“Come on, girls! We got another one!” my dad would yell as he grabbed his snow gear. My sister and I would run from our rooms, giddy with delight. Snowsuits zipped, hats and mittens on, and boots ready for the deep drifts of the ditch. Growing up, we lived on the corner of a dirt road, and every winter we’d get at least a handful of cars in our ditch. I’d carry the floor mats, my sister the shovels and my dad the bag of kitty litter for traction. We had it down to a science.
It was just the two of us girls to help my mom and dad out around the house. So, we carried in groceries, mowed the yard, helped with home repairs, and moved that chest freezer in from the garage to the house. We did it because we were able-bodied and expected to help.
In fifth grade, I was one of the fastest girls in the school. I loved racing at recess time – breezing across the open field behind the playground. But I got to thinking: What if I could be the fastest person, not just the fastest girl? One day, the boys accepted the invitation and sent their speediest challenger to the starting line to meet me. When I crossed that finish line victorious, I felt strong and powerful! (And a whole lot better than my opponent, who apparently pulled a muscle or something convenient like that.)
I guess I’ve always enjoyed a challenge. I’d hang out on the basketball court at the park waiting for a pick-up game to start – making them play half-court or ask me to join. I liked mowing the yard, carrying my own mulch from Menards and changing my car battery. I liked being about to DO these things – to feel strong, capable and able-bodied.
But eventually, there came a time when I was, without a doubt and against my will, un-able.
In fact, over the years there have been multiple times I’ve found myself unable to even shower or get dressed on my own. I severely injured my ankle and landed on crutches for a few months. I hurt my back and began experiencing chronic ongoing pain (and still do today). I broke my elbow, started having migraines, and the list goes on…
Pregnancy was especially hard on my body. After birthing four wonderful kiddos, I began prepping for my third surgery, trying to piece myself back together. I felt inadequate, weak, and unable to do many of the things I enjoyed and would “normally” be able to do. I was in physical pain, for sure, but the worst ache was the hit to my pride and, essentially, my self-worth. This Renaissance Woman could no longer prove her abilities, or show the world she could do it. Whatever “it” was.
But it was during my pre-surgery visits to both my chiropractor and my midwife that I received the same, unexpected compliment: “You are one of the strongest women I know.”
What?! I felt so un-strong, un-able, and un-valuable. And yet two of the women who knew my weaknesses better than anyone else, considered me strong. It got me thinking: Could there be more than one type of strong?
“Mom, are boys stronger than girls?” came a very candid question from my young, strong-willed daughter. Her brothers were looking on, practically glowing with smugness in anticipation of my answer.
I thought for a second, taking in the breadth of the situation and responded, “Well, that depends. Which kind of strong do you mean?”
They exchanged inquisitive looks between them.
“Moooooommmmm! You know what I mean! Like, can Daddy lift heavier things than you?”
“Oh, so you’re taking physical strength. Well, most boys or men have the ability to lift heavier things then girls or women, but that’s not always true. Some women can lift more than men! But that’s only one kind of “strong” – there are several others.”
Hear me loud and clear, friend: There are many types of strong. Physical ability is not the sole – or most important – definition of strength. Oh, I am working on my core and firming up my bye-bye arms just like everybody else, but what I can physically do (or not do) isn’t what makes me strong. And physical ability does not determine my value. And it doesn’t define yours either.
When I look at the people I admire most, do you know what I see? Strength of character. Strength in determination and stick-to-itiveness. People who are strong in their convictions; strong in their love for others.
Strength comes in many flavors, friends. Whether it be in your kids, your friends, or yourself, take the time to point out when strength is being shown. Strength of integrity when your child does the right thing in a tough situation. Strength in restraint when you could have lost your temper but didn’t. Strength in humility when you do erupt in anger and need to ask forgiveness. Strength in honesty, admitting when you need a hand or a listening ear.
Be strong in wisdom.
Be strong in compassion.
Be strong in the grace you choose to extend to others – and to yourself.
You are strong, friend, in so many ways.
So tell me… What kind of strong are you?