In the year 2000, my father finished his journey through mortality. There is not a day I do not miss him. The last nine years of his life, I had the privilege of caring for him. Shortly after being diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease, he suffered a massive stroke and remained paralyzed from the neck down, unable to speak, and dependent on me for his most basic needs for the remainder of his life. Keeping a full time job and caring for my father, stretched me physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually in every possible direction. Those were hard grueling years when I craved for more sleep every minute of the day. I wish I knew then, what I know now to avoid those periods of self-doubt and self-inflicted pain while I questioned the fairness of our situation. Why, did I ask, this had to happen to my father? He was a good man and an excellent father. He took care of his health and body the best he could. He served others and was a friend to many. He was that atypical breed who knows how to relate with anyone, whether with those few who outranked him, and especially with those who were his subordinates. He earned respect from everyone who knew him.
Misguided long ago learned lessons made me ask if my father's illness was a punishment for a long forgotten misdeed. Was God mindful of our trials? As I said before, I wish I knew then, what I know now.
I know now that we live in an imperfect fallen world. This means, we will be subject to illnesses and trials. We will suffer the consequences of our own wrong choices and sometimes we will also suffer because of someone else's wrong choices. We will shed tears, many of them. We will wish sometimes the pain that makes even primal needs such as breathing difficult, will leave us for a minute or two so we can catch our breath and gain enough strength to lift ourselves from the floor where we have curled in a fetal position wishing to die. A pain that does not need to be explained to anyone who has felt it, and cannot be explained to anyone who has not.
The challenges in our lives will be many and varied. They say God does not give us more than we can handle and I believe it is true. He also knows us so well that the challenges He will allow to come into our lives seem perfectly tailored to meet our personalities, strengths and weaknesses to a T, to insure we learn the most from them if only we allow ourselves to do so.
I believe this life is a life of probation. I believe this is one of the purposes of our existence in the first place. To learn and apply those lessons to become more refined and burnished. After all, a diamond is just coal subjected to tremendous pressure.
So, how do we do that? How do we submit to daily challenges that stretch us more than we could have wished for?
I can only speak for myself and I share with you, my friends, what has worked for me.
First, believe. Believe you have the innate gifts, strengths, wisdom and skills to face whatever you are facing. You are of divine nature. You have been endowed by Deity, the universe and creation with more beauty, wisdom and strength you give yourself credit for. God believed enough in you to send you here in the first place, and to allow the trials you face to come into your life. Believe in yourself, in Him and in His power to help you.
Second, be humble. Learn by acknowledging that even though you are greater than you think, you still do not know everything, cannot see beyond the boundaries of mortality, and there is a Higher power available and willing to act in your life if you allow it.
Third, keep trying. A dear friend of mine recently counseled that in Heaven, "we get credit for trying," even if at first we do not succeed. So, if you do not succeed, keep trying. Success is just a thousand failures bounded together. Never, ever give up, there is much happiness ahead of you.
Fourth, be patient. Patience is perhaps the most essential, and hardest, lesson we were born to learn. But, remember that waiting is always worth it. A stew is more savory if it is slow-cooked, a friendship more valuable if tested by time. So, some of our blessings will mean more to us when they take their time to come into our lives.
As Isaiah warned: We may pass through darkness, we may pass through fiery furnaces, we may pass through deep waters and storms, but if we believe, if we are humble, if we keep trying, and if we are patient, we will succeed and cross to the other side. In the words of Winston Churchill, I end by saying, "...failure is not fatal: It is the courage to continue that counts."