Heslop shares her powerful, inspiring journey from the worst times in her life to the new life she has created for herself:
In 201x I had the worst year of my life.
I worked in a finance job that I hated and I lived in a concrete jungle city with little greenery. I occupied my time with meaningless relationships and spent copious quantities of money on superficialities. I was searching for happiness and had no idea where to find it.
Then I fell ill with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) and became virtually bed bound. I had to quit my job and subsequently was left with no income. I lived with my boyfriend of then only 3 months who financially supported me and our relationship was put under great pressure. I eventually regained my physical health, but not long after that I got a call from my family at home to say that my father’s cancer had fiercely progressed and that he had been admitted to a hospice.
I left the city and I went home to be with him.
He died 6 months later.
My father was a complete inspiration to me. He was always so strong that, for a minute after he drew his last breath, I honestly thought he would come back to life. I couldn’t believe I would never again cuddle into his big warm chest and feel safe no matter what.
The grief that followed was intense for all of us 5 children and our mother, but we had each other.
But my oldest sister at that time complained of a bad back. It got so bad after 2 months that she too was admitted to hospital.
They discovered that she had highly advanced cancer in her bones and that there was nothing that they could do.
She died 1 month later.
I could never put into words the loss of my sister in my life.
She was a walking, talking angel and my favourite person in the whole world. If someone could have asked me the worst thing that could ever happen, it would have been losing her.
She was my soul-mate and I never thought I would journey this lifetime without her.
The Moment Of Deliberate Choice
The shock and extreme heart break brought me to my knees. The pain was so great and my world just looked desolate. I had no real home, no money, no job, and no friends that cared. Not one person had even sent me a sympathy card for my loss.
I made an attempt of my own life and I ended up in hospital.
I remember lying in the hospital bed, looking up at the ceiling and seeing my sister’s beautiful face. She stayed with me all night long.
I realised during that night that I had a choice. I could choose to end my life or I could choose to live it.
I looked in my sister’s eyes and I made a decision not to go with her just yet. That I would stay and complete my journey here.
I also made the decision that, I wouldn’t just live any life. I would live the life that I absolutely LOVE and nothing less.
In that moment, the clarity that descended around me was like a light shining in a dark room for the first time. As if the earth’s plates had shifted under my feet and everything suddenly looked real for the first time.
We often close ourselves off when traumatic events happen in our lives; instead of letting the world soften us, we let it drive us deeper into ourselves. We try to deflect the hurt and pain by pretending it doesn’t exist, but although we can try this all we want, in the end, we can’t hide from ourselves. We need to learn to open our hearts to the potentials of life and let the world soften us.
Whenever we start to let our fears and seriousness get the best of us, we should take a step back and re-evaluate our behavior. The items listed below are six ways you can open your heart more fully and completely.
1. Breathe into pain
Whenever a painful situation arises in your life, try to embrace it instead of running away or trying to mask the hurt. When the sadness strikes, take a deep breath and lean into it. When we run away from sadness that’s unfolding in our lives, it gets stronger and more real. We take an emotion that’s fleeting and make it a solid event, instead of something that passes through us.
By utilizing our breath we soften our experiences. If we dam them up, our lives will stagnate, but when we keep them flowing, we allow more newness and greater experiences to blossom.
2. Embrace the uncomfortable
We all know what that twinge of anxiety feels like. We know how fear feels in our bodies: the tension in our necks, the tightness in our stomachs, etc. We can practice leaning into these feelings of discomfort and let them show us where we need to go.
The initial impulse is to run away — to try and suppress these feelings by not acknowledging them. When we do this, we close ourselves off to the parts of our lives that we need to experience most. The next time you have this feeling of being truly uncomfortable, do yourself a favor and lean into the feeling. Act in spite of the fear.
3. Ask your heart what it wants
We’re often confused at the next step to take, making pros and cons lists until our eyes bleed and our brains are sore. Instead of always taking this approach, what if we engaged a new part of ourselves that isn’t usually involved in the decision making process?
I know we’ve all felt decisions or actions that we had to take simply due to our “gut” impulses: when asked, we can’t explain the reasons behind doing so — just a deep knowing that it had to get done. This instinct is the part of ourselves we’re approaching for answers.
To start this process, take few deep breaths then ask, “Heart, what decision should I make here? What action feels the most right?”
See what comes up, then engage and evaluate the outcome.
Sandpipers to Bring Us Joy
She was six years old when I first met her on the beach near where I live. I drive to this beach, a distance of three or four miles, whenever the world begins to close in on me. She was building a sandcastle or something and looked up, her eyes as blue as the sea.
“Hello,” she said. I answered with a nod, not really in the mood to bother with a small child. “I’m building,” she said.
“I see that. What is it?” I asked, not really caring.
“Oh, I don’t know, I just like the feel of sand.”
That sounds good, I thought, and slipped off my shoes. A sandpiper glided by. “That’s a joy,” the child said.
“It’s a what?” I asked.
“It’s a joy. My mama says sandpipers come to bring us joy.” The bird went gliding down the beach.
“Good-bye joy,” I muttered to myself, “hello pain,” and turned to walk on. I was depressed; my life seemed completely out of balance.
“What’s your name?” She wouldn’t give up.
“Robert,” I answered. “I’m Robert Peterson.”
“Mine’s Wendy... I’m six.”
“Hi, Windy.” She giggled. “You’re funny,” she said. In spite of my gloom I laughed too and walked on. Her musical giggle followed me.
“Come again, Mr. P,” she called. “We’ll have another happy day.”
The days and weeks that followed belonged to others: a group of unruly Boy Scouts, PTA meetings, and an ailing mother.
The sun was shining one morning as I took my hands out of the dishwater. “I need a sandpiper,” I said to myself, gathering up my coat.
The ever-changing balm of the seashore awaited me. The breeze was chilly, but I strode along, trying to recapture the serenity I needed. I had forgotten the child and was startled when she appeared.
“Hello, Mr. P,” she said. “Do you want to play?”
“What did you have in mind?” I asked, with a twinge of annoyance.
“I don’t know, you say.”
“How about charades?” I asked sarcastically.
The tinkling laughter burst forth again. “I don’t know what that is.”
“Then let’s just walk.” Looking at her, I noticed the delicate fairness of her face. “Where do you live?” I asked.
“Over there.” She pointed toward a row of summer cottages. Strange, I thought, in winter.
“Where do you go to school?”
“I don’t go to school. Mommy says we’re on vacation.” She chattered little girl talk as we strolled up the beach, but my mind was on other things. When I left for home, Wendy said it had been a happy day. Feeling surprisingly better, I smiled at her and agreed.
Once upon a time, a man punished his 5-year-old daughter for using up the family"s only roll of expensive gold wrapping paper. Money was tight, and he became even more upset when on Christmas Eve, he saw that the child had pasted the gold paper so as to decorate a shoebox to put under the Christmas tree.
Nevertheless, the next morning the little girl, filled with excitement, brought the gift box to her father and said, “This is for you, Daddy!”
As he opened the box, the father was embarrassed by his earlier overreaction.
But when he opened it, he found it was empty and again his anger flared. “Don"t you know, young lady, ” he said harshly, “when you give someone a present there"s supposed to be something inside the package!”
The little girl looked up at him with tears rolling from her eyes and said: “Daddy, it"s not empty. I blew kisses into it until it was all full.”
The father was crushed. He fell on his knees and put his arms around his precious little girl. He begged her to forgive him for his unnecessary anger.
An accident took the life of the child only a short time later. It is told that the father kept that little gold box by his bed for all the years of his life. Whenever he was discouraged or faced difficult problems he would open the box, take out an imaginary kiss, and remember the love of this beautiful child who had put it there.
In a very real sense, each of us as human beings have been given an invisible golden box filled with unconditional love and kisses from our children, family, friends and God.
There is no more precious possession anyone could hold.
I live in Hollywood. You may think people in such a glamorous, fun-filled place are happier than others. If so, you have some mistaken ideas about the nature of happiness.
Many intelligent people still equate happiness with fun. The truth is that fun and happiness have little or nothing in common. Fun is what we experience during an act. Happiness is what we experience after an act. It is a deeper, more abiding emotion.
Going to an amusement park or ball game, watching a movie or television, are fun activities that help us relax, temporarily forget our problems and maybe even laugh. But they do not bring happiness, because their positive effects end when the fun ends.
I have often thought that if Hollywood stars have a role to play, it is to teach us that happiness has nothing to do with fun. These rich, beautiful inpiduals have constant access to glamorous parties, fancy cars, expensive homes, everything that spells “happiness”.
But in memoir after memoir, celebrities reveal the unhappiness hidden beneath all their fun: depression, alcoholism, drug addiction, broken marriages, troubled children, profound loneliness.
The way people cling to the belief that a fun-filled, pain-free life equates happiness actually diminishes their chances of ever attaining real happiness. If fun and pleasure are equated with happiness, then pain must be equated with unhappiness. But, in fact, the opposite is true: More times than not, things that lead to happiness involve some pain.
As a result, many people avoid the very endeavors that are the source of true happiness. They fear the pain inevitably brought by such things as marriage, raising children, professional achievement, religious commitment, civic or charitable work, and self-improvement.
Two men, both seriously ill, occupied the same hospital room. One man was allowed to sit up in his bed for an hour each afternoon to help drain the fluid from his lungs. His bed was next to the room‘s only window. The other man had to spend all his time flat on his back. The men talked for hours on end.
They spoke of their wives and families, their homes, their jobs, their involvement in the military service, where they had been on vacation. And every afternoon when the man in the bed by the window could sit up, he would pass the time by describing to his roommate all the things he could see outside the window. The man in the other bed began to live for those one-hour periods where his world would be broadened and enlivened by all the activity and color of the world outside.
The window overlooked a park with a lovely lake. Ducks and swans played on the water while children sailed their model boats. Young lovers walked arm in arm amidst flowers of every color of the rainbow. Grand old trees graced the landscape, and a fine view of the city skyline could be seen in the distance. As the man by the window described all this in exquisite detail, the man on the other side of the room would close his eyes and imagine the picturesque scene.
One warm afternoon the man by the window described a parade passing by. Although the other man couldn‘t hear the band - he could see it in his mind‘s eye as the gentleman by the window portrayed it with descriptive words.
Days and weeks passed. One morning, the day nurse arrived to bring water for their baths only to find the lifeless body of the man by the window, who had died peacefully in his sleep. She was saddened and called the hospital attendants to take the body away.
As soon as it seemed appropriate, the other man asked if he could be moved next to the window. The nurse was happy to make the switch, and after making sure he was comfortable, she left him alone. Slowly and painfully, he propped himself up on one elbow to take his first look at the world outside. Finally, he would have the joy of seeing it for himself. He strained to slowly turn to look out the window beside the bed. It faced a blank wall.
The man asked the nurse what could have compelled his deceased roommate who had described such wonderful things outside this window. The nurse responded that the man was blind and could not even see the wall. She said, “Perhaps he just wanted to encourage you.”
A young man was getting ready to graduate from college. For many months he had admired a beautiful sports car in a dealer"s showroom, and knowing his father could well afford it, he told him that was all he wanted.
As Graduation Day approached, the young man awaited signs that his father had purchased the car. Finally, on the morning of his graduation, his father called him into his private study. His father told him how proud he was to have such a fine son, and told him how much he loved him. He handed his son a beautiful wrapped gift box. Curious, but somewhat disappointed, the young man opened the box and found a lovely, leather-bound Bible, with the young man"s name embossed in gold.
Angrily, he raised his voice to his father and said, “With all your money you give me a Bible?” He then stormed out of the house, leaving the Bible.
Many years passed and the young man was very successful in business. He had a beautiful home and a wonderful family, but realizing his father was very old, he thought perhaps he should go to see him. He had not seen him since that graduation day. Before he could make the arrangements, he received a telegram telling him his father had passed away, and willed all of his possessions to his son. He needed to come home immediately and take care of things.
When he arrived at his father"s house, sudden sadness and regret filled his heart. He began to search through his father"s important papers and saw the still new Bible, just as he had left it years ago.
With tears, he opened the Bible and began to turn the pages. As he was reading, a car key dropped from the back of the Bible. It had a tag with the dealer"s name, the same dealer who had the sports car he had desired. On the tag was the date of his graduation, and the words… “PAID IN FULL”.
How many times do we miss blessings because they are not packaged as we expected? I trust you enjoyed this. Do not spoil what you have by desiring what you have not; but remember that what you now have was once among the things you only hoped for. Sometimes we don"t realize the good fortune we have or we could have because we expect “the packaging” to be different. What may appear as bad fortune may in fact be the door that is just waiting to be opened.
Once upon a time there was a baby eagle living in a nest perched on a cliff overlooking a beautiful valley with waterfalls and streams, trees and lots of little animals, scurrying about enjoying their lives.
The baby eagle liked the nest. It was the only world he had ever known. It was warm and comfortable, had a great view, and even better, he had all the food and love and attention that a great mother eagle could provide. Many times each day the mother would swoop down from the sky and land in the nest and feed the baby eagle delicious morsels of food. She was like a god to him, he had no idea where she came from or how she worked her magic.
The baby eagle was hungry all the time, but the mother eagle would always come just in time with the food and love and attention he craved. The baby eagle grew strong. His vision grew very sharp. He felt good all the time.
Until one day, the mother stopped coming to the nest.
The baby eagle was hungry. “I"m sure to die,” said the baby eagle, all the time.
“Very soon, death is coming,” he cried, with tears streaming down his face. Over and over. But there was no one there to hear him.
Then one day the mother eagle appeared at the top of the mountain cliff, with a big bowl of delicious food and she looked down at her baby. The baby looked up at the mother and cried “Why did you abandon me? I"m going to die any minute. How could you do this to me?”
The mother said, “Here is some very tasty and nourishing food, all you have to do is come get it.”
“Come get it!” said the baby, with much anger. “How?”
The mother flew away.
The baby cried and cried and cried.
A few days later, “I"m going to end it all,” he said. “I give up. It is time for me to die.”
He didn"t know his mother was nearby. She swooped down to the nest with his last meal.
“Eat this, it"s your last meal,” she said.
The baby cried, but he ate and whined and whined about what a bad mother she was.
“You"re a terrible mother,” he said. Then she pushed him out of the nest.
Picked up speed.
Faster and faster.
He screamed. “I"m dying I"m dying,” he cried. He picked up more speed.
He looked up at his mother. “How could you do this to me?”
He looked down.
The ground rushed closer, faster and faster. He could visualize his own death so clearly, coming so soon, and cried and whined and complained. “This isn"t fair!” he screamed.
Something strange happens.
The air caught behind his arms and they snapped away from his body, with a feeling unlike anything he had ever experienced. He looked down and saw the sky. He wasn"t moving towards the ground anymore, his eyes were pointed up at the sun.
“Huh?” he said. “What is going on here!”
“You"re flying,” his mother said.
“This is fun!” laughed the baby eagle, as he soared and ped and swooped.
“Yes it is!” said the mother.