Strength

The first gift is Strength.

STRENGTH

May you remember to call upon it whenever you need it.


In Mesa, Arizona, I met a soft-spoken woman named Mazi.  “I know I have strength,” she said. “And I remember the exact date I found this to be true: July 19, 1979. With bright eyes and a broad smile, Mazi beamed; she seemed to grow taller than her 5-foot stature as she shared her story of how a small dog showed Mazi her strength.

Mazi was 28-years-old and living with her seven-year-old son and her aging mother in Ajmer, a small desert town in Northwest India.  Many dogs roamed the streets in Ajmer, and that summer Mazi befriended one, a little brown dog that came to her home every day, searching for food and shelter from the hot sun.  Mazi looked forward to the visits, especially when she noticed the dog’s belly swelling with a litter of puppies.

With the monsoon season approaching, Mazi, like everyone else in Ajmer, prepared.  She had an ample supply of candles and oil lamps, knowing that electricity would often be turned off during the heavy rains. That summer the rains were especially torrential. On July 19, when the water reached flood proportions, Mazi, her son, and her mom climbed the stairs of their one-story home to the roof.  As the sky darkened and the rain poured, they watched as cattle and furniture rushed by in a massive, muddy river.

“Suddenly, I noticed a dog – that dog – standing precariously on the wall that surrounded our house.  It was as if my heart burst open,” she said.  “I had to save her.”

Strength came in the form of determination, and it rose within Mazi, like the water rising around her. Without hesitation, Mazi worked her way down the stairs and through the house. Pushing through chest-high water, hardly able to see in the darkness, Mazi finally reached the front door.  There, with a mixture of resolve and physical strength, she forced the door open and pressed on through the floodwater to the wall.   Despite the pressure of the water, Mazi stood steadily and lifted the dog from the wall. And then, she turned around and repeated the whole grueling effort…in reverse: back to the door, through the house, and up to the roof, while holding the dog.

“I continue to be amazed at the enormous physical strength and strength of purpose that filled me that day,” Mazi said, “especially since I didn’t know how to swim.  But, I loved that little dog.  And I was so afraid she would be swept away before I could reach her. Since then I have always known: I have strength!

Mazi continued, “Up until then, I never saw myself as a strong person.  Although, I realize now that I probably used strength in many small ways over the years as I was growing up without being aware of it.”

Mazi’s story led me to ask a question: Haven’t we all summoned strength to meet many challenges, large and small, from the time we were born?

In her book, Still Woman Enough, Loretta Lynn says, “When you look back over your life and see how much you’ve had to face, and how you’ve dealt with it, it’s interesting to try and pinpoint the first time you faced something that might tear you apart. The first time you had to reach inside yourself and pull out strength you didn’t know you had, strength that hadn’t even been needed until then.”

Sometimes strength rushes in with full force, as it did for Mazi in the flood. Other times, it trickles in slowly and may go unnoticed until it builds to a steady flow.

Any one of our memories of using strength can serve as a touchstone for us, a reminder that we always have access to a wellspring of strength.

During the times that call for strength, in addition to engaging in an activity that is likely to empower you, remember to be kind to yourself.  Use compassion.  Allow any feelings of fear, doubt, and weakness you might be experiencing to soften and melt away instead of resisting them.  Let these song lyrics hearten you:

If I’m afraid, it doesn’t mean that I’m not brave.
And if I doubt, it doesn’t mean that I’ve lost faith.
And if I fall, if doesn’t mean I can’t go on.
And if I cry, it doesn’t mean that I’m not strong.”
– Jana Stanfield and Karen Taylor-Good, Doesn’t Mean That I’m Not Strong from the CD, Brave Faith

For reflection, journaling and discussion: 

1. Do you consider yourself to be a “strong” person? Why?
2. How have you used strength?
3. To complete a project? To face a challenge?
4. To follow a dream? To be present in a situation?
5. What stirs a feeling of empowerment in you?
6. From what activities do you draw strength?
7. Prayer? Walking? Meditating? Dancing? Swimming laps? Talking with a friend? Playing rousing music?
8. Is there an area in your life where you would like more strength to flow?