I was sitting in the car inside a parking lot, taking a moment to think about changes in my life and work. It felt like I had hit a plateau, and I was honestly a little worried.
Suddenly a man popped up next to my window. Short, straggly, and with an air of boundless cheer, he greeted me warmly. I was a little surprised, and even more cautious. Crime is rampant in South Africa, and there are plenty of opportunists looking for an easy mark.
I thought I had my life together. I had a loving husband, four wonderful children, and a fulfilling life as an aid worker. We had moved to Indonesia to work with a sheltered workshop for disabled children under the sponsorship of the International Council on Social Welfare and were truly enjoying our experiences.
However, after the birth of my fifth child, things took a different turn. I began struggling with nightmares and depression that overshadowed every aspect of my life. Then my marriage fell apart.
I remember my mother often reminding us children to “look on the bright side” and “be thankful for the little things.” If we’d complain about the hot weather in mid-June, she’d point out, “At least we can go swimming, right?” If we’d complain about not having dessert one night, she’d ask, “Doesn’t that make you thankful for the nights we do have dessert?” She tried to teach us to take every seemingly “bad” or “sad” situation we faced and look for something that we could appreciate or be happy about. She called this concept “looking for the silver lining.”
“Everything is falling apart!” My outburst came one day after a visit to the Kurasini Orphanage in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, where our team of volunteers has been working with the staff to raise the children’s living standard. We had begun by improving sanitation in the kitchen and dormitories, and some progress had been made. But it seemed that there were always more things that needed to get done. As the to-do list grew, so did the list of needed materials and supplies. There was also the matter of funding. How would we find enough sponsors to help meet all of these needs?
One or two things going wrong in my week aren’t the end of the world. I can handle a few bad things. I know that every week has its allotment of issues, and I’m used to dealing with that. I can generally stay quite cheerful and look on the bright side.
But last week was an exception. It seemed like something went wrong every day. I’m not talking about little nuisances, but some pretty big things. Every day held a surprise, and they weren’t happy ones.
“If we can climb this mountain, there’s nothing we can’t overcome together!”
I remember my dad struggling to smile and look hopeful as he pointed toward a rocky mountain about 100 feet from the highway. I was 13, and my dad, my older brother, and I were driving through the scorching rocky deserts of Mexico back to the United States to take care of some business.
I had walked to the health store, ten blocks from home, to pick up some vitamins. Though I loved walking and made this trip often, something felt different that day. I had fumbled with my change and forgotten my list.
On my walk home I stopped at a crosswalk, waiting for the light to change. After some minutes, I noticed people looking at me strangely. I realized I had been waiting at the crosswalk through several light changes. Then it seemed like a very long walk home.
My worst fears came upon me the day I landed in the hospital. I dreaded entering the huge, ominous health factory, where impersonal doctors would study my symptoms with a distant professional look, and nurses would appear at my bedside at the strangest hours to stick me with a thermometer, an injection, or a cup of weak coffee.
God, get me out of here!