Growing Through Adversity

Reviewed by Phillip Waite, Ph.D.

Adversity. To be honest, I don't like that word very much. I've had my portion, thank you very much, and I don't want another helping. To me adversity often feels like an unwanted yet familiar companion. So much so that when it's absent, I feel like something is actually wrong!  It's strange how we get used to living with challenges. We have to expect adversity in our lives.  Especially if you have a chronic illness. But we can choose how we respond to it and can grow from it.

One memorable quote by the author Cheryl Carson says it best.

How we allow our afflictions to affect us, whether we give up or endure, whether we become bitter or compassionate, is our choice.

That is so true.  But it is so hard!

Just to be clear, I'm no poster child for conquering adversity. I'll be the first to admit that there have been times when I've let adversity get the best of me.  The months following my diagnosis with chronic illness was one of those times.  I felt betrayed.  I wasn't sure if there was anything left in life for me to accomplish.  How could a kind and loving God let this happen to me?  I was the portrait of self pity!!!   And you know what, it was okay.  It was part of a process of grieving and acceptance that I had to pass through.  The real question for me was do I continue to wallow in my pity party or move forward in my life with hope and faith?

Hanmer Parsons Grant said,

We must free ourselves of the hope that the sea will ever rest.  We must learn to sail in high winds.  

Another truth!  But again more easily said than done!

Learning to overcome adversity doesn't happen during a single late night study session, it's more like an endless tutorial we have to take over and over again.  Each time I've faced a health challenge, I've learned a little bit better how to respond the next time around.  A flare up of my illness for example, doesn't affect me nearly as much as it did when I was first diagnosed.  I've learned to cope better, to push through it with fortitude, and I have the knowledge that at some point it will come to an end.  Each time adversity confronts us, it takes a slightly different approach which requires us to develop new skills and abilities. This refining of our character and path of personal growth helps us develop the resiliency I wrote about earlier.

About 9 years ago, I broke my left leg after falling from a retaining wall.  It was a terrible break.  I shattered my tibia plateau (the top of the tibia just below the knee) into about 10 pieces.  Within a 2 year period I underwent 2 leg surgeries that involved a bone graft and all kinds of pins, screws and braces, endured painful physical therapy and it was many months before I could even attempt to walk again.  The accident happened just 2 weeks after the birth of my second son.  Not the best timing for an accident!  I am reminded of this accident every day.  I have chronic pain and arthritis in my knee.  I cannot jog, hike, or pick up my kids without throbbing knee pain.

And you know what, I endured it pretty well!  Even my wife noticed that I was coping better than before.  Still every day I had to choose how to respond.  I chose to look past the negative and focus on the positive.  I relied on my faith in God with hope and assurance.  

There were two things I received from this experience.  First, my confidence reached new peaks.  I knew I could overcome some pretty significant challenges and not let them bring me down.  Second, I cherish the memory of spending more time holding my newborn son while I was temporarily disabled and developing that early bond and connection with him.  Not all fathers get that kind of opportunity.

Sure, there are things I miss.  I miss the speed and feel of rushing wind while mountain biking down a steep trail of rocks and dirt.  But I have also learned to slow down and acknowledge the intricate beauty of the mountains that surround me as I walk.  I'm sure that lesson will come in handy the next time life's seas get a little stormy.

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