for release Friday September 09, 2005
by Melodie Davis
Thriving Amid Adversity
How do you cope with adversity?
I’ve known Angie Williams, Harrisonburg, Va., for almost 30 years. In fact, she was the first person we “allowed” to babysit our firstborn child when Michelle was about a month old (you know how protective first-time parents are). As an office colleague, she had asked to do that before I ever left on a three-month maternity leave.
Angie has written her memoirs, an easy-to-read but sometimes not easy-to-believe book, Joy in Adversity: Living Free Amidst the Storms of Life (21st Century Press, 2003, http://www.21stcenturypress.com/joyinadvers.html ). In it she tells story after story of not only coping with setbacks and tragedies in her life, but, as the title implies, maintaining a joyful spirit throughout.
Angie and her husband, Rivers, lost three babies to miscarriage before finally giving birth to two sons. She endured humiliation after false accusations of sexual misconduct as a teen, racism, cancer, Rivers’ heart attack, a long struggle with the trials of TMJ (jaw issues and pain) and multiple other physical problems as she traveled through life. The book is almost relentless as it goes from major problem to hiccup to major problem to hiccup. I’ll confess, I almost got tired of the Pollyanna, stiff-upper-lip treatment in the book (sorry about that, Angie).
But Angie is the real deal: she is truly as joyful and upbeat and seemingly always cheerful as her book title and subtitle implies. So it is worth considering: what does it take to keep such a joyful spirit? I think we also need to look beyond Angie’s abundant Christian faith, even though she credits that as one of her secrets. You don’t have to look very far among Christians to know that there are lots of folks out there who don’t exhibit a free happy spirit. She does exhibit a great deal of faith in God’s power to heal any situation.
One of the stories that reveals a lot is her response after she learned that a lump in her breast has to be removed. The doctor emphatically but empathetically gives his suspicions that this particular lump will prove to be malignant. She responds at the close of their visit, “Doctor, you had bad news for me, but you have done your job well, and I thank you. I will be fine. God bless you.”
She is human, however, and saves her own tangled inner emotions for the moment when she is able to share the bad news with her husband, and is strengthened by the warm embrace of his arms. I think this story offers two keys to her triumphs over adversity—and I know many, many additional people who have had just about as many ups and downs through life. Angie leans on and draws strength from the persons around her who love her, and has a personality that looks for the positive.
She also, not surprisingly, has a great sense of humor, as in this example: “One day a student asked me, ‘Do you have a word from the Lord for me?’ She anxiously searched my face for some profound spiritual utterance. Not wanting to appear unspiritual, I could have done what I had suspected some others were guilty of—telling the person what you know they want to hear. Instead … I laughed and said, ‘No, I don’t have a word from the Lord for you, but I can make something up if you like.’”
Along those lines, she has learned that the best way to bear adversity is to buck up and bear it. Cry a river and get over it. Take your medicine and move on. However you want to express it, these kinds of truisms exist because they work.
Her conversations with God are comforting in their honesty. One time when she was going through a really tough problem, she felt like she was praying to God as hard as she could about the problem. Then she sensed God speaking to her in return, asking, “Angie, what are you doing?”
“Very pleased with myself, I responded, ‘Lord, I’m praying.’ The answer came thundering back to me. ‘No, you are not praying, you are complaining!’”
It is this kind of give and take with her God that helps me identify with her and know that she knows she is not some saint for having survived so many adversities with her pluck and upbeat attitude in good condition. She forces herself to start thanking God or other people when facing an ordeal. I think this stands up psychologically: we become what we think. If we think dour thoughts, we become dour.
Another woman, Susan Gregg Schroeder, a United Methodist pastor who has lived with severe depression, wrote her own book called In The Shadow Of God's Wings: Grace In The Midst Of Depression. She tells how even through depression, she has learned so many things she considers them “gifts.” You can read more about her books, videos and ministry at http://www.mentalhealthministries.net/resources.html
Amazing. Maybe the rest of us can learn a little from these inspiring women.
For a free booklet, “Finding the Strength to Survive a Crisis or Tragedy,” write to Another Way, Box 22, Harrisonburg, VA 22802, or firstname.lastname@example.org (Please include your paper's name in your response.)
You can also visit Another Way on the Web at www.thirdway.com.
Melodie Davis is the author of seven books and has written her column since 1987. She taught feature writing and has won awards from the National Federation of Press Women, Virginia Press Women and the American Advertising Association. She and her husband have three daughters.
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