How to Navigate Life’s Challenges: 4 Valuable Lessons for Hard Times

Some days are noteworthy only in retrospect.

For me, July 5, 2022 was such a day.

It was an unremarkable Oregon Tuesday — morning drizzles followed by sunny and 72 degrees. I painted the hallway as part of our ongoing house remodel and took a nap. Bill went to a routine checkup. And then I made dinner.

We started getting hints that life was about to change, but we had no idea how much.

  • “The doctor felt a growth and said I should make an appointment with the urologist.”
  • Two days later, the doctor called: “Did you make that appointment yet?”
  • Then the blood tests came back and — after a quick Google search to figure out what they meant — the truth started to slowly sink in.

Now . . .  nineteen months, a surgery, hormone therapy, and 40 rounds of radiation later . . . life hasn’t been the same. Will never be the same again, really.

Everyone’s cancer journey is different.

This journey is my husband’s. 

But when the love of your life has been diagnosed, you embark on a parallel journey. It’s not the same. How could it be? You’re in the same car, sharing similar scenery, but your travel journals are wildly different. 

Why am I sharing this now, when (hopefully) we’re out of the woods?

Because, as with so many journeys, it can be easier to appreciate them when they’re nearly over.

Here’s what I’ve learned from this journey so far:

1. Life as we know it can change without warning. 

Although this lesson has been pummeled into me, it’s not a very helpful one: Watch out! Tomorrow may be different.

Gee, thanks! What do we do with that information?

It’s easy to toss around simplistic platitudes. 

  • Don’t sweat the small stuff.
  • Be grateful for what you have before it’s gone.
  • Live every day as if it’s your last.

I understand the sentiment behind these statements, but the reality is:

  • Life is lived in the details.
  • It’s impossible to fully appreciate many aspects of life until they’ve disappeared.
  • Although I hope my last day of life won’t entail cleaning the toilet or fighting with technology, prematurely abandoning hygiene or throwing my laptop out the window probably isn’t a good idea.

The takeaway: Appreciate as much of today’s life as you can. Then, be gentle with yourself when one day you inevitably discover that you didn’t appreciate some aspects quite enough.


2. Life journeys are exhausting — and you’re doing the best you can.

I recently succumbed to frustration that I’d not finished a “simple” project. All I had left to do was contact customer service about a small hiccup. But I couldn’t garner the energy to write the email. 

This task was on my to-do list every single day for 64 days. (To be fair, before writing the email, I also had to go back and remind myself of all the steps I’d already taken to resolve the issue. But still… )

Even as well-meaning friends reminded me that I had a lot going on, the refrain in my head told me I “should” be able to complete this simple task. And I admit, it was a source of great frustration at myself that I hadn’t yet.

Only in retrospect — when I actually looked back at the calendar from those months — did I realize the truth: my life was full of soooo many tasks and events, big and little, that it’s no wonder I couldn’t deal with writing one more email — no matter how seemingly small.

Takeaway: When you’re tempted to beat yourself up because of the task you “should” be able to complete but can’t, jot down all the events that occurred during that time period. Review the list, and then give yourself grace.


3. Even when adventuring together, our journeys are individual.

Some say that when you’re faced with death, your priorities become clear. I assume that’s true to some extent.

But when you’re reminded of your own mortality through your loved one’s harrowing experience, it adds a twist:

  • How can I be there for the love of my life hoping we’ll still have 20 more years together, but knowing in a way I hadn’t fully grasped before that it may not be true?
  • Now that I’ve glimpsed the possibility of a life cut short — and realize that my life could be just as brief — how do I make the most of the years I (hopefully) have left?

When your own impending mortality comes into clearer focus, the question, “What do I want to do with my one short life?” becomes more urgent — and more poignant. You realize how little time you have left to do the things you’ve always hoped. 

(For what it’s worth, I’ve decided to retire from my college teaching job so I can focus on two bigger passions: writing and spending time with the people I love.)

Takeaway: Consider how old you’ll be in 5 years. When you imagine yourself at that age, what do you want that to look like? Start working toward that version of yourself. There’s still time. And, it’s later than you think.


4. You must put your trust in God alone.

Although I’d gotten glimpses from time to time, until this journey began I hadn’t fully realized how much I was trusting in things that are not God: my health, my (relative) youth, my own wisdom, the medical community, my own ideas about what will keep my loved ones safe.

To be sure, there are practices that improve our odds in life — increasing vegetable intake and laying off the ice cream, walking more and sitting less, boosting time in books and reducing time on social media. 

But God is the only one who can truly heal us. And even if He doesn’t, He can be trusted to walk beside us and help us through our hard circumstances. 

Takeaway: Share your troubles with God in prayer. Proverbs 3:5-8 tells us:

“Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight. Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the LORD and turn away from evil. This will bring healing to your body and refreshment to your bones.”

Philosopher Soren Kierkegaard said, “Life must be lived forwards, but can only be understood backwards.”

How true that is. 

And how frustrating.

It feels like it would be easier to live life forward if we knew what the future will hold.

But the mystery is part of the adventure. If we knew what the future truly holds — plenty of suffering and heartache leading up to certain death — we might never get out of bed.

And we’d miss out on the gifts the future holds, the ordinary moments that sneak up on us and fill us with joy. 

  • Laughing so hard your stomach hurts. 
  • Droplets on trees glistening in the sun after a storm.
  • Sweaty-haired sleepy toddler snuggles. 
  • Deep conversations with close friends.

Here’s to prayerfully trusting God with your life — no matter what the future holds — and living the moment you have right now, squeezing out of it all the joy that you can.


  1. Sherrey Meyer

    Kendra, I hate to say this but I felt relief when I saw your email and then this post. My thinking focused on someone else traveling a journey with their husband. Since September 2022, my husband has been recovering from what was described as simple prostate surgery to reduce the size of his enlarged prostate. Nothing seems to have worked as described. His early recovery was extraordinarily painful, it seems he was always fighting a UTI, and there were many appointments to get a catheter inserted. His spirit declined; he felt nothing went right.

    In December 2023, he woke me up saying “I can’t breathe.” It was 2am. When I finally contacted our doctor around 5am. His instructions were to meet at his office at 9:30am and plan to spend the whole day. His last words were to bring a good book. The result was that he discovered Bob had multiple small pulmonary emboli on both lungs. He spent four days in Intensive Care while we waited for those to all disappear. Now we’re paying upwards of $450 every 90 days for Eliquis. Bob is still uncomfortable when urinating and he urinates often. Another expensive medication, Gemtesa, doesn’t seem to help.

    Next chapter involved a minor stroke, so small they couldn’t see where the clot was on the brain causing the stroke. This was an overnight ER visit with excellent physicians and the only damage is his speech gets slurry when he’s tired or sleepy. Another ER visit was because of an urgent need to have a catheter inserted to relieve pain and, of all days, it was the first of a massive ice storm.

    What a journey! Bob has travelled all my journeys relating to my degenerative disc disease in my spine and my scoliosis and neuropathy. It hasn’t been easy for any of the multiple times we’ve been to surgery and things went longer than expected. However, none of these placed death on my doorstep. Each of Bob’s situation seem to get too close to Death’s door. That’s when I began to worry and often panic, especially when left alone.

    Thank you for this beautiful message to your friends as to what we can do to work our way through these types of journeys. You’re are one of God’s greatest gifts to other women, Kendra!

    • Kendra Burrows

      Oh, Sherrey! What a hard journey for the both of you. I feel honored that you shared it with me. And I agree — there’s a special kind of helplessness you feel when your loved one is suffering. (Not that our husbands aren’t experiencing their own kinds of helplessness, from their own conditions as well as their desires to care for us and to not burden us.) You and Bob are in my prayers.

      • Sherrey Meyer

        And Kendra, you and your husband are in my prayers.

        • Kendra Burrows

          Thank you!

  2. Elaine Znoy

    #2 Hit home for me. A lawyer told me to write two letters and open a claim against UPS, again. That was early January. Haven’t done a thing, except enjoyed the peace of not stressing over the issue. Sweet peace Before Christmas I spent several weeks fighting a huge phone company and made myself sick with stress in the process. So what if I get a blot on my perfect credit score!!!

    I’ve fought the good fight as hard as I could but giving up fees like peace and a weird kind of victory, maybe a small death to pride.

    • Kendra Burrows

      Peace is the best kind of victory, Elaine. I’m so glad you’re feeling it with regard to this situation. Also, phone companies and lawyers and UPS claims … ugh! My prayers are with you. But, “maybe a small death to pride”? What an interesting concept. I’m going to be letting that one linger for a while. Thanks for sharing your insights!

  3. Margaret Fairchild

    The number 3’s take away really spoke to me this morning. I have a lot of hopes for what things will look like in 5 years. It’s helpful to look at that now and partner with God to move forward with hope and discernment as well as a roadmap!

    • Kendra Burrows

      I’m so glad that resonated with you this morning, Margaret. Here’s to life’s grand adventure!


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Hi, I’m Kendra

I help bright, successful over-thinkers change their negative thoughts using Scripture and the science of how God made you.

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