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January 10th, 2012
09:29 AM ET

Heisman Trophy winner: Expect life to be tough

In the Human Factor, we profile survivors who have overcome the odds. Confronting a life obstacle - injury, illness or other hardship - they tapped their inner strength and found resilience they didn't know they possessed. This week, Heisman Trophy winner and former NFL player Danny Wuerffel talks about his battle with Guillain Barre Syndrome, and why he left the NFL to run Desire Street Ministries.

"Life is tough."

I remember hearing those words often growing up, especially from my father when things weren’t going my way. I hated those words as a kid... and I still do.

Something inside me resists any suggestion that life shouldn’t be comfortable.

In early June of last year I was diagnosed with a condition known as Guillian Barre Syndrome, an auto-immune disorder that left me temporarily paralyzed. While the acute and debilitating part of GBS didn’t last too long for me, I’ve been battling with my recovery for over seven months now, and the difficulties in my life related to the illness continue to make life much harder than I want.

Overall, I’m doing better and I’m thankful for the progress (most people tell me I don’t look sick anymore, and some days I can be pretty active). But I regularly feel I don’t have the ability to keep up with even a few activities each day. I feel like I’m in a NASCAR race on a moped.

Life is tough?

Being sick is tough. Raising kids is wonderful but tough. Marriage is beautiful but also tough. Ministry is often tough. And that’s before you throw in hurricanes (we lost our home in Katrina) and GBS. Perhaps those words from my father revealed more truth than I realized.

In Richard Rohr’s book "Adam’s Return" - a book surveying how various cultures initiate their boys into manhood - he says that one of the first tasks is to force the boys to experience the “toughness” of life, often through difficult, painful and sometimes bloody ordeals.

If a boy is forced to accept the fact that life will be tough, then at least he doesn’t have to spend the rest of life getting bent out of shape and surprised every time he encounters the difficulties of life in a broken world.

It’s tough enough to deal with the hardships in life, but to have a false expectation that life will be easy - that we somehow deserve things to be easy - that can turn a tough moment into an unbearable one.

Yet every time I turn on the television or see a magazine cover, I’m barraged with messages to the contrary. You should be happy, and you deserve it. We live in America, for heaven’s sake. Unfortunately, I hear many similar messages from pastors and authors. Contemporary faith in America often mirrors our culture’s obsession with the “good life.”

Life has a lot of seasons, and some of them are filled with joy, gladness and celebration. There are many times to laugh and smile.

But we shouldn’t get swept away by the illusion that life has only one season, and it’s always delightful. Why can’t we be people with the depth, courage and trust to embrace the hard and heavy things of life?

I believe God resides not only in the joy and new life associated with the season of spring, like a reward if we somehow survive winter. We can find him in every season... if we’re willing to look long and hard enough.

I just happen to be in a tough one right now. It’s winter for me.

I trust a new season is on the way. God will bring me spring when He is ready. He just wants to meet me in the winter right now.

I remember my father’s words, “Life is tough, Danny.”

He was right.


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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.