President Reagan declared fifteen major disasters in 1981. It was the same year the Hyatt Regency hotel’s walkway collapsed killing over one hundred people, leaving over two hundred injured. And it was in 1981 that the mysterious death of Natalie Wood occurred.
It was a tragic year for many, my family being one.
“You were the only good part of 1981,” so I’ve been told. It was the year I was born. It was also the year my Grandma fell, breaking her hip, the year my Grandma Cochrane underwent a mastectomy and the year my uncle passed from leukemia, only a week after my birth.
What a time to come into a family; when loved ones are recovering, facing unknowns and grieving. There was too much sadness to celebrate.
Or was there?
One of the things I’ve learned from my family is that times of struggle are opportunities for increasing strength. The very time surrounding my birth was consistent with that truth; and the thirty-three-year-old woman who was burying her husband at that time has demonstrated inspiring strength to me, literally since the day I was born.
How much can one person take?
It’s a question I’ve asked many times when looking at the trials others walk through. Thirty-four years into this life has given me an unshakeable confidence. Confident in the truth: walk with Jesus; walk victoriously. He handles our unbearable circumstances, our trying seasons, our overwhelming moments.
That sounds like an easy statement from someone who appears to have a bed of roses life. However, I gained that insight, not from watching everything go “right” in life, but from watching one mountain climb after another.
There are things difficult to imagine; like losing a spouse, multiple miscarriages, unfaithfulness, burying a baby, breast cancer, brain tumor. Any one of them would be enough to do someone in. But all were had in one life. My Aunt Donna’s life.
I always knew my Aunt Donna was strong. After all, she gave me the “Tough Cookies Don’t Crumble” t-shirt when I was in the hospital. There was a strength I had to live up to. Asking, “Am I strong enough?” was merely rhetorical. Strong women are what I come from.
Those times in life when I’ve questioned my ability to withstand difficulty, I’ve revisited the image I took in at ten years old, reminding myself God is our strength when we have none. Perhaps the weakest one could ever feel, standing at a grave, a tiny casket lowered into the ground, picking up a piece of the earth and as it’s released to fall below, letting go of the little life, only fifteen months lived. She had no strength of her own that day, but God did. I stood by her and felt Him there.
It should have been enough loss for a lifetime. Unfortunately, in this imperfect world we live, this world we were never created for, there was much sadness to endure. Personal observations were avoided due to her move over six hundred miles away, nevertheless my awareness of her strength only grew.
Phone calls not only informed me of her breast cancer and then brain tumor, those phone calls also provided encouragement to hold on to our faith, unwavering in hope and assurance that He would provide. Yes, you read that correctly. She encouraged me! Even when we were prepared to hold her up, she remained solid and stood strong.
I look at my Aunt Donna today. I’m a bit taller. She’s a bit older. But I still see that woman I nearly idolized growing up.
It isn’t hard to see why I adored her so. It’s not surprising I bought her perfume after she moved just to have a scent of her near, or that I loved jewelry and fashion and fine dining because of her influence. It’s easy to understand my desire to grow up and become a woman like her…pretty, smart and classy.
A master’s degree in education; over thirty years teaching in some of the most high-performing school districts; numerous awards and recognitions. The proof is in the pudding. She’s not held in high opinion by her niece alone. No, she is a game changer, recognized by all who have the privilege of knowing her. And it is for those who don’t that I write this post, that you may be encouraged by her inspiring strength, as I have been since those days back in 1981.
Isaiah 40:29 ESV
He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might He increases strength.
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