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It was a Friday in August of 1991. I was sixteen. I’d been driving alone for six-months. The whole world was in front of me. I could do whatever I wanted, except on the day before I’d had an MRI and been diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor. It was killing me, blocking the water from draining out of my brain, putting pressure on the area that controlled my eyes.

There are times when those who get bad news, really bad news, lack the emotional and cognitive capacity to absorb that news. In other words it’s like trying to eat an entire elephant in one bite. Like a deer in the headlights of a huge truck I had no idea of how to process what was happening or what was about to happen. The doorbell rang and my Mom ushered in the minister from our church. He was new to our church and didn’t know anyone well. In retrospect I think he was as shocked as I was. Ministers were supposed to fix things, to make people feel better, to boldly proclaim that God is good and that he will shepherd us through the valley of the shadow of death. That’s was a tall order when he didn’t even know me. After a few pleasantries he took me into the library and asked “How are you?”

There is a story of a man who jumped off a ten story building at each floor they asked him how he was doing at every floor he said, “So far, so good.” How we are doing in our body, mind, heart, spirit and soul is a complex question. I wasn’t much of a Christian back then. I’d read enough of the Bible, gone to church enough and prayed enough to be a very promising Pharisee. My understanding of grace was sorely lacking. My experience with the Holy Spirit was miniscule. I didn’t want or even know how to be vulnerable in front of the minister. In this moment of crisis I fell back on one of the stories I’d heard in church. It was the familiar story of the footsteps in sand. I man had a dream where he was walking on a beach. As he looked back he saw two pairs of footsteps in the sand. The footsteps represented the journey of his life. When it came to the really difficult times in his life one of the sets of footsteps disappeared. The man asked God, “Why did you abandon me during those difficult times?” God said those were the times I carried you.” In the pressure to respond to the question of “How are you?” I said, “I don’t feel that God has abandoned me.” That was the best I had at that moment.

When we get pressed and shocked beyond our human capacity to respond we fall back on the spiritual tools we’ve learned and absorbed. What are some of the spiritual tools that work best for life’s unexpected and often dreaded surprises?

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