Struggle as a Gift.

A few years back, visiting a loved one and his mother, I heard her say to him, “I wish I’d given you up for adoption.” And my heart broke. We were both the product of teen moms, but never in my life had I ever felt unwanted.

The reason she wished that wasn’t necessarily because she didn’t care about him, it was because she believed the life she had given him was too difficult to be worth it for either of them. She wanted him to have a life with no struggle.
And from a mother’s perspective, maybe that makes sense…

but I strongly disagree.

I don’t think his life would have been better for never having struggled. If anything, growing up the way he did helped make him a gentle, kind, and considerate adult.

Here’s my truth:

The most powerful moments in our lives don’t come from easy, happy times. They come from struggle.

Maybe a beautiful memory of a simpler time is what keeps us going at times, but it’s the struggle that makes that memory so powerful- so valuable to us.

I know my 4-year-old self had no idea how much the lilac bushes outside my grandpa’s house were going to mean to me one day. The safety and love and joy they represent wasn’t missing from my life at the time, and I had no idea how precious it was. It wasn’t until later, living in an abusive home under a raging beast of a step-father and a strung out mother who was being abused and who was lost to even herself that I realized how precious my grandpa was and the beauty of those moments.

Sure, being abused sucked. Obviously it sucked. But I can’t do anything about what happened in the past. I can’t go back and make it not happen, and honestly even if I could I’m not sure that I would.

I’ve faced my demons and worked through what my past looked like, and despite everything I’ve been through and all that I’ve seen, I still believe, without a doubt, struggle is the truest gift and the greatest opportunity in life.

Before I get into this more, I want to make one thing very clear. Your feelings around your struggle are absolutely valid. Any pain, frustration, anger, resentment, or whatever it may be, that is absolutely valid. This is not about shoving it all aside, slapping a sparkly sticker on it, and walking away like the Happiest Elf or whatever that bobble-head critter was from Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events, okay?

Fuck that.

You’ve been hurt. You get to feel the hurt.


You can feel the feels and honor what you’ve been through while also choosing not to wallow in misery and play the victim.

Hear the victim out, allow her to speak as much as she needs to, and then lovingly invite her to move on. We’ll talk about that more in another post, and if you’re struggling to embrace the negative feelings as it is, I want to invite you to visit the first chapter of my eBook for free here. It’s a stand-alone lesson titled You Are Valid, and it’s all yours.

Now, let’s talk about how to see the gift.

Now that you’ve honored the feelings, however “negative” they may be, and you understand that healing and forgiveness may still be necessary but that this doesn’t have to hold you back forever, I want to talk about how to see the struggle for the gift it truly is, even when you’re still in the painful moment.

In hindsight, it’s easier to see how struggles benefit us and to feel grateful for the lessons learned and the strength we found in ourselves… but when it comes to current struggles, it can be a challenge to step out of our heads and set the emotions aside enough to see the opportunity in front of us.

A really powerful way to build a new belief is to write it down, and start listing evidence from the past that supports the belief.

So let’s start by building some evidence for this new belief: Struggle is an opportunity, a gift.

I’m going to give you some real examples of ways struggles have served me in the past. Remember: I’m not justifying those who wronged me, I’m not saying “negative” feelings weren’t valid, and I’m not saying it wasn’t a big deal. What I’m saying is “this happened, and I’m choosing to keep my power anyway. I’m not going to give my power away, I’m going to embrace it and recognize that this struggle was an opportunity. Here’s how…” Okay?

So here are some examples.

First, my mom was 15 years old and already on drugs when she got pregnant with me.
She was 16 when I was born.

From a 15 year old on drugs and a teen mother- I was brought to life. Talk about a gift in disguise! My mom tells me all the time that I saved her life and that becoming a mother pulled her away from a path that likely would have killed her.

I was born with Cystic Fibrosis, a genetic disease of the pancreas that basically means I am especially prone to lung infections, will need medical care all my life, and most likely have a shortened lifespan. There is no cure, but treatment has improved tremendously since I was born- back then they told my mom I wouldn’t live past 5 years old… and it took the first three months of my life constantly screaming in pain before they were even able to diagnose me.

The opportunity? I pursued an amazing education, valued every second of my life because I had no idea how long it would be (still do!), explored the medical field and ended up working as a caregiver where I was able to spend the last moments of so many peoples’ lives with them.

My illness made me determined and strong- and I went to a charter high school that I picked out for myself at 11 years old. From that school, I learned life skills neither of my parents would ever have been able to teach me and they still benefit me every single day.

I went to a university where I took on student loan debt before dropping out and realizing the degree was not for me. Still paying off that student loan debt.

But you know what? If I hadn’t gone to that university, I never would have decided to study business and started my own! I never would have adopted my sweet cat Elsa, who is my soulmatefurchild. I wouldn’t have grown closer to so many wonderful people. I wouldn’t have appreciated my family the way that I did after missing them for months away at college.

I’ve suffered 9 miscarriages. One of which was during my first semester of college, at 12 weeks. Each miscarriage brought deeper love and strength to my marriage and turned a childhood romance into a deeply rooted, intimate, powerful relationship.

With each loss, I learned more about how strong I was as a person, and I learned to see myself as a beautiful, whole woman despite the loss. I connected with other women I never would have met otherwise and found lifelong connections.

At 21, I was raped. Following the rape, I relearned what it meant for me to be sexual. I learned who I was as a woman and that nothing another person did to me could ever devalue me- which led to healing from a decade earlier when my ex-step-father was abusing my family. I still hadn’t quite healed, but the attack brought me to the point I needed in order to finally heal all of the wounds, old and new. My marriage grew even stronger and my faith in my husband became truly unbreakable as I learned even more about the incredible man I married.

None of these things were pleasant to go through, and some of them sure as hell didn’t feel like blessings at the time… but honestly, so many the greatest moments of our lives and the most powerful realizations come from the times we didn’t think we would make it through. The times that were unfair. The times that made no sense. The times we felt shattered.

I know, for me, sometimes my outer shell grew too thick and too hard for my loving core to shine through. It is in moments of struggle and suffering that the light burns bright enough to break that shell and open me up to love again.

My decision is always to choose love, to choose to be vulnerable, to try again… because no matter who has betrayed me or how I’ve been hurt, I have always always been surrounded by love. Even when I was a little girl and I couldn’t see it, there were so many people rooting for me, loving me, wishing me well, fighting behind the scenes on my behalf. No matter what I’ve gone through I know there has always been someone to listen, to share in my burden, and to give me a smile and a hug that tells me it’s all okay.

I am resilient. I am strong. I am so incredibly powerful. I am love. And I know all of this because of the struggles I’ve come through, not because of the good times. I am so grateful for the good times and for the joy and peace… but I choose joy even in the storms, and I choose to see the struggles for exactly what they are: opportunities.

Now it’s your turn to decide for yourself.

Sending so much love and light,

Jessica Peña