Life is filled with tests and changes

Sunday, December 4, 2011

"I never thought I'd end up like this," said Jim, a nursing home resident. His health had failed to the point he could no longer stay at home. As I visit a local convalescent facility almost every week, I see many residents who share Jim's feelings. He remembers when he was a vibrant young man, then middle-aged and finally 91 years old.

Now he is seldom energetic, even though his mental abilities are better than average, considering his age.

His physical condition has deteriorated quite severely. Nevertheless Jim complains little. Rather he believes he is better off than most at his residence.

Jim is only one who wonders how and why he ended up the way he has. Only God knows why and how we came to the place we are now.

Leann is a woman who could wonder how she ended up where she was. She had dashing plans of being a psychological counselor and a wife and mother.

To begin with, Leann's plans materialized. She attained her undergraduate and then her master's degree in psychology and counseling. She married the man whom she had dated through college, taught at a university and finally, after many years of marriage, became a mother -- the mother of a beautiful daughter.

Leann thought she had finally achieved her dreams, except for the fact that she desperately wanted a larger house for her family. You see, Leann was always the one in the family who loved cooking holiday dinners and meals for other occasions.

At every Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter and notable events, you knew you would receive a phone call from her to wish you a wonderful time at whatever festivities you were participating in. The woman showed love and care and seemed to try to make the best out of every circumstance.

Then things in Leann's life changed drastically. Rather than continuing to be the happy, healthy individual she always believed she was, she became seriously ill. Leann developed cancer, and her life was hanging by a thread for a long while. True to the spirit she had shone to others when she was well, Leann again rose to the occasion.

"I'm not giving up," she said, and Leann kept her word. Even while going through chemotherapy, she kept her faith in God. The Holy One was bigger than any illness she could ever encounter. But Leann, just as Jim, never thought she would end up like this.

She wondered if she would live to see her daughter grown. No one ever knows where he will end up or what he will have to endure. Life is a test. It seems as if one finishes one challenge only to greet another. The wonderful part of it all is that people usually do get through what they must, and consequently become stronger and more compassionate because of the experience.

A person sometimes can't recognize the individual he's become when he looks back at his youth. Life's vicissitudes have changed him.

Man's resilience is amazing. When you think someone has endured all the hardship he can tolerate, he surprises you. He bounces back to living again with an unmatched fervor and renewed vigor. He seems to truly believe that he "can do all things through Christ who strengthens him." (Philippians 4:13)

Leann prayed, suffered, persevered and fought for her life. God answered her prayers and she was able to attend her daughter's confirmation ceremony. Once again, this year, although Leann must guard her activity, she was once again cooking, calling everyone at Thanksgiving and taking time to chat. She had been so traumatically ill that one would suppose Leann would have thought she would never again end up like this again -- participating in life. When it's over I shall wonder what I gave to this life -- before I enter the eternal one.

Ellen Shuck holds degrees in psychology, religious education and spiritual direction and provides spiritual direction to people at her office.

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