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Faith and Religion
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It’s incredibly difficult to get through something like divorce without concerns about the past and future.  Most of us struggle with some part of the divorce and in a way that can seem crippling to our ability to move forward.  This is where my story begins...

My divorce story was not bad

Following my divorce, I seemed to be okay.  My spouse and I hit some roadblocks during the process, but once the divorce was finalized, I was relieved it was over.  My idea at the time was to put the failed marriage behind me and never look back.  I thought that all of my problems would just disappear once the daily attorney calls, divorce negotiations and spouse just went away.   

My after divorce story...not so great

As months passed, I started to really feel stuck.  It seemed like my life wasn't going anywhere.  I immediately drifted towards the divorce and issues regarding my failed marriage.  I prayed to God that he would help me forgive my former spouse for the pain he caused us and our family.  I prayed that I could be relieved of my guilt for the blame I felt also.  I thought somehow, if I could let go of the past, my future would suddenly get better.  Despite turning the volume up on my faith and praying, my life seemed to still fall flat.

My children were okay in most ways, but they seemed less happy to me despite assurances they were fine.  I eventually realized everyone and everything seemed different to me.  It was difficult to look beyond my divorce as a reason for my unhappiness.  The worse I felt, the more I focused on it as the primary reason I felt down.  Or so I thought.

Everything could be attributed to my divorce, my financial troubles, my exhaustion, less time with my children.  Looking back on that time in my life, it seemed more difficult than the initial months following the divorce.  No prayer, counseling or self-motivation seemed to help.  I gained twenty pounds, then thirty, then thirty-five.  I wasn't comfortable going to a counselor because I was sure the problems could be resolved if I worked harder, tried more and kept the divorce out of my mind.  Finally, something happened that turned everything around despite nearly three years of unhappiness.

Identifying with a reason to help

I volunteered for a food drive at our local parish.  Quite honestly, I'm wasn't the volunteer type.  Not that I'm unwilling to help or give; it's just not something that was on my radar.  Every week, I went to mass, said hello to our priest and went home to cook, clean and get ready for the week, like many others I suppose.  I signed up for typical volunteer jobs at school when needed, but never thought to really ask if I could do more. 

Even during mass, it was probably something that Father brought up frequently at the end of mass in the Parish announcements, but quick to start thinking of my problems ahead, I probably tuned such opportunities out on other weeks.  But, this week he said something that caught my attention.  He discussed the reasons for a food drive that our parish was seeking volunteers for a neighboring shelter.  He talked about the reasons for the importance of the drive; not unusual for father, he could be a little long-winded in his homilies and announcements on most Sundays.  So, on he talked for a noticeable period of time.  I'm glad he did.

I was beginning to wander in my mind about how I could put together a bag of canned goods, ya know, do the right thing.  Do what I was supposed to do to help-  I went on chirping in my head about how broke I was and how I, too might end-up in a shelter, if I'm not careful.  Perhaps overly cynical and dramatic, I wasn't totally being serious with myself. 

Hungry and homeless

But at the exact minute all this dramatic worry came up in my head, he said it.  I can't recall the exact wording, but it went something like this, "Homelessness can happen to anyone.  It could happen to any of you!  Any of you who have suffered a job loss, divorce, been affected by drug abuse, unexpected loss of any kind!"  He went on to make a valid point that any of us could end up in an unexpected serious downturn, hungry and homeless.

"That's why it's unexpected!  We don't always know what life is going to throw at us and we don't always know what could make it so bad that we won't be able to catch it.  What we do know is that there's someone, somewhere that you may never know until one very low, serious moment when that person helps you pick up the pieces of your life to put it all back together.  It starts with that one moment.  That moment will make the difference in your life and perhaps, an even greater difference when you are the one who extends the help someone else needs." 

He continued  "Ask yourselves for one minute what you would feel to be with no food, shelter, vehicle?  How would it feel to be hungry, your children cold and perhaps someone in your family sick or suffering from addiction?"  He went on for a moment or two longer, but he had my attention.  The food drive needed more than food, it needed compassionate people who could put aside life drama for others in greater need.  

Giving up my problems for an opportunity to volunteer

Surely, many others already found the obvious goodness that comes from volunteering, but I was so caught up in my everyday with a lot of time to worry about what was missing in my life and to attribute my problems to an easy target, my divorce.  

Life is challenging for most all of us.  Some have more struggle than others, but we all face challenges.  When we lack challenge in our life, life gets dull, boring and "lifeless".  Most of us thrive with some reasonable and attainable challenge.  Unfortunately, we replace the lack of "good challenges" in our life with drama, gossip, blame and anger. 

Homelessness, a series of losses

Life is full of additions and subtractions.  One day we have "this" going for us, the next day we lose "that", weeks later something really great happens and so on.  Homelessness usually results from a series of losses that eventually put you out on the street. 

In some ways, following my divorce, I was emotionally homeless.  I was lost and stuck with no purpose, only loss.  I felt the subtraction of my spouse, my identity as a wife, my time with my kids and failed to realize that simply letting it all go wasn't enough.  I needed to add something good back into my life.

As I read more books on divorce and blogs I began to see how important it was, but before that I wasn't really sure what was happening or why I felt so bad.   I realized that having purpose, counseling and a chat with my family doc about how I was feeling was all part of a good plan to get back to feeling like me again.  I had to be deliberate about helping myself if I was going to help others.  

Volunteering, best prescription to feel better

The most beneficial opportunity to feel better was to add volunteering into my life.  I identified with Father's words that morning at church, but I was serious about offering my help for the benefit of others and not just myself.  My intentions weren't to help so that I could feel better, but feeling better is the result of helping others, naturally. 

I wanted to completely commit to getting out of my own way for the long-term benefit of myself and others.  I didn't want to just get signed for a week or two.  I wanted to make a difference that would require more time, effort and commitment.  But, still I started off small.  I offered to help out at the food bank once a week for 6 weeks.  It wasn't always easy.  I had some good days and some bad.  Eventually, my kids helped out on the weekends with me and our bond following the divorce eventually strengthened.  Oh!  We still had our moments, but I remember the day I realized how far we had come from where we were before we started to volunteer as a family.  

The more I focused on helping others, the less I focused on the things that negatively affected life following the divorce.   I realized these things were far less important than what many people face around the world and around the corner of every home and parish.  Theses people suffered from homelessness and hunger and their losses were far more serious than my own "emotional homelessness".  When working with people who were going though such turmoil, my problems shrunk considerably.  Still, I was able to offer empathy on the basis of experienced loss, fear and sadness.  

What can you do to find purpose?

My volunteer work has been an inspiring part of my life.  My experience working with thousands of homeless individuals has made me a primary contact in our city for those who wish to volunteer, donate or need help.  My on-going commitment from that first day I heard Father talk has been part of building community networks that help the homeless get jobs, apartments and help for drug and alcohol abuse.  This was my calling and perhaps one that I would never have heard had I not been so lost myself.

My divorce was not easy.  The choice to leave an unhappy marriage, also difficult.  Sometimes we may not know what is going to happen following changes in our life, we only know change is needed to inspire us to be happier, more successful people.  All that inspiration and benefit doesn't necessarily happen immediately following a change in our life.  We need to listen, find or create opportunities that inspire us to achieve our goals.

What good can come from loss?

My loss and sadness eventually led to a greater purpose that helped raise thousands of dollars, place thousands of people in warm beds and help people, like myself, pick up the pieces of our lives, together.  I consider my volunteer work as helpful at rebuilding my life as it has helped rebuild the lives of many people I have helped throughout the years.  You don't need to volunteer to experience such purpose, though helping others is extremely beneficial for everyone. 

Following divorce, don't get stuck on only letting go.  Unfortunately that may draw your attention and focus to all the wrong things.  You do need attainable challenges, positive activities and a deliberate plan to feel better again.  Keep an open mind about possibly speaking with a counselor or your family doctor when you feel depressed, anxious or hopeless.  Keep up with opportunities at church that may inspire new friendships, opportunities to help or be helped.  

Just don't let months or years pass before you take action to find what makes you, you!  The best days of your life are waiting for you, go find them! 

For information about how you can help or if you or someone you know is homeless please refer to some of these helpful resources.

National Coalition for the Homeless

ShelterListings.org

Salvation Army

Salvation Army Shelters

-OurDMK.com



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