In 1970, as a twelve-year-old, I spent a week at Landstuhl Hospital in Germany undergoing tests. I had already had two surgeries to remove my thyroid glands and now, using emerging technology, they wanted to see what else was going on in there. I reported to a basement radiology lab in the morning where an older doctor (I thought of him as a mad scientist, although he was actually a friendly sort) would load me into a large, lead-lined, Rube Goldberg-ish machine. As I lay on the gurney a heavy door slid shut and all the light I had was a tiny window above my head. There was a “panic button” in case the patient, well, panicked. But I never used the button, and not because I was fearless or strong. But because I knew the words to the song 99 Bottles of Beer. And I would quietly count down the beers on the wall until the process was over.
As terrible as that whole process sounds, I believe it strengthened character traits that have helped me through life ever since. Sure, it was frightening. Yes, I was scared. But the process was going forward whether I liked it or not and I had to make the best of it, hang in there, cling to my reality and come out the other end. And I believe that was the beginning of my understanding that everything that happens to us in this life is a force for good.
High School marching band isn’t all uniforms and sweet music. Only a band family truly understands what those kids go through. Their practices, in the hot sun, in the rain, in the evening when their non-band friends are out having fun, are incredible sessions of endurance. Even the football team, practicing nearby, watches in awe. And band kids are not, generally, what you would describe as athletes. They are more the nerdy types, readers of Harry Potter and collectors of Star Wars action figures, if you know what I mean. But there they are, enduring the elements and the stern orders of the fearless band director, getting the routine down. Not only do they learn to march in various formations, but they manage to play an instrument at the same time. It is a fierce process of character building and the rallying cry of the whole band is simple:
“What doesn’t kill me makes me stronger!”
And all of my kids survived so I can surmise they are stronger from the experience.
I recently built a pair of speakers that were pretty good but they lacked some bottom-end, so I built a subwoofer. The sub was comprised of an 8” woofer and two 8” passive radiators, the whole contraption powered by its own amplifier. The idea of a woofer, and especially a subwoofer, is to move prodigious volumes of air. When you are at a stoplight and hear that thumping vibration from a neighboring car you are hearing too much air being moved in a confined space from the subwoofers – not exactly what I was after, but you get the idea. After it was finished my buddy came over one night and we put it through its paces. We spent five hours throwing everything at it – rock, jazz, techno. If it thumped down low, we played it. And loud. The goal was not only to see what it could do but also to break it in, loosen up the suspension, drive the cones to their travel limits. Out of the box the speaker drivers are stiff – after we were through they were supple and produced smooth, defined, sweet bass.
You can learn a lot from a subwoofer.
Life, if you’re doing it right, has a series of unrelenting challenges. There are good times, for sure. But there is also sickness and pain, loss and grief, terror and tragedy. There are times you wake up raring to go, full of positive energy and ready to seize the day. But plenty more mornings where hiding under the covers seems a reasonable choice. Life is hard and you will get hurt, be stretched, run over, lied to, wronged, and, if you’re really lucky, be broke and broken-hearted. People you love will die, people you love will get cancer, people you love will leave you. It’s a guarantee that all the above, and more, will fill your days on this planet. But you know what?
It’s all good.
What – am I crazy? Nope. I’m sixty, which means I am starting to figure this beautiful mess out. What I have found is that everything that happens to me, everything that is good and fun and pleasant, along with everything that is bad and painful and ugly, is good and good for me. It’s all a part of a life that isn’t confined to this mortal coil. If your eyes are wide open with an eternal perspective there is nothing that happens to you that doesn’t move you forward, make you stronger, refine your being. I love the example of the Apostle Paul, a man who left a good life to go on a mission and suffered unimaginable sufferings. But I’ll let him describe his adventures in life:
From the Jews five times I received forty stripes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods; once I was stoned; three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I have been in the deep; in journeys often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils of my own countrymen, in perils of the Gentiles, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; in weariness and toil, in sleeplessness often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness— besides the other things, what comes upon me daily: my deep concern for all the churches. Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to stumble, and I do not burn with indignation? 2 Corinthians 11:24-29 NKJV
And his ultimate response to all that:
Not that I was ever in need, for I have learned how to get along happily whether I have much or little. I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of contentment in every situation, whether it be a full stomach or hunger, plenty or want; for I can do everything God asks me to with the help of Christ who gives me the strength and power. Philippians 4:11-13 The Living Bible
What didn’t kill Paul made him stronger.
We can’t make life too safe, too easy, too sanitized, too comfortable, too fair, too even. Life is chaos, and the only control we have is to accept what comes our way and deal with it. What doesn’t kill us will make us stronger, more resilient, braver. Every new challenge brings growth, every new terror brings strength, every new adventure brings a richer life. There is nothing in this life that isn’t ultimately for good.
It’s all good.