It is an old cliche, but one I have thought about recently: “Problems will make you bitter, or make you better.” Some of the people I have been most impressed by in my life have been people who have gone through unimaginable hardship and yet seem to be an inspiration to people around them. This is not to say they do not have bad days, have not cried out to God in the middle of the night, or have not wished that they did not have to deal with significant difficulties in their lives.

One person who comes to mind is a young woman I knew who had a stroke when she was 21. The woman was a bright college student, taught children’s Sunday School, and was a model of doing things the right way. If anyone had a reason to ask “why me,” it was her. The stroke left her partially paralyzed with a speech impediment and difficulties in walking. I was brought in as a consultant to help design a tutoring program to help her learn to read again. One of her happiest days was when she had her reading to a level where she could teach children’s Sunday School again. The children did not seem to mind her various disabilities. She was a shining example of grace and encouragement to everyone who knew her.

Another gentleman I knew was injured as a college student. One night he and some friends went out on the athletic fields to see if they could make it over the high jump. He landed wrong, broke his neck, and would spend the rest of his life in a wheel chair. He was a quiet man, who went on to get his master’s degree and worked helping other people with disabilities find meaningful jobs.

Contrast these two with those who get “stuck” with the same kinds of questions over and over. “Why me,” “What is wrong that this happened,” and “I lived such a good life.” It is not wrong to think all of these things, it is just not a good place to live day after day.

In the end, some people decide to come out of tough problems and terrible situations with a glow about them. They get not just better, but bigger in the eyes of other people. Others get stuck in bitterness, and they begin to shrink, smaller and smaller into their homes filled with haunted isolation.