Friday, March 11, 2011

Be Strong

I’m not a fan of slogans and catch phrases, especially the religious kind that always seem to find their way onto bumper stickers and church signs.

“CH _ _ CH. What’s missing? U R.”

“Warning: In case of rapture car will be unmanned.”

“Let go and let God.”

I haven’t found any biblical support yet but I’m pretty sure that you’re allowed to respond with physical violence should anyone ever say one of these phrases to you in an actual conversation.

My mother, on the other hand, loves these kinds of sayings. The once blank pages at the beginning and end of her Bible are filled with them along with sermon notes from the hundreds of preachers she’s heard over the years. All of them are written in her beautiful, cursive handwriting.

The day after my mother died I took her Bible and sat out in the woods by myself to pray and read and cry. As I flipped through that Bible, I was taking a journey through the life of a saint. Along with all of the sermon notes and slogans there were the dates that her children became Christians as well as the dates that her parents and firstborn son died. Everything was written in her beautiful, cursive handwriting.

When I flipped to the back page of my mom’s Bible I noticed something that I hope to never forget. At a seemingly random corner of one of these pages was the phrase “Be strong”. It was not written in cursive and the handwriting was not beautiful.

When I was a senior in high school, my mother was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. As time passed the disease took its toll. There were the times when her entire body would lock up and leave her stuck in a chair with nothing to do but cry and wait for the pain to go away. There were the times when her body would shut down while driving home from work and she’d have to call someone to pick her up. And near the end there was the dementia and bedsores. At was at some point during this time that her brittle, shaking hand wrote the words “Be strong”.

For my mother, this was no empty phrase. Someone who can’t take care of themselves can’t just remember to be strong and suddenly find some inner strength to get them through the day. It was also no mere religious catch phrase one might find on the back bumper of a Buick. For my mom, this was gospel hope.

The strength she was writing about was the same kind of strength Paul spoke of in 2 Corinthians 12:7-10. It’s a kind of strength that isn’t found in an untapped corner of the human spirit but in the Author of life itself – Jesus Christ. It’s a strength that is found, not in self-sufficiency but in the all-sufficient grace of the One who knew suffering like none other – Jesus Christ. It’s not the kind of strength the world marvels at when they see a great athletic performance but the kind that is best demonstrated when a person has been stripped bare but knows that there is still a loving God who controls all things – Jesus Christ.

My sons will never look at me and see biceps bursting out of my sleeves. They’ll never turn on ESPN 2 late one night only to find some old footage of dad throwing refrigerators over a six foot wall at a strong man contest. But I hope that each day they will see their dad, with all of his weaknesses, relying on the power and strength of the risen Lord Jesus Christ.

God, I thank you for giving me a mom who was an example not of human strength but of Your strength and showed me what it meant to be strong.

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.

(2 Corinthians 12:9 ESV)