When my son was young, there was much talk among his teachers about the best way to challenge him ~ they meant his mind of course, for he was extremely bright, a brightness that I suspect isolated rather than illuminated him at times.   Sadly, few of them ever got it right, ever discovered the magic formula that would inspire him to reach beyond himself, to push past the self-imposed boundaries, to overcome the fears. Gwen Bell asks a similar question on her Best of 2009 Blog Challenge.  Something that really made you grow this year ~that made you go to your edge and then some. What made it the best challenge of the year for you? 

Sometimes we challenge ourselves, and sometimes life imposes its own challenges upon us.  I'm not one to embrace challenge eagerly, and I admit to a preference for the status quo.  I like things comfortable in my life, like knowing I'm can remain in control, can maintain a familiar level of competence.   But my life in the past year has been filled with one challenge after another - major ones, like the illness and sudden death of two family members, my husband's job loss, my move to working full time - and minor ones, like a do-it-yourself home improvement project on our rental home and mastering a new set of skills in my job. 

Working my way through all these events, these changes, I was certainly brought to "my edge and then some" rather more times than I would prefer.  Sitting beside my aunt's hospital bed, holding her hand and listening to her final  labored breaths, something I had experienced only weeks before with her husband, life felt so unreal to me, so unbelievably devastating, I couldn't imagine a resolution.  Watching my husband, a man who has worked so hard to be the best in his field, have his job taken from him and be faced with the necessity of starting a career over again in an uncertain world, was more heartbreaking than I could believe.

 There were moments when it seemed I would be overcome by all the challenges before me,  when I felt like I was far too close to the edge to ever find my way back down to safety.  The last thing on my mind in those horrific days was whether I was "growing," whether I was learning or becoming a better, stronger person. 

But, I was.  You see, against all odds (or so it seemed) I've risen to all those challenges, at least in some form or another.   Life has evened out, and though there is sadness, there are rays of hope; though I am weary, I feel a sense of satisfaction, much like a runner must feel at the end of a race.   There is peace now and gratitude for having come through not only intact, but stronger, smarter, and more sure of my life and it's purpose.  All those days of just putting one foot in front of the other and keeping on have paid off, at least in this moment, for I feel almost secure again, almost ready to trust in the life that has always before been quite good to me.

There have been angels in my life who  encouraged me to take up challenges  - personal and professional ones - to spread my wings artistically, to explore new horizons literally and figuratively.  This past year, the angels have come in different forms, largely unseen and sometimes quite unwelcome.  But the inspiration has been there, the need to rise up and confront hard things, and in that confronting you do grow, whether you want to or not. 

There is no magic formula for challenge, for each one of us responds in our own unique manner to the gauntlets thrown down before us.  My challenges in 2009 - each and every one of them - have taught me something new about myself and about surviving. 

It's been quite illuminating.