To say that life doesn’t always turn out the way we expect can be a gross understatement.

At least, this has been true for my life. My expectation was to get married, have kids, stay home, cook and clean and take care of my babies while my husband provided for me. That was my expectation.

However, that just isn’t the way things turned out. Likewise, I have experienced many things that I didn’t expect. I didn’t expect to fail at two marriages and a third long-term relationship.

I didn’t expect to be a single mom supporting four kids. I didn’t expect our family business and my livelihood to close after 30 years in business. I didn’t expect any of it, but it happened. 

Thus, I found myself at 47 years old, out of work, four mouths to feed and the startling realization that in the workforce, a bachelor’s degree is the new high school diploma. After many years in the workforce and 10 years as operations manager running my family’s business, I discovered that I was not marketable for any position that would provide the support that I needed to take care of my family, without a college degree.

However, the thought of going to college seemed like an unreasonable endeavor. How could I afford it? Four years is a long time. It seemed unattainable. 

Stubbornly sticking to my intention to provide for my family, I found a well-paying union position in a local factory. It was hot work and my shift was nights, 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. Thursday, Friday, Saturday and every other Sunday. It worked though, because the kids went to their dad’s on the weekends and I could work.

It was exhausting, but it paid well. However, after 18 months I realized although the job paid well, it was costing me too much to work there. I was working to provide for my family, yet my working was taking me out of the place that my children needed for their personal growth and developmental well-being.

I was meeting their financial needs, but emotionally and relationally, my home was bankrupt.

It was at that point I knew something had to change. It was at that point that I decided I would no longer just expect things out of life. It was at that point that I started planning my life, and it was at that point that I decided to go to college.

I didn’t know how it was going to happen, I just started making decisions to that end, and now I’m graduating.

When I first enrolled in classes at Missouri Western State University in the Spring of 2016, I had no idea what I was doing. I did not know what degree I wanted, and being a non-traditional student, the thought of attending classes and sticking out like a sore thumb was daunting. For nearly two years, I took various general education courses, all online, hoping to find something that interested me and would provide me excellent job opportunities.

All of that changed in the fall of 2017.

I will never forget the first semester that I had to attend classes, physically, at the university. This 49-year-old mother of four and former business owner was scared to death! I did not want to go. Yet, screwing my courage to the sticking place, I went.

I remember my first day in COM 104. I was determined to slip into class, sit quietly, and sneak back out again. But what happened was I started meeting people. Professors, students, faculty, all different types of people, all working together to reach a common goal: graduation! 

And now here we are, the 2020 graduating class at Missouri Western State University. We have endured doubt, frustration and lack of resources. We have sacrificed time, sleep and mental health.

Together, we have attended classes, discussed the future and created bonds that will survive long past graduation. We have failed, cried, succeeded and rejoiced and at last, we graduate. Well, kind of. Who knew that our final semester together as Griffons would end abruptly at spring break? 

None of us had any idea when we started our journey here at Missouri Western that the final semester of our journey would be cut short by a global pandemic. None of us knew when we left for spring break that we would never set foot into the classroom again. None of us could have guessed that after four, five, sometimes six years of school that we would be denied the opportunity to take that final walk across the stage in front of our families and peers, and finally take possession of  that oh, so sought after degree.

Well, like I said, sometimes life doesn’t always turn out the way we expect. 

All of us have been denied experiences to which we were looking forward. Conferences have been cancelled, graduating athletes have been denied the final season with their teammates, student nurses have been made fearful they might lose necessary instruction, graduating artists have been denied the final chance to showcase their talents they have spent years refining and performers, lines memorized, have been denied the right to perform.

None of us expected any of it, but it happened. 

Life is going to hit you with circumstances you didn’t expect, expect it. Plans will be disappointed, people will die. The key is to remember that when we don’t realize circumstances as we expected, this doesn’t mean the outcome is bad or wrong, it just “is." All through life you will be faced with circumstances like this, circumstances that just “are."

It’s unavoidable because, sometimes life doesn’t always turn out the way we expect. So, what do we do? Grow bitter? Be angry? Place blame?

Do we find fault? Allow resentment to grow? Determine we have been cheated? Most people do.

Most people walk through life perpetually aggravated and fearful over circumstances in their lives. We commonly deceive ourselves, thinking we have control over the way experiences turn out, and when they don’t, we feel somehow cheated, disappointed.

However, the only occurrence we can control is the way in which we respond to the circumstances that surround us. Martha Washington said it this way, “I have decided to be pleasant and cheerful in whatever circumstances I might find myself, for I have learned that the greater part of my misery or happiness in life is dependent not on my circumstances, but on my disposition.” 

Disposition is everything, yet, our disposition is controlled by our perceptions which are controlled by our brains and our brains will take every opportunity to hi-jack our happiness. We grumble and complain when life doesn’t go our way, we worry about instances that never occur, we lose sleep rehearsing conversations that never happen, and we believe our mind when it plays the worst-case scenario over and over again in a feedback loop.

We spend our time living in resentment and fear, letting our minds create a constant state of irritation and aggravation. This is commonly how people exist, in varying states of miserable and it is unnecessary. When we realize the power to maintain control in a situation, rather than letting the situation control how we act and feel, we can develop an attitude of gratitude and choose how we respond to the unexpected incidences in our lives and live happier, more peaceful lives because of it. 

So why not be grateful? Even though graduation didn’t turn out the way we expected, we still graduated. We still made memories.

Memories of people, accomplishments, successes and good times. Our hard work has paid off, we have accomplished the goal. Celebrate, joyfully.

Yes, we can choose how we respond to the unexpected incidences in our lives and live happier, more peaceful lives because it. There have been many times in my life that circumstances did not turn out as I expected, like my time here at Missouri Western. When I came here, I had no idea what I was doing.

I wanted a piece of paper, any piece of paper would do, so long as I could get that interview. That is what I expected. Get the diploma, get out, get the job.

But that isn’t what happened. What happened is my time at Missouri Western has changed my life. I didn’t just end up with a piece of paper, what I ended up receiving is a renewed and re-vitalized version of myself. A vision for my future, a vision of hope, a vision where anything is possible. 

And I am grateful.

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