I've had people accuse me of being strong all my life (when they are being kind, there have been worse things said), and I've often been offended by it because I don't feel strong, and I'm sure they are wrong, and also, I'm confused by the unexpected reactions when I sometimes just stand firm about something I care about and accidentally cause people to be affronted. I think that persistence is mistaken for strength sometimes.
When Aaron and I were engaged he once said something to me along the lines of, "I can't stand being around weak clingy women, it drives me nuts. So it's good that you are a strong women."
This led to a long impassioned argument from me, panicked that he had the wrong idea about me, where I insisted that I was not, in fact strong, he had made a mistake, and the sooner he realized that the better so he could decide to leave now if that was going to be a deal breaker or learn to accept it. For about a month I tearfully insisted that I wasn't strong and that he was going to be disappointed if he couldn't see that, and he calmly insisted that I was strong, and that I'd eventually come to see that he was right. He even cited my ability to tell him he was wrong about me and had better leave now rather than be disappointed as evidence of strength, since it's not what a clingy woman would do.
It took probably 7 years of being married to him for me to finally agree with him that I could in fact be strong. To this day I'm not sure if I was really was strong at the beginning, and he saw that capacity, or if years of being treated as though I was strong and encouraged to act that way eventually had the desired effect of making me strong after all.
I still don't feel strong most days. I feel overwhelmed, like I can't actually do any of the things I need to do. It would be so much easier to just crawl in bed and sleep for a very long time than to keep going when I'm tired, to keep trying when I fail, and keep pushing through to try and do things that feel impossible every day.
But then, if I could do it easily would it actually require strength to do it? I can measure strength only by looking backward. It's when I notice that something that was hard before isn't hard any more that I realize I've grown stronger. I keep my head down and keep on pushing and a few years later when I look up, and life has changed I get moments every so often to do the thing I was doing before and realize it's not hard for me anymore. I've practiced, and practiced and tried and didn't quit and now I can do what I couldn't before.
Now I can calmly deal with things that would have broken me years ago.
But there's a problem with this being strong thing. You just get more and more things to do. There are always more ways to grow strong in. I still don't feel strong. Because this year I'm doing things that are way harder than what I was doing a few years ago, and those were way harder than what I was doing before that. That overwhelmed feeling never goes away.
But being strong is really simple. If you ever wanted to know how to be strong I'll tell you the secret.
Do the hard thing, that you know is good to do, but you don't want to do because it's hard.
As a mother your strength training begins when you choose to change how you eat and take those awful tasting vitamins and things when pregnant so your baby will be healthy. It continues when you wake in the middle of the night, several times, every night, because your baby needs you. You keep going, through the sleep deprived fog, still trying, still doing everything you can and one day you realize you made it, you are sleeping again and your baby is older, and healthy and safe still, and you get to enjoy that for a day or two, maybe a week, and then there's teething, or illness, or a growth spurt, or potty training and you just keep going, because it's your job to, and you're the one this little person is relying on. No one starts motherhood strong enough to parent through everything. We gain that strength a little bit at a time, day after day, just by still showing up again and again.
Now I'm trying to parent, home school, run a non-profit, move a family to Thailand, and do something with orphan care that hasn't ever been done before. Every day there is something important I failed to accomplish. Every day. That feeling that I'm failing is the one that makes me most want to hide in bed until it's all over.
So last month I got this on my arm. (My SIL is a tattoo artist.)
|be strong and courageous|
I wanted it right there on the arm I use every day, to do virtually everything, so it would always be in front of me, reminding me that the choice is mine.
But that's only half the story, because the verse that this is quoted from ends with a promise. "Be strong and courageous! Do not tremble or be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go."
Someday maybe I'll get that last part tattooed on the other arm. For now, this is enough of a reminder. I can choose to be strong and courageous, because I'm not doing any of this by myself, even if it feels like it some days.
And neither are you.