THE TAO OF STRUGGLE

A friend recently asked the rhetorical question we all must answer: Why is everything I NEED to do always so difficult?

After taking the same test administered by the hand of God and failing it repeatedly myself over the years, I choked back a giggle. Then I reminded my friend that life was never designed to be simple or convenient. Everyone has their own perspective on the why. However nearly everyone agrees we are tested daily with seemingly unpleasant challenges.

For myself I always viewed the hard work in life as a character-building exercise developed just for me by God. As a young student, I did well in all subjects and every sport I attempted in elementary school. I made excellent grades, led my age group in T-ball/baseball, golf and more. I even wound up on the front page of the local newspaper at about age nine because I was simply in the right place at the right time. Those were great years, followed by character-building events.

At age 11, I won 4-of-5 golf tournaments and completed a strong baseball season with an appearance in the county all-star game in early June. After that game, my mother observed that I drank about five Cokes to quench my thirst. With one son already living with Type I Diabetes, she was quick to have me tested for the chronic disease. I tested positive and spent nearly 30 days in the local hospital while adjusting to taking insulin injections and testing sugars consistently. 

Just as I was checking out of the hospital from that long visit — my friends called it imprisonment — the doctor checked my throat and found a lump that brought me back to the hospital days later. It was removed, found to be benign and left behind a long scar on my neck — pretty exciting for all of the wrong reasons. These are some of the struggles I deal with even today. We all have ongoing issues we adjust to keeping thriving, or they can conquer us.

In my case, I developed new-found abilities to make detailed charts of insulin doses, blood sugars, meals and exercise to make better daily adjustments to my blood sugars. I became proud of my scars, wounds. While I was quiet at times, I focused on growing into a responsible leader. I found recently after a personality evaluation that my personality is very strong in 3-of-4 basic personality types, which is a scarce quality. They give me a good chance to recognize and solve the battles that arrive daily in my life.

Consider the battle of opposing forces you observe regularly in every city. It is the Yin and Yang of your life: The wind and rain batter the Earth daily; the hustle of life versus the caution required to cross a busy street; debates that start among family or close friends; and much more.

Martin arts legend Bruce Lee used the analogy of water to explain life and our role in it: Water can flow. It can be poured into a cup, and it becomes the cup… this analogy reveals how we humans can adapt and change to fit our responsibilities and environment. Bruce also said: “Water can flow or it can crash. Be water, my friend.” This suggests we humans can break down barriers, break out of bad relationships and overcome what holds us down in life. It also subtly suggests that without crashing out of the cup, we can become imprisoned inside the cup forever, while thinking that is all there is.

But how do we break barriers and overcome challenges? With faith, hope and prayers involving God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit.

To me, Bruce was telling me to be water. And as water, I could conform to the shape I was poured into, or I could crash and wear down the cup, the rock or the room that tried to contain me. It is my choice to flow or crash, and it is your choice also.

In the second paragraph, I mentioned my repeated test failings. It didn’t happen in the classroom. Yet it seemed my Father often created a specific test for me to pass or fail each week. And if I did not pass God’s test, the same assignment was waiting on my desk again Monday morning. God’s tests – in retrospect – closely resemble the math tests we all took in school as we learned simple mathematics.

Have you ever felt like you could not move forward in life until you solved this one puzzle – something like a Rubik’s Cube? Logic works sometimes. But here it did not. Random chance, guts and wild guesses did not help either. Following my heart solved little. After repeated failures, I studied my defeats — typically caused by my own selfish strategies — and resigned to God’s will. 

In reality, this is perhaps the second most certain path to wisdom in life. The best method I’ve discovered is learning from others by personal observation, interviewing people and reading books for knowledge.

Why is life so challenging? Because it should be for all the right reasons. Humans must learn, live and grow. If we all had a smooth, even walk to the summit in life, boredom would dominate the day. The potholes, curves, deadends, tangents, S-curves and roadblocks give us a challenge, a chance to overcome the obstacles.

Take on the challenges in your life. Drama or no drama, tests are for acing. Failure is there for the wisdom to be gained. Death happens to teach the living that today is vital. And setbacks pose only temporary walls in our path if we solve the correct riddle at hand. If not, we seem to take the same test again next week.

Perhaps I need to be more talkative and polite. Perhaps you need to be more resilient. We all have room to improve, except for The One – and I do not mean Neo. 

A STORY OF BLESSED LIFE

By Scott Thornton, Guest Editor

I have read The Bible approximately 15 times now, and I am consistently amazed at the detailed stories of miracles, faith and history that fill the pages.

But lately I am called to read and re-read the Book of Luke, which begins with the story of John the Baptist’s birth and the connection between John’s mother, Elizabeth, and her relative Mary, the mother of Jesus Christ. If you have not read this story recently, open your Bible to Luke and study it carefully. It will bring you to tears if you understand the blessing and joy Elizabeth received  after decades of being unable to deliver a child for her husband.

Six months after Elizabeth was told by the Angel Gabriel that she would have a son who would be great and filled with the Holy Spirit, Mary received a similar conversation with the Angel Gariel. Elizabeth was told to name this son John, which was not a family name. That created some conflict as her husband Zechariah had been silenced during the pregnancy for not believing Gabriel when he delivered this good news to the priest Zechariah some nine months earlier. Fortunately both parents had been told by Gabriel to name the baby boy John.

When Zechariah was asked about this at the circumcision, he wrote that the boy should be called John, and then he was able to speak again. 

After Mary had been blessed with the life of Jesus, she traveled to be with her relative Elizabeth during the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy. When Mary entered Zechariah and Elizabeth’s home and greeted the expectant mother, the Book of Luke states that the baby “leaped in her womb and Elizabether was filled with the Holy Spirit.”

The two mothers-to-be spoke like each knew the other’s holy secret already. It must have been an amazing time in their family as they exchanged stories that no one else has ever experienced. Both women were blessed with remarkable fortune and children who are famous across the world. It was a great day in their village.

According to Luke, John the Baptist was born approximately six months before Jesus was born to Mary. And John the Baptist and Jesus Christ were related through their mothers! Never heard that announcement before in church, and I have been oblivious to the holy connection until now. For decades I always remembered the story of John the Baptist started halfway through his life as he was preaching of repentance. I initially believed his was a loner, ranting in the wildness who eventually became more persuasive as leaders have done before.

Somehow  I overlooked one of the most blessed events – and the miraculous nature of the birth and upbringing of John. 

With that knowledge, John’s passion, his works and his meeting with Jesus carry amplified significance. That was truly a troubled time to believe in Christ.

But simultaneously, it was the best of times to see the Miracles of God, the life of the Holy Son and a significant bit player who warned the world to clean up its act quickly. Clearly there were differences between them, but both were filled with the Holy Spirit and guided by the Father. And both died horribly to fulfill a sacred mission for us.

And we – either has historians or Godly people – will recall their stories for all time.