By Rachel Stein /

Rachel Stein
Rachel Stein

Vicissitudes, roadblocks, detours — challenges that crop up when we least expect them as we navigate the mountains and valleys in the maze called life.

Sometimes they take the form of small obstacles, like lost keys or a plateau in a diet. Although they feel large while we’re going through these situations — “Honey, did you see my keys? I have to be at work in 10 minutes” — we know they are not major emergencies in the grand scheme of things.

Yet at the time of their occurrence, we catch our breath and freeze, feeling incapacitated by these sudden quirks and deviations in the script we composed for that day.

My son and daughter-in-law and their precious baby were planning to return home after visiting siblings during a holiday. They needed to set out early in the day because both of them had to be at work the next morning, and a full day’s drive lay ahead of them.

“Dave, where are the keys?” Judy asked her husband, worry flickering in her eyes.

“They were right here a minute ago,” Dave replied nonchalantly, fishing all over but coming up empty-handed. A glance at his wife showed that he now shared her concern.

The keys had been put on top of the large freezer in the room where they were staying for safekeeping and to keep them out of the reach of little probing fingers. Yet all searches were to no avail, and they had checked everywhere, even crawling around on all fours and checking beneath and behind the freezer and in every other crevice of the room, just in case.

And so they sat, awaiting a locksmith who had happily agreed to make them a new key for a hefty sum. Thankfully, he wasn’t available for a few hours after their call. Six hours into their ordeal, my daughter walked into the room where Dave and Judy had been staying to get something out of the freezer.


“Dave, Judy, I found your keys!” she called out triumphantly. “A little cold but intact.”

Little things have an impact.

And then there are the mountains, those grueling affairs that squeeze our hearts to the point of breaking, and we wonder if we have the strength to move on. Death. Divorce. Discordance. Alzheimer’s. Illness. Infertility. Poverty. A wayward child. And the list goes on.

“I gave my son everything,” a parent told me recently, his voice choked with tears. “A loving home, a Jewish environment — yeah, I made mistakes. Who doesn’t? But does that mean he can just turn his back on us and everything we stand for? What do we do? Do we put our foot down, or do we look away?”

I listened, empathized, and wished I had answers. My heart contracted as I shared the saga of a father in pain.

So how can we cope? During times of challenge, many of us turn to an omniscient G-d and find strength. If G-d can create a baby who will grow to become a functioning human being, if G-d can paint a sunset across the skies to rival the most prolific artist, then certainly He has a plan for each of His children.

Even if the human mind is too finite to grasp the intricacies of His determinations, we trust that He loves us and is devising the best path for our development. The world can be viewed as a colossal gym, and as we lift weights and groan under the strain, we’re building our coping muscles to perform at maximum capacity.

In addition, we all need a support system, whether in the form of family, friends, professionals or a combination. Life is a much more beautiful journey when shared, and the darkness is illuminated when someone is holding our hand.

As a certified chaplain and coordinator of Bikur Cholim of Atlanta, a society that assists families with medical needs, I have seen a myriad of challenging situations. In my upcoming columns, I will present you with true-life situations. Names and details are changed, but the dilemmas are real. Readers are invited to write in and offer guidance, encouraging the protagonist who stands perplexed while facing a crossroad, roadblock or craggy peak. And maybe, as we advise and encourage our anonymous friend, we, too, will glean some inspiration as we step toward our own destination.

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