What comes into your mind when you hear the word “strength”? I saw an ad the other day that made me stop and think. It boasted, “Nitric Oxide is without a doubt the most powerful solution when it comes to sparking natural muscle growth, powerful strength gains, and incredibly ripped muscles.” At the mention of the word “strength,” most people think of body builders, wrestlers, and other athletes who have an impressive physique. They might also think of policemen or bodyguards – everyday careers that require a higher measure of strength than most of us possess.
Thanks to the man I married, one occupation that always comes to my mind is that of a soldier.
In the early 1990s I had the opportunity to live on a Marine Corps base in southern California. The Marines there prided themselves on being the best of the best, the bravest of the brave, and the strongest of the strong. These men and women had to pass grueling physical tests in order to stay enlisted as Marines. They ran marathons through mud for fun. They marched 20 miles with 75-pound packs on their backs. While on overseas deployments, far from their homes and families, most spent their free time in the gym. They boosted each other’s morale by “talking big” and hiding their fears, loneliness, and homesickness.
There was no doubt in my mind that these Marines were strong. At times, they were called upon to face unimaginable situations. Some left their families not knowing when – or if – they would ever return home. Some saw their friends die. Yet they had to keep on fighting. They fought for their countries, their families, their ideals, and – at a basic level – for their livelihood.
However, a different side of strength was soon revealed to me. I was a young bride with a brand new baby when my husband left for Saudi Arabia in January 1990. My friends and I suddenly found ourselves acting as the heads of our households, and none of us had even reached our 25th birthdays. As the ones left behind, we were working, managing households, and adjusting to our new roles as mothers – alone – far from the support of our own mothers, aunts, and sisters. We learned to live with the nagging fear that one day we’d receive an unwanted visit from the chaplain, who could change our lives and shatter our dreams in the time it took to say, “I regret to inform you . . . ” Our husbands wrote letters for us and for our children – just in case.
I discovered a deep level of strength in myself and in these women who became like sisters to me. I felt it as we gathered in frightened clusters to hear President Bush’s latest updates that interrupted standard television programming at random hours. (We lived for those interruptions and would call each other every time – “Quick! Turn on your TV! The president’s on again!“) Strength hovered around our get-togethers where we tried to pretend like life was still normal. Strength rested just beneath the surface of every phone call, every household chore, every midnight feeding. Strength propelled us to get through each day without falling apart at the seams until our husbands returned.
Looking back at that time in my life, I can honestly say I am grateful. Grateful, of course, that my husband made it home safely; grateful that I never had to give my daughter her “just in case” letter; grateful for the overwhelming support that came from both friends and strangers. But, most of all, I am grateful for the chance to learn what I was made of. When I hear about strength, I know – somewhere deep inside of me – that it is so much more than well-defined muscles. Strength is not only displayed through the typical signs of power, sometimes it is quietly manifested through the subtlety of endurance.
Every day we show up and continue to put one foot in front of the other, we grow a little bit stronger. And after we have strung enough of those days together, we become stronger than we ever thought we could be.
“For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.”
2 Timothy 1:7