“I graduated from the university of struggling so much in life.”
One of the dearest friends I made in Uganda would always respond with those words when asked about what he studied.
He grew up in the slums, was supported by school fee donations, and gradually worked his way up to become a professional artist while financially supporting his mother in the village. By calling his journey a university, he made a very good point. His 22 years of self-declared struggle taught him valuable skills — skills that even surpassed anything I could have learned from a bachelor’s degree.
One night, when we were approaching my house after a long day, I was suddenly aware of the sound of water gushing through the pipes.
“Nooooo, not again!” I thought. The water pressure was unpredictable here, and once in a while, a loose tap that initially had no water flowing would suddenly start dripping when the water pressure increased during the day. This meant coming home to a tap that may have been leaking for hours, wasting precious water and hitting me with a high water bill at the end of the month.
Desperate to stop the water before more damage could be done, I ran into the dark house and immediately slipped and fell in the water, several centimetres high. I looked for the cause, and found that the shower head had been spraying against the wall for who-knew-how-long, flooding the house from bathroom to kitchen to bedroom. My friend came in after me, concerned.
“Why on earth are you running?” he questioned me, “If there was water everywhere like you expected, you would have known to be careful about walking slowly.”
“I needed to turn off the tap,” I told him, flustered, “I can’t waste more water or money! Ugh, this is so annoying! I should have checked the faucets before I left.”
I was angry at myself as I waded through the water, but then he stopped me in my pacing and grumbling. With a comforting hug, he told me,
“Don’t stress — it already happened and what’s done is done. Let’s just clean it up.”
I took a deep breath. “I don’t know what to do. How am I supposed to clean it all?”
“Don’t worry, we’ll figure it out.”
At home in Canada, I would have called on dad and waited for his advice, or called in a dehumidifier and slept somewhere else. I didn’t have those options here. Even worse was that I depended on a housekeeper (and I admit to being spoiled by having one), so I had no idea where she kept a bucket, squeegee, or other cleaning equipment. I was lost.
While I stood there contemplating, my friend found a sad-looking mop and, without a word, began sopping up water in the bathroom and wringing it out into the bathtub. Feeling useless in my own predicament, I decidedly grabbed a bath towel and began soaking up layers of water, then twisting the saturated towel into the kitchen sink.
As we moved from room to room, it was clearly becoming an inefficient process running a dripping mop or towel back to the drain. We needed a bucket, but where would we find one?
“If only there was a Walmart or dollar store nearby to pick one up, or if only I had a car…” I thought.
Looking around, my friend grabbed an empty 5 litre water can that would be big enough to be a bucket, but had a neck that was too small. Still, he was determined, and he proceeded to ask me for scissors. I handed him a pair, seriously doubting that he could safely break the hard plastic, especially because of the round surface.
Within 30 seconds, he had transformed it into a bucket — good enough to collect water from several towel saturations before pouring it down the drain. After about an hour of labour, we collapsed on the couch; the floor was finally dry and cleaner than ever before.
That night, he showed me the kind of resilience one can only have from adversity — resilience that enabled him to focus on the present, not to dwell on the past wishing it was different or thinking should have, would have, could have. This mindset freed up his brain space to think of solutions. Solving the problem was not out of reach — it was totally possible with a bit of creativity and patience.
In this simple act, I was greatly amazed and greatly humbled.
My co-worker recently confessed to me how tired he was of facing more difficulties in his life and career than his peers.
“Why do I always have to resort to prayer? Why do I have to pray for things after working so hard for them instead of getting the house or the job or the girl I want, when I want?”
What I told him, I’ll share with you.
Challenges in life are inevitable, and some people will experience difficulties more than others. In the moment, it’s understandable to feel bitter about the injustice of life, asking, “Why me?”
But remember this: the stone only makes you a sharper knife — a knife stronger than the one who “has it all”, who’s “got it all”. And when your world floods, you will be more like my calm and collected friend who can make a life jacket, and not like the flustered and distressed Justina who can only wish the water had not come.
And, for those who know God, understand that these moments of adversity, however big or small, are there to make us aware of who we really are — a creation dependent on the Creator. It brings us to our knees to say,
“God, I don’t know what to do and I can’t do it. I need you.”
This dependency — this surrender to God to take the wheel and drive us through the darkness, and this yearning for God to share with us Himself and His infinite wisdom to face our challenges —
That is what turns adversity into blessing.