Friday, August 03, 2007

thinking of struggle

i've been thinking lately about what struggle means in life. sometimes i write myself notes if i want to capture an idea to write about later. i've had the 'struggle note' on my bedside table for over a month now. I pick it up and look at it and put it down again. I haven't felt able to talk about it for some reason. I still don't, but i feel compelled.

About a week ago Rob and I gave our friend Moni a ride in to work. As she walked to the van, we noticed that she carried with her a couple of containers in which hung 3 Monarch butterflies in their chrysalis/cocoons (one was transparent - it was ready to emerge- the other 2 were turquoise jewels suspended from the top of their plastic container). As we drove, Moni explained that with it being so close to their time, she wanted to share them with everyone in the office. She talked of the process of raising these insects from pin-point eggs on the back of a milkweed leaf to greedy caterpillars to glorious winged creatures. I tell Monika that she missed her calling and that she really should be either a botanist or entomologist - or maybe both!! She knows just about every plant in existence and she knows everything about butterflies! After we parked the van, in the time it took the three of us to walk from the staff lot to the building and to our office, the butterfly was born!!! It happened so fast, Moni was the only witness. I had gone back to my desk when i heard her excited screams from the front of the office: "Everyone! the butterfly!!! COME ON!!!" We all came running to see this exquisite creature hanging there. He was all rumpled, like a shirt that had been left in the dryer overnight. . He remained upside down -- he would remain there for the whole day, stretching and fanning his stained glass wings. As i watched him, i remembered this story i had once read about someone who had felt bad for a butterfly struggling to free itself, so they 'helped' it along by ripping open its casing to make its entry 'painless' and easy. The poor thing didn't gain the wing strength that comes from the struggle of emerging and it soon died as a result. What a story. I don't usually retain many of the stories i read in great detail, but i've always remembered that one. Monika didn't know that this living object lesson of struggle and emergence (of which she personally knows PLENTY) would help to catalyze my resolve to write about it. I didn't want to tell her about my thoughts because i knew that she was lost in her own -- a couple of days after this gorgeous thing and its companions broke free, they were released to commemorate the 5-year mark of the sudden and heart-breaking departure from this earth of Moni and Henri's only child, Nicole. Their struggle has been incredible. Its ongoing and i know always will be. I'm amazed at the extraordinary strength and compassion i see in them. Struggle in the extreme. Pressure makes diamonds.

What in this world isn't borne of struggle? Who isn't? We ourselves struggle to push our way into world and we struggle against leaving it. . . and everything in between those two marking events is variations on that theme and the theme is so big to talk about. . . life's a big thing and its hard to take the weighty matters of living and reduce them into words.

I was sitting here last night with so many things percolating in my mind. It all seemed to settle into flashes, a movie montage in my brain, details, faces, names, circumstances. Very powerful moment. The more i thought of them - their battles and their trials as well as their joys and triumphs (and those were only the things i knew about) - the more i became filled with respect for them with all they'd been through and by how their life experiences had shaped and uniquely marked them. Some of you reading this went through my mind. Sometimes it all seems so brutal, pain, trouble, burden, anxiety, uncertainty . . .but from this kind of stress can come such strength. If life is nothing else, its a paradox. . and because i know God, i know first hand how he is able to work and move in paradox to redeem even oppressive and arduous things and have them turn to yield uncommon perseverence and character in those who will trust him with their lives. He is a mystery. We are. Life is. I like mystery, it gives me something to wonder about. It helps me to know that i can't always know.

I can think of so many strife analogies, but i do get tired of trying to work these sometimes clunky things. I get tired of similes and alliteration and all those devices. I want to go beyond those tricks. I want to be honest, so i'll bring it down to my own thoughts to avoid overgeneralizing or preaching.

Struggle has been a teacher in my life. Because i'm me, i have made a struggle of things which i never should have. I have spent all of my energy and lost any chance to gain endurance. When genuine struggle then came to me, i've unable to respond to it because i'd become all used up in false struggle. I haven't always gotten over the 'its not fair' syndrome. There have been things in my life, relationships, circumstances which have not been easy - they were difficult, up hill, hard things, still are. I have made the mistake of looking at others who had no such strife in these areas, in fact seemed to glide and float and the sun shone upon them and made them golden. .*or so i thought* i turned green. . my heart hardened, my spirit shriveled. I chose all wrong. . my focus was all wrong, my vision too. I compared what i should not have compared. I glanced sideways when i should have looked up. I had not learned. I kicked and raled against learning. I did not rise up above as struggle can help you to do, i sunk down below as misuse of struggle can make you do. Real issues of social justice, equality, righteousness seemed unreal to me. I couldn't seem to care about reality and i fixated on non issues. I'm still working on this. I am now so touched by others, but my actions don't always come forth as easily as my tears. My heart is changing and i am more motivated to struggle with purpose. I feel like i'm now light years from who i used to be. God is with me and always has been. I was just too often too selfish to know this. I have been learning from my mistakes. Struggle can refine or crush. I've had both happen to me so far. Struggle always costs. I don't want to go through anything difficult in vain. I don't want to resent the price of anything that can help me to learn. I've tended to try to protect myself from further damage. . i've tried to make things painless and easy with avoidance and denial. . i've shunned painful situations thinking i would gain strength and i have since learned those situations were serving to strengthen me and by removing myself i have removed my own ability to persevere. I have done to myself what that well-meaning person did to that butterfly.

yeah. . its like that. .

i'm sure i'll think much more about all of this. It still feels too large to tackle all in one go. oh, i want to keep learning. . i want to have perspective and maturity and all the things that only struggle can help me to see!! How can i appreciate the beauty of resting and peace if i have never been opposed? How will i be strong unless i have had resistance to increase my strength?

We are pressed down on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed and broken. We are perplexed but we don't give up and quit. We are hunted down but God never abandons us. We get knocked down, but we get up again and keep going.