I recently wrote this article for our Dixon Family Newsletter. It’s something I’ve been pondering for a long time, but more intensely lately. I thought it applied really well to the decisions and perspective we’ve tried to keep throughout our journey with Sarah, so I wanted to share with a little larger audience that has, perhaps, a little more interest in my thoughts. And, I hope, through sharing it I might be able to help someone else out there to take a look at the tough things they’re going through just a little bit differently.
Gifts of Adversity
“Life’s greatest gifts often come wrapped in adversity.” —Richard Paul Evans
Steve and I have been reading and discussing a very thought-provoking little book by Richard Paul Evans entitled, The Four Doors. On the cover, it’s described as “a guide to joy, freedom, and a meaningful life”. In the chapter we recently finished, it talked about adversity and how our challenges are what compel us to rise up and become. He said, “Most of the greatest learning experiences of our lives come from our adversities. In many cases, we do not succeed in spite of our challenges and difficulties, but precisely because of them.”
At some time in our lives, we all have challenges, difficulties, losses, worries, fears, and struggles that seem to consume us, and cause us to lose focus on the things that used to bring us joy. Sometimes we get stuck in the “why me” stage of our struggles. Evans explained, “We can spend our days bemoaning our losses, or we can grow from them. Ultimately, the choice is ours. We can be victims of circumstance or masters of our own fate, but make no mistake…we cannot be both.” So, we choose….
When Sarah was little, I had a conversation with Grandma Law about enduring trials. During that conversation, I realized that just simply enduring (waiting them out, or simply existing until they’re over) wasn’t enough for me. I wanted to endure them WELL. So I decided then that no matter what happened, or how hard it got, I would always find a way to endure the struggle, the hardship, the pain…the best that I could, and that I would emerge victorious. I would learn something from it, find joy somewhere in it, or become someone I hadn’t previously been. I’ve always loved the quote by Elder Marvin J. Ashton that says, “We must be more concerned with what we do with what happens to us than what happens to us.” (Oct. 1974)
All that stretching, growing, learning, and becoming is most often a very painful process, but one that’s absolutely necessary for us if we’re to become the people we’re destined to be. Evans tells of a time when he lived in Chianti, Italy. The view from his bedroom window was postcard perfect…beautiful rolling hills ripe with blushing grapes. He was surprised one day when he commented to his winemaker friend that they must have very fertile soil to produce such famous grapes. He said, “No, we have terrible soil. Good grapes do not grow in good soil.” So, he did some research. He wrote, “It turns out that grapes are lazy. If the soil they grow in is too fertile, the grapes do not need to extend their roots deeply, which results in mediocre grapes that are used to make cheap table wine. Because the soil in Chianti is poor, the grapevines develop large, intricate root systems that stretch deep into the ground, extracting not only what they need to survive but many other nutrients and minerals as well. The result is a sweet, delicious grape. The metaphor is obvious and thought provoking.” What kind of grapes do you want to grow?
I’m sorry that you’re hurting, struggling, worrying, scared, lost, or sad. But I’m not sorry about what it will do to help you grow, if you decide to let it. I’m not at all suggesting that we shouldn’t feel pain in our trials. And please don’t think for a minute that I’ve figured it all out and can handle anything. Despite more recent difficulties, I’m still learning much even from things that happened a year ago. But isn’t that the point? To keep learning, growing, and stretching out those roots to do more than just survive?
The view is always so much clearer at the other end. We are often even grateful for the experiences we had and the ways we grew as we traveled through our most difficult times. I love what plane crash survivor and burn victim Stephanie Nielson said at a recent women’s conference in Evanston. The reporter said, “At the end of her presentation, after gently and humbly sharing the horrifying months and years of recovery she has endured and will continue in some form to deal with for the rest of her life, she said this: ‘I would get back in that plane again, to become the person I am and what I’ve learned.’” We are so blessed to have a Savior who knows our pain and how to strengthen and succor us in our trials; our spouses, our families, and our friends to listen, offer perspective, and lift us when we are in the depths; and even professionals to help us deal with our pain so we can grow through our challenges. When things are hardest, try to think of your adversity as a gift. It could be just the one you didn’t know you needed at this particular time in your life.