(Family Magazine May 2011 2nd Issue)
The word stress usually comes with a negative connotation, but some people would describe stress as the motivating force behind growing to maturity. It is safe to say that a life without any suffering is not a true blessing. In fact, those who have experienced intense stress often grow in maturity and character. On the other hand, when we encounter unexpected setback, agonizing stress, or an extended period of darkness, the suffering and heavy load may cause us to stumble, become depressed or even have a nervous breakdown.
Life’s biggest question is: How can we maintain optimism when we are at the lowest point in our lives? Or, how can we survive under intense stress? The following are the true stories of two women who had to deal with very difficult circumstances. We can gain valuable insights from their experience.
- End of the Road but Not a Dead End At the peak of emigration in 1997, Nancy and her family emigrated from Hong Kong to Canada. The economy was booming and there was no sign of the impending financial crisis. Nancy’s husband was working in the flourishing business of logistics. Thus, as soon as their family became permanent residents of Canada, her husband accepted a job offer in New York, United States. During those years they had a good income and a prosperous life. One can say that they were rather proud of themselves. With life going so smoothly, they saw no need to prepare for any potential crisis. Not only did they not save up for a rainy day, they also did not actively process their application for permanent residency in the United States.Since the business of logistics was in high demand at that time, Nancy’s husband left his job to fulfill his dream of owning his own business. But good times never last. After laboring day and night to get their logistics business off the ground, 9-11 happened, causing their business to plummet. They struggled to keep the company afloat, but after several years, they finally had to close it down. Nightmares soon followed.
In order to make a living, Nancy’s husband had to re-enter the workforce. But because he was not a United States resident, job prospects were few. Finally, he landed a job offered by his former boss in Los Angeles. Conflicts with his supervisor soon resulted in his resignation. From there, he experienced several lay-offs because of subsequent economic downturns. The days of unemployment were not only depressing, it also threw the whole family into great economic hardship. Coupled with the accumulated debts from their business failure, they were loaded down with heavy financial burdens. In order to supplement the family income, Nancy, who had never worked outside the home, was willing to become a domestic worker. The nature of her job required her to submit herself to obey every whim of her employers. She felt humiliated and was often in tears.
This crisis also tested Nancy’s ability to accept help from others. When she received a check of a generous amount from a friend, she could not help but cry. She held onto the check for a long time without cashing it. On the one hand, she was very grateful for the kindness of her friend but at the same time it revealed their own inadequacy. With faith in God and encouragement and support of her friends at church, she persevered through those long dark days without mental breakdown.
While Nancy had been praying for the plight of her family, hoping to bounce back from the bottom of the pit as quickly as possible, God did not answer her prayers yet. Their situation remained unchanged. When they still could not find employment, their last hope of staying in the United States was gone. Full of discouragement, they moved back to Vancouver. Although they are permanent residents of Canada, they had never lived in Canada. Nobody understood how anxious they were with this move.
Their lives in Vancouver were no better than before. Since they lacked local working experience, it was difficult for them to find even a minimum wage job. In two years time, they could only find some menial temporary work. Words could not describe their feelings of humiliation and pain. Through all this, Nancy’s faith in God was not shaken; she kept praying daily and looking for blessings to be thankful for every day. Finally, in the beginning of 2010 her husband was able to return to his profession when he was hired by a logistics company in Los Angeles. In the process of moving back to Los Angeles, they discovered that had they not left United States for over a year, they would not have been eligible for the work visa. When they looked back, those difficult days in Vancouver were actually pre-arranged by God.
In order to avoid displacing the entire family, her husband moved to Los Angeles first to get stabilized in his job. However, having the family separated was distressing. During that time, as Nancy was struggling with whether or not she should just take the kids to United States to join her husband, their home was burglarized. Everyone thought this was a misfortune, but Nancy could see the hand of God guiding them. The compensation from the insurance company was just enough to pay for their trips to the United States. This was confirmation that God wanted their family to be reunited. Although their future is still uncertain and their financial burden is still heavy, they are certain that God is guiding them. This gives them hope and the driving force to keep going. The greater blessing is that Nancy’s husband has truly experienced God and made the commitment to become a Christian.
- The Heart of a Stepmother
Cindy recounts her experiences of divorce and suddenly finding herself a single parent and heavily in debt. Loneliness and helplessness hit her hard. When she entered into her second marriage and became a stepmother, she wondered if she had made the right choice. Cindy shares her journey as a stepmother.
In 1989, our family-operated restaurant and nightclub business failed. My ex-husband disappeared and I was left with an insurmountable debt. He reappeared later with a Hispanic woman and a set of twins three years older than our son. All of a sudden my world fell apart. I can replace material things such as houses, cars and money, but how can I rebuild the trust that I once had with my ex-husband? I could not continue the relationship so I started my life with my son as a single parent. In my hopelessness, time and again I thought of committing suicide. But I could not bear the thought that my young son would lose both of his parents and be left all alone without anyone to take care of him. So I grinded my teeth and hung in there, though I faced creditors hounding me daily.In 1998, I met my current husband Ken. Both of us had experienced a failed marriage, my son was ten years old then and Ken had two sons, ages six and eight. In 2005, after we got married, I found myself as the stepmother of these two younger boys. Before entering into this marriage, I had considered carefully and felt that with love, I can become a non-traditional and competent stepmother. I moved from an 800 square feet apartment into a 2,500 square feet home. I considered myself capable, and determined that nothing was impossible. At the beginning of our marriage, I got up at 6 a.m. every morning, made breakfast and prepared lunch for the family, cleaned the house, took the children to school and picked them up, then cooked dinner. At ten o’clock at night, there was still unfinished housework to be done. No matter how tired I was, I never thought of giving up. However, discouragement came whenever my stepchildren were disobedient or when I had disagreements with their biological mother about how to raise them properly. Even my friends jokingly asked me why I dared to become someone’s stepmother.
Though my husband placed a high priority on education, there were too many distractions in our busy society that divided the children’s attention. Shuffling between two homes on different weeks also affected their ability to concentrate in school. In order to build a good foundation for their education, every summer since 2nd grade I carefully arranged summer academic programs for the children to learn next year’s math, read English literature, and write letters and reports. My husband was an excellent student who graduated from college with a 4.0 GPA, so it was natural for him to expect his own children to achieve the same academic success. Every time he heard other children being admitted to well-known universities or awarded certain scholarships, he would look at me disapprovingly as if I had not done my best yet. This invisible pressure suffocated me at times, but I willingly shouldered this pressure rather than pushing it on the children. It was enough for me to see that they worked hard and did their best at school. I knew of a high school classmate who committed suicide because she failed her exams due to insufficient time to study while helping to operate the family grocery store business. I did not want any of my children to experience the same kind of pressure and give up on their life in order to keep up with their grades. I believe it was more important and meaningful for the children to learn life’s skills, understand biblical truths and live a joyful life than studying all the time.
After a long period of adjustment, finally my husband’s two sons recognized me as part of the family. Once, my husband’s younger son Richard was sick, I took him to see the doctor and cooked porridge with fish for him. When he woke up coughing at night, I gave him a back rub and massage, puffed his pillow so he would fall asleep again. The next morning he told his father, Auntie Cindy was better than Mom. On another occasion, my hand was injured in a traffic accident and I needed to take Chinese medicine. When I fell asleep while waiting for the Chinese herbs to cool down, my younger stepson woke me up to tell me to drink the medicine before it got cold. His older brother also consoled me after smelling the bitter smell of Chinese medicine. From this small incident, I experienced the care and concern from them that had developed over the years.
Love goes both ways: it gives and receives. Was it they who won my love or was it I who won their heart? In that instant, I believe love united us all together. I watched my three sons grow up happily. When they are healthy and do well in school, I pat myself on the back as a good stepmother. Of course, our family life still faces the usual problems that come from dealing with adolescence. But we know we have to understand and work even harder at growing up together. If we rely on God’s love and the support from each other, we can face all the challenges and obstacles that come our way.
For most people, life and stress are interconnected, they cannot be separated. For Nancy and Cindy, living with stress was like being in a dark tunnel and not able to see the light at the end of it. It was love and family that taught them to persevere and not give up. It was their faith in God that gave them hope so their experiences of pain did not result in bitterness and despair.