Is She Really A Strong Woman?

From 2017 to 2019 I have been dealt one crisis after another in quick succession. It destroyed me – the final crisis being a major flare up of a mental illness that I didn’t know I had. Now, not only were all of these nightmarish circumstances destroying me; I was destroying myself and my relationships. I wouldn’t wish those three years on my worst enemy.

Throughout each of these crises (and I’m not using “crisis” lightly), people have told me, “Wow, you are so strong!” 

I understand why they’re saying it. They wouldn’t wish to be in that hard place. They didn’t know if they could handle it if they were in my place. I was in a hard place but I kept going because I had something to live for. I kept going even when I was completely destroyed. But honestly, my ability to keep going was just my ability to barely keep my nose sticking out of a rough sea so as to catch a breath every once in a while. I spent three years in desperate survival mode. Survival.

The fact is, I’m not strong. I folded. After the first crisis, I developed PTSD. After the fourth crisis, my brain could not keep up with the years of destruction and I hit the rockiest of rock bottoms I have ever been (and with a history of mental illness, I’ve had a few chances to experience this cold, dark, damp, excruciatingly uncomfortable place). 

I’ve heard a lot of women who have experienced a health crisis, for example, say, “I’m not strong. I’m sick and I didn’t ask to be.” When my first crisis hit – a health crisis – I suddenly knew exactly what they meant. A strong woman chooses to go into the hard places. My hard places were chosen for me. I wasn’t strong. I was surviving.

I used to work for an organization that does long-term transformational development to eradicate poverty in third world countries. I learned something very important that I will carry with me the rest of my life – poverty is not just a lack of finances. Poverty is also a crisis of the community, of the mind, and of the body. It’s holistic and doesn’t need to have anything to do with economic status.

I see it every day on the busy intersection near my house in Orlando, Florida. There are paths that go into tangly woods near the 7/Eleven. They lead to these hidden little homeless camps. Their residence hangs out at the corner by the bus stop. Many times they have a wrinkled up sign that says, “Hungry. Anything helps. God bless,” and walk up and down the median between the light cycles. I’ve ridden my bike past them on the sidewalk. The pungent odor of drugs and alcohol sets you back. They look unhealthy. They look helpless and hopeless. They look broken in spirit.

These people are in long-term crisis and, being a woman pulling a small child in a trailer, I’m in no position to help them. They’re often so drunk and high that I’m not sure if I could be of help.  I want to walk back into their homes and help them understand that they matter and they deserve to treat themselves better. To accept help. Not just money and food help because that will just perpetuate the cycle within which they are stuck. I know that I’m not the person God has called to intervene in their lives. They are the exact same people that were there as far back as 8 years ago when we moved into the neighborhood. Yes, that’s right, many have been there for eight years or more. They have given up and can’t be helped unless they want help.

The road out of poverty of any kind (poverty of mind, body, or spirit) is crisis intervention (assessing the need and providing survival care), reconstruction (giving the impoverished the tools they need to help themselves out of the crisis), and development (the people take ownership of their progress and continue to pull themselves out of the place of survival to a place of thriving). In my observations, this method is the same for a wealthy person in crisis just as much as a person in poverty. Crisis is a whole body experience. 

And [Jesus] opened his mouth and taught them, saying:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.

“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.

“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.

Matthew 5:2-9

I have been in a continual cycle of “poverty” for three years. The only difference between me and the homeless people on the outskirts of my neighborhood is that I’ve cried out for help from the beginning. I’ve made my weakness and vulnerability known. I haven’t asked for a hand out. I haven’t asked for a band aid. I have asked for a hand up. A long-term solution.

I’ve gotten on my knees in my weakness and leaned on other people’s strength to the point where, I’m sure, helping me became wearisome for even the most willing servants. Being in continual need and continual gratitude for those who serve those needs is exhausting. I am not strong. I’m exhausted.

After three years in crisis, I am finally in the reconstruction phase. After three years of crisis, I am starting to be able to breath on my own.

I am not strong but
I have a community that is.

I am not strong but
I have a family that loves me.

I am not strong but
I have a strong husband

I am not strong but
I have a God who is the creator of the universe.
I have a God who is all-knowing.
I have a God who is ever-present.
I have a God who loves unconditionally.

In the words of Sally Loyd-Jones, my God has a “Never-stopping, never giving up, unbreaking, always and forever love.”

I am not strong but
I am blessed.

No, I am not strong. My circumstances are just really hard. I am not strong. To be honest, if I did not have the strength of God on my side and a community to continually point me to Him, I might not have kept going. I might have given up my life to end the pain. But I am surrounded by strength and I have humbled myself continually and accepted help because I know that I matter and God is not done with me yet.

But [God] 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. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

2 Corinthians 12:9-10