Once I heard a story of how Elephants are trained not to run away. While they are babies they put a giant chain around their ankle. When the elephant is grown only a rope is needed. The animal is trained into thinking that when they pull away from the rope, it is the old chain from youth. If they really knew the truth they could just walk away. All of us go through adversity in various degrees. Our response to adversity also varies. Nevertheless, I believe there are two words, two phrases “Why me” and “If only”, that act like the rope used with the elephant. When adversity comes, most of us respond as though we are unable to overcome it.
I was disabled, unable to walk for over 10 consecutive years of my life. In the beginning, I could only cry out “why me”. I felt oppressed, forgotten, trapped and I longed for simple things like, walking again. I would say “If only”…I could walk, I would go to school. If only I had people to help me, if only I had money, if only I could drive then I would (fill in the blank). I lived shackled by these words until I began to accept this state of affairs. Words are powerful and can shift ones thinking. That is where my faith came in and the Bible. Jeremiah 29:11Revised Standard Version (RSV) 11 For I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. Those words rang loudly in my heart. So much so, I memorized them and decided to live into this idea. Not long after, I realized I had stopped saying “why me” and began looking at all I could do, and no longer focused on what I could not. When I stopped saying “why me” It wasn’t long after that, I was no longer fixated on the “if only”.
Adversity still happened. How I face it made all the difference. I decided to go back to school and I was going to go and not let anything stop me. Two years into school I was diagnosed with uterine cancer went through major surgery and rehab. Ugh! I again found myself saying “why me” again with the addition of another two word phrase, WHY GOD? God, if you have a plan and a future for me this is cruel. I concluded that if I was at the end of my life, I was determined to finish having made a difference. That determination snuffed out the “Why me”, “Why God” and “If Only”. Convinced, I didn’t have time to fixate on any of that, I set my sights on finishing. I received my Associate degree in 1999. Not only did I survive, I was commencement speaker and had indeed made a difference. I had been accepted to Bradford College to finish my Bachelor’s degree and began attending that fall. Physically I was doing fine. So much so, I decided to go to Italy to study Renaissance art through the school. It was life changing. Mind you I was still in a wheelchair. As we prepared to go to Italy, it was announced that Bradford College would close. UGH! “WHY???…” I finished there a junior. I was accepted to Regis College with my 4.0 I received a presidential scholarship and graduated 2011. The next few years, I worked hard to walk again went to seminary and began the process to become a minister.
Today, I am the New Pastor of Phoenix Rising UCC. Not one of us is exempt from Adversity. Many people believe God exists but there are many that struggle to believe in the Goodness of God because of Adversity. My experiences and growing edges inform ne that “Trials Are Tool For Which God Fashions Us For Greater Things”. And we have the ability to use adversity as a “stepping stone or stumbling blocks”. I recall another phrase that empowered me to understand adversity as a stepping stone. “Fear Freezes life, Faith Thaws it out!” For me, believing I have a future and a hope truly disabled fear in me. It broke the ropes that held me captive “Why me” and “If only”. And like a phoenix I have risen above adversity over and over again. In what ways have “Why me” and “if only: held you captive? God is a Good God. We have to make a choice either, let fear keep us frozen in place or arise like the phoenix and let the peace of God rule in your heart.