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James R. Stout

Struggles

            I’ve been struggling lately. It happens to all of us from time to time. We all have periods of struggle. We may even have prolonged periods of struggles that can bring us down no matter how strong our faith may be. After all, we are all human. Part of being a human being is struggling. Some say that life itself is a struggle. There’s some truth in that statement, but I think the age-old example of life being made up of peaks and valleys is more accurate.

            My recent struggles include highly personal struggles and generalized struggles. The latter of these would include witnessing our society crumble and decay on a daily basis. That’s not simply a negative statement. It is the truth. I am at times distraught over the world which my grandchildren will inherit. But ultimately, I know that there isn’t much that I can do on my own to change the hearts and minds of people. People who do not believe in God or right and wrong or good and evil. I can’t change those people. The sad truth is that all I can do is try to help and prepare my grandchildren for their lives yet to come. Ultimately, they will have to deal with the world that they will inherit. They will have to find ways of dealing with living in that world.

            As for the highly personal struggles that I face, most of these are physical in nature. It’s part of growing old. I’ve always been baffled at how one man can abuse his body with excesses and still live to be 95 while another man tries to live his life in moderation and dies at 55. Another way to express this is to give an example. I know a man who is 69 years-old. He is in great shape. He gets out and does hard physical work most of the week. The heat doesn’t seem to bother him at all. He is rarely sick. Colds and the flu just seem to pass him by. He enjoys the physical labor the way that most of us did when we were young. Compare this man to two different people. First, my sister Barbara. She passed away last year at the age of 68. The last 15 years of her life were misery for her. She battled a plethora of illnesses. Ultimately, her organs just ceased to work, and she died. Near the end of her life she was unable to get around without help. She was unable to do many of the things that we all take for granted. It was a profoundly sad thing to witness my sister in such pain prior to her death. Yet, she was a year younger than the man I mentioned earlier. What a huge difference in their physical lives.

            Then there’s me. I turn 64 next week. I’ll be five years younger than my 69-year-old friend who runs circles around me. I have perhaps mentioned in the past that I have fought a chronic illness for many years. Well, as I have gotten older that illness has most definitely left its mark. I go to see another specialist on my birthday. Hey, it was the only day available. I mean, it’s not exactly my idea of a happy birthday! I still get out and do what I have to do here on my small ranch. But it has become obvious that my days of doing many of those things are numbered. Sometimes I feel like “Pop” on “Spencer’s Mountain”. I am embarrassed to say that I have to use a cane at times. I no longer can step up onto the tractor without a small stool. The heat has become a problem. I have taken to doing my outside work before noon or after 6 p.m. Some of the things that I truly enjoyed doing here for many years have become unpleasant due to my physical limitations.

            But as I write this blog, I am also doing some pondering. It could be a lot worse. A whole lot worse. I’m not rich, but I’m not likely to be starving anytime soon. I have been blessed with so many things. My children, my grandchildren, my family, the land that I live on, and other such things. I have been blessed with some talents that I am still able to use. I’ve always felt badly for someone who has had a great talent, but through either an accident or illness loses the ability to perform their talent. All these things, the good and the bad, create a fertile ground for struggles. As this life continues onward towards its eventual end and we grow older and lose some of our abilities we must deal with struggling. I admit that this past week has been tough for me. I have doubted myself. I have questioned my abilities. I have worried and I have at times felt like just finding a dark corner to go and be alone. But I can’t do that. The struggle that I have today may well yield a victory tomorrow. And if it doesn’t, then at the very least I can say that I tried. I gave it my best effort. I had one particularly dark day this week. I called a good friend on the phone and we talked. I needed to hear a friendly voice. At one point I asked this friend what probably sounded like a pretty strange question. I asked if my friend thought that I was an “OK” guy. I wasn’t looking for a compliment. I was trying to figure out if maybe I deserve these things that I have been experiencing. Are they my fault? Well, this friend got quiet for minute and I realized that they didn’t quite know how to answer my question. Was I kidding? I do tend to joke around a lot, so I can see how it might have seemed like I was just joking around. Finally, my friend said that I’m definitely an “OK” guy. At first, I had to decide whether or not my friend was just saying it or really meant it.

            Now for all of you who think that I am always upbeat and such a fun-loving guy, please just keep thinking that. Because 95% of the time I am that guy. But ALL of us have struggles that can lay us low at times. I ended up doing some comfort reading. It’s definitely comforting to me no matter how many times I read it. It’s Chapter 14 in the Gospel According to John. I feel a whole lot better having reflected on that Chapter again. So, what if I have to use a cane at times? So, what if I can’t do all the things that I used to be able to do? So, what if I got down for a few days? I am blessed. I have received the greatest gift of all time and when this life of struggles does come to its end, I will never again struggle. In the meantime, I’ll enjoy what I have come to consider the little party that comes before the big party. To each and every one of you that might read this blog entry, my wish for you is that I’ll see you at the big party some day and while we wait let’s make the little party a little bit better by being kind to each other, loving each other, and wishing the best for each other.

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