It’s easy to get discouraged in life, especially during those chaotic times when the people you greatly love hurt you, and last spring was one of those moments for me. Multiple problems arose, and I found myself pulled in too many directions. I actually put my life on hold for other people, and after enduring high levels of stress over a few months, everything blew up in my face last June–in more than one area and more than one situation. Things just seemed to fall in on me all at once.

Within a period of three days, I received emails, phone calls, and letters in the mail with bad news. Then a close relative went into the hospital, while another close relative I had distanced myself from wanted back into my life. During this time, another close relative pretty much threw a machete in my back–again. (It’s what she’s always done, and I blame myself for thinking she would do otherwise.)

A ripple of bombs exploded in almost every area of my life, and I found myself on the couch with a stress fever. (Those are real things.) Mentally exhausted and physically down, I made the decision to walk away from all the negativity. My exact words were, “I’m out! I’m done! Not my circus and not my barrel of monkeys.”

Although things slowed down and I went back to writing and focusing on my own life, I still got occasional negativity months later in the form of lies on my behalf and attacks on my character. I continuously shrugged it off, shaking my head in disbelief at humanity.

I needed a break from people, and although I’m half extroverted, my introverted side desperately wanted a year on a deserted island (make that a lifetime). Discouraged in myself and all of humanity, I told the ESL people I work with that they needed to find a replacement teacher, as I believed it was time for me to step away. With all the travel last spring and my mind elsewhere, I felt my students and teacher I tag team with deserved better.

As I walked to the first day of class after summer break, telling myself I’d soon have to say goodbye to the students, an older man stopped me in the hall and pulled me aside. I had not seen this student in nearly a year and grinned as I asked where he had been. After he told me he had been visiting his home country, he suddenly became serious and said, “I want to tell you something.” I leaned closer, not knowing what to expect, and then he completely blew me away.

This much older student proceeded to tell me that I had given him great words of wisdom nearly two years ago, and my words changed his life. He continued on with how profound my words were. Life changing. Wise. Profound. Amazing. He said all these things while I tried to remember what I had told him. In the end, I believe it was a conversation where he had come to class after his girlfriend had left him. He was discouraged and sad (a very sweet man), and I told him my take on dating and relationships.

I told him (and if you read my books, you’ll see this with my main characters), that he should take the time he has without a girlfriend to get to know himself. Do things that make him happy and learn to be happy with himself. Another person does not define who you are. You need to know that and love spending time with yourself before looking for someone else to make you happy. I also advised him that as a Christian, he should do the same with God–spend time and grow closer to Him. Those two relationships need to be healthy before focusing on dating. (Pretty much a paraphrase of some profound words from two years ago.) Anyways, he walked away saying he had to be somewhere and would miss that day’s class but would soon be back. I haven’t seen him since.

Then I walked into the first day of class, and my students grinned and were so very happy to see me. Although they’ve told me many times before, they expressed how much they learn in class and were greatly appreciative. Some of them had started the class not knowing any English, yet they now speak it with ease.

I left class that day feeling encouraged, and the harsh, hateful words from my blood family weakened their hold on me. I decided not to leave the class, and for the first time in months, I was reminded that I’m getting some things right in life. (Negativity and hateful words have a way of making a person forget that.)

I guess this post has a lesson with it. When life knocks you down, it’s easy to forget the good in yourself–especially if you’ve continuously been told otherwise by the people you grew up with. The advice I often give is something I easily forgot last summer. Don’t let others define who you are, and never let anyone’s bitterness tear you down. And as a Christian, I’ll also add that God can easily change your plans. I thought I wasn’t needed or of much use to my students, and my mind was completely blown away at hearing I actually said “profound and life-changing words.”

Just as I encouraged that man years ago when he was down, he did the same for me. It’s a bit ironic that we both didn’t know how life-changing our words were in the moments they were spoken. He probably walked away from me completely clueless that I had needed to hear them, just as I never knew my words meant anything special. In the end, just be the best person you can be. You don’t always know what value you bring to others. Sometimes our words just plant seeds that bloom over time. Never doubt what you can do for others, even if it’s just encouraging words.

Oh, and as for quitting ESL, it’s been a few years since I hosted an  ESL Thanksgiving. With my best friend and our daughters preparing large quantities of food, I believe it’s going to be a wonderful day. I love learning about other cultures, and my class is such a blessing. Why would I ever want to give it up?