In the old wood frame classroom, I prepared for a new day of class as a fifth grader. It was close to spring but the mornings were still brisk while the afternoons were warm and pleasant.

During exploration of the woods near my home and school, I had found a cocoon which I carried to class to show my friends. We all wondered what kind of winged creature it might contain. We eagerly awaited its rebirth into the world.

Day after day passed. The outside temperature began to get warmer. We could see the moth moving inside the cocoon like a baby kicking inside her mother's womb.

We didn't know what a cesarean section was in those days but we performed one on the cocoon to birth the moth into the world. We had waited long enough. Besides, we thought we were doing the moth a favor by helping it emerge from the cocoon from which it was struggling to break free.

As we cut through the cocoon, we were amazed that a moth with a wing-span of about six inches emerged. I had seen moths that large at football games swirling around the lights that lit the field. Never had I held one so large and beautiful.

After all the classmates had a chance to see the insect which I helped birth into the world, it was time to let it fly. I gave the insect a little lift into the air but it plummeted to the hardwood floor like a rock. It flapped its wings on the floor moving in half-circles. I picked up the moth to give it another opportunity to fly, but again it hit the floor with a thud. Though its wings looked healthy, we never did get the moth to fly. Many years later I read that it is during the struggle of emerging from the cocoon that the moth's wings are strengthened for flight. By keeping the moth from struggling I had inadvertently kept it from flying.

Marcus Wells is a physical therapist. Recently he traveled to Honduras with a medical mission team. While there, a woman brought in her 18-month-old son who could not walk or hold up his head while lying on his stomach. Not having experience in pediatric therapy, Marcus feared he would be unable to help the child. Then he remembered something he had learned in school. He took the child by the arms and gently lowered him until his feet came in contact with a cold surface. This angered the child, who started to cry. But it also jumpstarted the child's legs. He moved them up and down, trying to avoid the cold sensation. Then he stiffened his legs in anger, enough to support his weight briefly. Marcus told the mother she was going to have to make her child mad. Before this child would ever walk, he would first have to struggle. The mom needed to force the child to struggle.

Condoleezza Rice is President Bush's National Security Advisor. She is the daughter of a second-generation minister, the Rev. John W. Rice, Jr., who pastored Westminister Presbyterian Church in Birmingham, Alabama during the beginning of the civil rights era. Rice grew up in an environment of struggle. She felt the floor of her church shake on the infamous day when a bomb exploded two blocks away, killing four young black girls, one of whom was Rice's classmate.

In the September issue of "Christianity Today," Rice is quoted as saying that struggle and sorrow are not license to give way to self-doubt, to self-pity, and to defeat. Rather, struggle is "an opportunity to find a renewed spirit and a renewed strength to carry on." How else but through struggles, she said, "are we to get to know the full measure of the Lord's capacity for intervention in our lives? If there are no burdens, how can we know that he can be there to lift them?"

Showing that she has allowed the roots of her heritage to grow deep within her soul, she recalled the words of a Negro Spiritual in a sermon she preached to a Presbyterian congregation in California. She said, "In the most horrendous of conditions, when it must have seemed that there was no way out, nowhere to go, slaves raised their voices in ''Nobody Knows the Trouble I've Seen. Glory. Hallelujah.'" Glory? Hallelujah? How can people sing "glory, hallelujah" about the troubles they've seen? Rice believes these words show the paradox of the human condition, the belief that struggle is actually a privilege.

The Apostle Paul is in agreement with Dr. Rice. In writing to the church in Corinth, the Apostle Paul lifted up the example of the Macedonian churches who saw their trials as opportunities rather than setbacks. "Out of the most severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own, they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the saints." 2 Cor 8:2-4 (NIV)

Whether you and I mount up with wings as eagles and soar to great heights or whether we fail to develop the strength to take wing will largely be determined by whether we seek to live with the least amount of struggle possible or whether we see times of struggle as a privilege and as an opportunity to become stronger, emerging better than we were, tempered by the fire.

The Rev. Michael Helms is pastor of Trinity Baptist Church in Moultrie.

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