The best thing for you is the worst thing when you are going through it. It’s only on the other side that pain becomes a blessing.

Pain is a great teacher and motivator.

Pain nourishes courage. You can’t be brave if you’ve only had wonderful things happen to you. — Mary Tyler Moore

Go back to when you were a child cuddled in the love of a parent who’s reading your favorite story. You’ve memorized every word. You study the lines of the reader’s lips, the wrinkles in the forehead, and the laugh lines in the cheeks as you listen to the inflection that delivers every word.

You’ve lived each painstaking detail in another life.

My daughter and I were sitting at the kitchen table. She asked if she could play with my lipstick. Little did I know that the selection she would make would send me on a journey filled with hope, persistence and most of all — fairies.

“What lipstick do you have?”

Candy Shimmer.

I remember that one. It’s 28-years-old. Why do I still have it? I wore it to my first high school formal dance.

I have it because mom and dad fought over who would pay for it.

I borrowed the dress from a friend. Mom had my hair done, and she wanted my dad to buy makeup so my first dance would be special. My parents were divorced and the extra expenses could mean the difference between having food and lights. Every expense and every penny had a purpose.

I captured my daughter’s attention with this story.

Empty Stomachs

Stomachs were often empty in our house. Sometimes we had no idea where our next meal would come from. It was more often than any of us cared to admit. Mom did her best and when child support didn’t come in, or on time, we were hungry.

shadow of woman draped in a string of lights, a fairy, mystical
Photo by luizclas from Pexels

The Food Fairy visited us in the same way the Tooth Fairy visits little kids who lose teeth. Kids get little treasures for the teeth they put under their pillow and our treasures were delivered to the front door in the way of food. Somehow the right person always knew we were hungry and would leave food on the front stoop, then knock-and-run. We were grateful.

We didn’t deserve to be hungry or to be poor, but we were both.

Thank God for fairies.

At the end of Senior year, I began to apply for scholarships and sent college applications. Mom took Dad back to court to force his hand, or at least his finances, to support my ongoing education.

I remember the attorney coming out on break, stating the case wasn’t going well.

Why can’t I go to college? I have as much financial aid as allowed, I have scholarships, my grades always placed me on the honor roll… Why won’t he help me? He helps his boys. He always told me that I didn’t deserve to go to college because I was a girl.

The attorney’s efforts were renewed. I supposed he had a daughter. The game-changer was that I had already been accepted into not one, but two colleges. For some reason, I had tucked both acceptance letters into my portfolio that morning. I pulled them out and asked the attorney if he thought they would help. “We’ll see,” he said glad to have them in hand as he returned to the courtroom.

I didn’t deserve to go to college.

Those words haunted me and emboldened me to go anyway. I had to be focused, get good grades, and earn my degree in four years. One misstep meant I was without support.

Some people go to college for the “college experience” to have as much fun as possible, a last hoorah, before real life. My college years were focused and intentional, except for the time I almost misstepped.

tennis shoes, person falling into a hole or well, cistern
Photo by Tom Sodoge on Unsplash

Failing

Each semester the residence halls got especially crazy around finals. Students would jump from windows, sneak in as much alcohol as they could, and do any other stupid thing that came to mind. The academic judiciary board is never so overwhelmed as it is when a semester comes to a close.

I hadn’t slept in three days. No joke. It was during this time I received a most unhealthy report. The first and last progress report of my college career arrived in the mail. I was in danger of not passing three classes.

The fairies stayed with me throughout life and they delivered more than food.

Sometimes We Receive Things We Don’t Deserve

I had no business taking Astronomy. It was only a 200 level class and I could tolerate a little math, but I had no idea how strongly based on math this course would be. I liked studying the stars and constellations and thought the course description seemed like a good fit.

The professor had a monotone voice and small, round, wire-rimmed glasses that sat on the point of his nose. I knew I had to visit his office if I was going to turn this around.

He grilled me and made me feel wretched for being there. He asserted that he didn’t “give” grades like other professors. His awkwardness traded for friendliness when I shared that if I received a “C” it would be the second one of my college career.

“Usually receive worse?” He wasn’t joking.

“No, Sir.”

I earned a “C” in Astronomy.

History

World Civilization was a great class. It was intriguing, I imagined writing stories about the places we studied. The tests were killer and not one classmate was happy with his or her test scores. There was little-to-no homework, and the tests were heavily weighted portions of the grade.

I peeked around the corner during office hours. Dr. Packard was a friendly, enjoyable woman. We had a lovely visit and I shared my class notes as proof that I attended class because she didn’t take attendance. I mentioned my test study buddies and that we were studying the material, but we couldn’t prove our knowledge on the test.

She asked to see my notes and then asked to copy them. I had taken the time to type them so I could make some sense of the class before the final. I was a nerd at heart, but I hid it well. I pleaded to pick up my notes in 24 hours so that I could study. She obliged and I earned a “B” for the class.

An Unlikely Pairing

In high school, I paired history and literature as a two-hour combo, double credit class. It was entertaining to see how the history and the literature weaved together, but in college, the pairing was more difficult.

I shouldn’t have taken Literary Criticism, Shakespeare, and the Medieval Studies of King Arthur at the same time. My advisor told me it would be a rough semester, but she thought I could do it.

I was going to earn a “D” in King Arthur until I went to visit Dr. Hudson during office hours. She applauded me for doing better in her class than most of the Graduate students. As an English major somehow I juggled all three simultaneously and earned glowing marks in each.

It was the work of fairies.

I was at the end of my rope, but I had to succeed. Failure was not an option.

Nylon Rope

My best friend mentioned that she had picked up her cords. I said something to the effect of I wish I was graduating with Honors. “Aren’t you?” she asked. Neither of us knew the required GPA, but we knew I had to be close.

I called the Registrar’s Office to see if I was on the list and heard the papers shuffling as she searched for my name. My foot tapped nervously for what seemed an eternity.

“You’re on the list. You should have received a notification.”

Can I come right now to pick them up?

I ran across campus to the Registrar’s Office and arrived out of breath. The lady with the same sweet voice I heard on the phone handed me my cords. I hugged her with thanks.

I was graduating with Honors — Cum Laude. Take that, Dad.

My fiancé and I had a joint graduation party and I wore those cords into the night. Jealous family members teased and playfully pulled on the cords. That was okay with me because there was no way in hell I was taking them off. I earned them.

Results

Long after I let go of the gown I held onto the cap. For many years I kept the diploma and the tassel. If I still have my diploma it’s in a box, but I have those cords. Everything I went through to earn them makes them one of my most meaningful possessions.

What can a cheap tube of lipstick and a nylon rope teach you about life?

Everything.

Just ask my daughter. She thinks the story is priceless.

Fairies may show up from time to time, but when people understand your position in a non-threatening way they are likely to help you achieve your goals.

If you look within you can do anything.