“Mommy, sometimes we show courage even when we don’t know it.”. That’s what my middle-schooler said this week when I questioned him about the topic for his essay test: quiet strength. It really threw me for a loop when he went on to explain that they were to write about someone who exhibited quiet strength and that he had learned about that from me. WHAT?!?! I almost had to stop the car.
How would you define “quiet strength”? When I think of strong people in my world, I often think of the obvious examples, those whose strength of character and iron convictions, whose sheer grit gets them through tough times. We all have personal giants- the towering male presence whose wisdom was honored and revered by generations, the women who fought tooth and nail to come out on top of the storms that seem to have been thrown at them at every turn. Shoot, in the wake of my own personal superstars, I am not even in the ballpark when it comes to comparing strength…and I know it.
Recently, after the kids went to bed, I caught a couple of episodes of “Naked and Afraid”. If you are not familiar, it’s not nearly as salacious as it sounds. The premise for this reality show is the pairing of two complete strangers with comparable survival skills and fitness levels for three weeks in a remote outdoor location to fend for themselves with only one item from home. The kicker is, they must do it NAKED. Of course that gets most anyone’s attention, but if you watch it for any period of time, the naked part loses its luster because 1. all the pertinent parts are blurred to the camera and 2. they are filthy by about the second hour, which is approximately five minutes into the show. I am not too proud to admit, I could not stop watching. I was fascinated by the fact that ANYONE would willingly put themselves through that. I never did hear if there was a prize for making it to the end or if the winner just got the satisfaction (and diseases, lifelong injuries, PTSD?) from having completed the agonizing stay. I watched one couple catch, kill, cook, peel and eat a snake. I cringed when the cute blonde froze all night on the sands of Brazil while sand fleas bit at every (and I mean every) bit of skin they could find and even had to turn to another channel for a few minutes when the jungle pair had to walk through murky water in order to get to the all-important extraction point. Anyone who knows ANYTHING about me knows I do not do bugs, snakes or water I cannot see clearly into. In the totally ludicrous and nightmarish scenario where I would participate in such a show, after finding some sort of leafy something for suitable covering (okay, that might take a while), I might make it an hour. Maybe two. But pretty soon I’d start worrying about night falling and the no-see-ums that were waiting to eat me up, the cavities that were most likely festering on my unbrushed teeth, the skin cancer that had certainly begun to develop on my blistering skin and sleeping next to a complete stranger. By anyone’s definition, including my own, I am a bonafide wuss, a weenie, an all-out coward. Seriously, people, if there is a great world catastrophe and you are choosing people for your survival group by their strengths, unless you count teaching a child to read, monogramming gifts, making a delicious cup of coffee and getting stains out of clothing as great life skills, I will do you no good.
That’s not what my seventh-grader thought, though, when presented with a prompt on quiet strength. He cited the story I’d told him about my senior year of high school. I had always been a little on the “corn-fed” side but I decide to go out with a bang and prove something to myself. Unbeknownst to everyone but my best friend, I began to work out like crazy to lose weight (with a little crash dieting in there too, but that’s just between us girls) and didn’t tell any of my band friends I was trying out for the basketball cheer squad. Having never cheered before in my life, not only did I make it, but this formerly chunky girl was a flier (the one they threw up into the air)! I used the story a couple of times to teach my kids that they they will never know what they can do until they try and to not be bound by the labels others put on them. It sounds like someone listened.
He wrote about my short stint as a single mom when my husband was working in France for two months. My oldest two were only five and seven at the time and I will admit it was challenging. It gave me a whole new appreciation for the plight of single moms who do it all day in and day out and military wives for whom two months is only the beginning. We tried to make it fun and even got a puppy (okay- dumb move, but I was trying) to help the kids not miss Daddy so much. There was so much I did wrong during those months that for years I have wished I could have a do-over. I was just trying to hold it all together, but I had never done anything like that before. I should have been more patient, more fun, more inspiring, more of everything for them. But that is not what he remembers. Somehow, his memories are different.
For the purpose of the third point, it surprises me that my latest pursuit made the list. After teaching school for nine years, I became a stay at home mom for six before opening a small craft business. It evolved from a hobby I loved and God has blessed it tremendously but I am by no means a businesswoman still. I am learning the ropes and often fall flat on my face while taking my three steps back to then take one step forward. I love what I do, though and am thankful for supportive family and friends. I still feel like a bumbling idiot with it so much of the time, but my boy once told me he was proud of me for trying something so different from what I really know how to do. Out of the mouths of babes, right? I know what he meant.
There are numerous women from the Bible who could provide excellent examples of such strength, but this morning as I was attacking the glamorous task of ironing, Mary came to mind. At such a young age, the mantle placed on her shoulders was incredible. Out of all the women He’d created, the Creator of the universe had chosen her to give birth to His only Son, Savior of the world. Perfectly imperfect for the task, she relied on God and He equipped her for what she would be. The ultimate privilege. The ultimate honor. The ultimate sacrifice for any mother. And she never saw it coming.
When we wake up every morning and ready ourselves for the day, it is easy to look in the mirror and remind ourselves of past failures, of only what we are equipped to do, of labels on us or molds we fit ourselves into. We need to remind ourselves that all of that may not be the person others see at all. Ultimately, God sees the perfect picture and all that He, in His infinite wisdom has for us to do and is faithful to give us what it will take to complete it if we place our trust in Him. Maybe that is what others are seeing glimpses of already. We are works in progress, divine construction sites. Like my son’s take on quiet strength, It is time to take a page out of someone else’s dictionary for a change. The strength needed of us in our lifetimes may never reach the level of historical or Biblical greats or even most of our own personal heroes, and that’s okay. Psalm 139:14 says “I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.”
I do not have to compare myself with others. I was only created to be me and day by day when I rely on the true lover of my soul to make me in His image, I will be given all that is needed for that day. I just hope that doesn’t include gators or snakes…OR nakedness with bugs. Did I mention I don’t do bugs?