Recently a dear friend came over to my house to catch up.
We see each other regularly, but rarely without children or other distractions, so I really relished those precious hours spent sans-children, sipping our hot teas and enjoying the fall evening while we discussed the joys and challenges life had brought to each of us.
Eventually, the conversation came to my first year of marriage.
My first year of marriage was one of the worst years of my life. Within a span of six months, I was diagnosed with three separate fairly serious health issues, and Michael was diagnosed with one; we moved, both changed jobs, and got married; we became painfully estranged from family members on both sides; I was forced to grapple with deeply rooted identity issues and childhood scars; my grandfather died, and plenty more besides.
I was, to put it mildly, a wreck.
I cried daily, fought with my husband daily, yelled at God daily. I just could not understand why so much pain and hardship was happening to me all at once. I didn’t like it. I wanted nothing more than to make it stop.
Yet as I spoke with my friend that October evening, I didn’t dwell on the challenges that I’d been through.
“I’m not at a point where I can say that I’m actually grateful for what happened to me during that year,” I told her, “but I am grateful for the things I learned from it. I’m grateful for the fact that it forced me to deal with my issues, rather than continuing to sweep them under the rug. I’m grateful that it’s given Michael and I a much stronger foundation for our relationship than we would have had otherwise.”
It was at this point that my sweet, wise friend challenged my assertion. “You say you’re not grateful for what happened,” she said, “but would you be in this wonderful place now if that hard time hadn’t happened?”
I don’t remember how I responded. I probably changed the subject, because I didn’t want to acknowledge the truth of her statement.
Once I was alone, however, I couldn’t ignore it anymore.
The fact is that she was right. Of course, I would have preferred to deal with all my issues without having to go through any pain in the process. Yet positive change almost never happens without some sort of impetus for it. My impetus happened to be a terrible year, a year filled with so much wrong that I couldn’t escape it, but rather was forced to confront it and deal with it.
I came out the other side so much stronger than I ever was before. I’m on top of my health issues, able to empathize with and forgive others more readily, confident and happy. Many of the challenges I faced as a newlywed are still around. They haven’t changed at all.
But I’ve changed.
I’ve become the type of person who likes herself, who loves others well, who is able to handle life’s curveballs so much better than she used to. And it’s because of that terrible year.
I still don’t think I can honestly say I’m grateful for what actually happened that year. But I’m a lot closer to being able to say that. Certainly I’m able to recognize that pain should never be wasted. If you are willing to let it, it will always make you a better, stronger person on the other side.