Five years ago, my husband was out of work. I was in California on vacation visiting family when my husband called to give me the news. It really put a damper on things as you can imagine and we had to cut our trip short and head back home. This was a very stressful time for our family. The night my husband told me, I made up my mind that I was going to believe that God would help us. That He would provide what we needed and everything would be okay. I refused to believe anything less.
A few weeks later I had tickets to go to a convention. My husband was blessed with another job but we were still trying to recover from his unemployment. I headed to the convention, excited to leave my worries behind me for a few days. I enjoyed all of the speakers but there was one in particular that touched me the most. Her name is Jackie Nink Pflug author of Miles To Go Before I Sleep.
Jackie stood up on stage and said, “What feels like the worst thing to ever happen to you is really just a learning and growing experience.” I don’t know about you but this was profound to me. The idea that the misery and stress in my life, which I have always taken so seriously, is just about learning and growing was a new concept. She then went on to share an experience in her life that led her to this belief. In 1985 Jackie was working in the Middle East when she was on an airplane that was hijacked by terrorists. Jackie and many others were taken hostage. Many were injured and killed during this hijacking. Jackie was shot in the back of her head and left to die on the tarmac. Jackie managed to survive her injuries but was left with severe brain trauma. In spite of the difficulties she has taught herself to read again and now has a driver’s license. She is a public speaker and author.
This is just a brief over view of what Jackie experienced. I share her story because it had a great impact on me. That if a woman who not only survived but thrived after having such an experience can stand up and say, “What feels like the worst thing to ever happen to you is really just a learning and growing experience”, then I needed to pay attention. This was one of those moments that if I choose, would be life changing. And it has been. I walked away that day forever changed. It has been an amazing journey ever since.
The difference between who I was when I first listened to Jackie to who I am now is the difference of a new perspective. Jackie gave me an opportunity to look at my life from a different point of view. That the experiences that were once dragging me down or holding me back, were about providing me the learning and growth that I needed, to see what I was capable of doing. How are we to know what we can do unless we’re asked to do it?
In the Disney cartoon Mulan, there is a scene where Mulan is told to climb to the top of a tree pole and retrieve an arrow. She is given a rope tied to a weight for each hand. After weeks of failing as a soldier, Mulan is about to sneak away from camp in the middle of the night when she looks up at the pole and stops. She has an epiphany, walks to the pole and takes a rope in each hand winding the weights together on the other side of the pole and uses them as a counter balance to climb to the top of the pole retrieving the arrow. What was the difference from the beginning when she couldn’t make it to the top and when she finally succeeded? The difference was her perspective. She was the same; it was how she perceived the situation that had changed.
How many times do we look at the experiences in our lives and call them trials and burdens? We feel as Mulan did in the beginning, that we have trials and burdens that are weighing us down and keeping us from succeeding. But what if we were to have a change of perspective? What if we use Jackie’s words? That instead of looking at them as trials and burdens that are keeping us from our goal, we could look at them as learning and growth that provide the very tools to succeed and reach our goal! Just as Mulan, we can use the experiences of our lives, for they truly are about learning and growing, to reach the goals we desire. Our life experiences are not about weighing us down or breaking us, they are about building us up and making us into the best version of ourselves that we can be.
So the next time you feel this is the worst thing that ever happened to you, take a step back and think for a moment. This is just about learning and growing. What is it that you can learn from this? Maybe with this experience, you are being provided the very keys to succeed.
May your growing be gentle and your learning be great.