All You Can Do

All You Can Do

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Say Goodbye to Stress


All You Can Do

“I’m sorry,” I explained to the debt collector on the phone, “that’s all the money I can send right now. I will pay more when I can.” I listened to her lecture on the importance of meeting my obligations, something I had endured every week or so since the car accident that had left me unable to work full-time, then hung up and dissolved into tears.

Three months earlier I had been stopped in traffic when a young woman drove into the back of my car and pushed me into the SUV in front of me. The back of my seat broke. As I fell backward, my pelvis hit the steering wheel, my knee hit the steering column with such force that it broke the column, and my shins were cut in several places. She had been driving about 40 mph and tearfully admitted that she was distracted and never put her foot on the brake pedal. To everyone’s astonishment I had no broken bones, but suffered two badly sprained ankles, a very swollen knee, some spinal injuries and a concussion that left my mind cloudy for a few weeks.

My car was badly damaged. The engine had been pushed in toward the cab from the force of hitting the vehicle in front of me, and the back of the car had been pushed toward the cab from the impact. Seeing the car afterward, it was hard to believe I wasn’t much more badly injured. Many months later I joked about being the meat in a car sandwich.

Self-employed in a job that required physical strength and being on my feet, I was unable to work for a while, and later could only work limited hours. As a single mother working to put a child through college, I had long ago canceled my disability insurance because the premiums were too high. I knew that at some point I would get a financial settlement, but that didn’t help my current situation. With my limited income I still had to pay my business expenses, my rent and other home-related expenses, tuition, and my credit card bill. I was paying out far more than I was taking in, and my savings quickly evaporated. The physical pain I had was greatly overshadowed by the emotional stress of trying to stay on top of my obligations. I had cut household expenses to the bone, and still I was unable to make the minimum payment on the credit card bill.

For months I struggled financially, the stress of it slowing down my physical recovery. At times my body would seize in spasms, but the tears that fell came more from worry than pain. My mind was filled with fear. My blood pressure had risen dangerously. What if I never fully recovered? How would I earn a living? I was plagued with doubt, and terrified that I would no longer be able to pay my daughter’s college tuition.

Then I received more devastating news. My older sister had been diagnosed with terminal cancer and did not have long to live. My spirit was crushed. In anguish I asked God how I could bear this on top of everything else. And then he asked me a question: “Have you done your best?” I pondered that for a moment, unsure what he was asking. I was working as much as I could. I was spending as little as possible. I was keeping up with my physical therapy. I could do nothing to save my sister. Yes, as far as I knew I had done my best. “Then that is all you can do. Now stand and wait.”

The question had caught me off guard. My answer and the response offered no real solution, but peace floated down on me and lifted my spirit. Within moments the phone rang; the credit card debt collector was calling again. They called once or twice a week, asking the same questions, getting the same answer, then giving the same lecture. But instead of holding my breath and dreading the conversation, when she asked again when I could get current with the minimum payment, my answer was somewhat different.

“I’m sorry, but there is no change in my circumstances. I’m not sure when I can get current. I know you are just doing your job, but I can’t do anything more than what I am doing and the stress has been affecting my physical wellbeing. I’m not trying to be evasive. As soon as I can I will get current. In the meantime, I just can’t let this ruin my health. I’m not willing to have a heart attack wondering when I can pay you.”

There was silence for a while. Then I heard her speak in a quiet voice, “Good for you. It’s not worth dying for. Of course, I’m still going to have to keep making these calls.” I thanked her and hung up, then took the deepest breath I had in months.

My life did not become instantly easier. My sister passed away about twelve weeks after her diagnosis, and I still miss her every day despite the years that have passed. Over time I recovered as much as I ever will. I have some chronic pain, but overall my life is very good. I am still self-employed, although the economy has made things tight once more. But since that day, whenever things go sideways, I take a moment and ask myself, “Am I doing the best I can?” If the answer is no, I make necessary changes. If the answer is yes, then I stand and wait. It has never failed to relieve my stress, never failed to give me strength. It works for small inconveniences as well as bigger issues. Do your best — that is all that can be asked of you.

~ Beth Arvin ~

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