In 2011, I went in for major surgery involving my stomach area. As the day of the surgery grew near fear increased in me. I received a message of encouragement from a friend. It was the verse Joshua 1:9: Have I not commanded you? Be strong and of good courage; do not be afraid, nor be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”
I knew that verse by heart but it was the total opposite of what I felt. I knew that the only people you have to tell that to, are people who are neither strong nor courageous. I definitely wasn’t; but as the day of the surgery approached, I started to pray that I could be.
When I read the message from my friend something inside me stirred, and for the first time I wondered if it was possible for me to be what the verse talks about. I didn’t have anyone to lean on so I took the words ‘strong and courageous’ to be my crutches.
I started to whisper the words to myself all the time. ‘I am strong and courageous’ I muttered to myself at all times of the day and night. As I was wheeled into surgery, they were the last things I remember thinking even as I was counting down 100, 99, 98, strong and courageous, 97 – and then I was under.
Surgery went well and I went home a couple days later with a tube hanging from my stomach. I couldn’t bend over or stretch, and I forced myself to walk to get my blood circulating.
Four days after the surgery on a Saturday, I was left home alone to fend for myself. I kept expecting someone to come home within a couple hours as had been promised, but the afternoon stretched on and it was obvious that if I didn’t get up and fix myself something to eat I wasn’t going to eat.
I dragged myself into the kitchen and went to the fridge. Standing in front of the open refrigerator, I looked at the ham that sat on the bottom shelf above the crisper. With my stomach bandaged, and unable to bend over for fear of ripping stitches, I stared at the ham, baffled at how I was going to get it from where it sat, to the counter top, so I could make myself a sandwich. Kneeling down to get it was not an option because there was no way I would have been able to get back up without ending up being readmitted to hospital.
I could feel the tears behind my eyes as I was feeling sorry for myself. Why wasn’t there someone here to help me? But I knew self pity wasn’t going to feed me. Then I heard those words that had been my companion for the past week; so I whispered them to myself: I am strong and courageous.
It took me quite some time, but I was able to use my toes to grab on to the ham, bring it up to my hand without ripping stitches, and then from there the rest was easy.
That day I decided I wouldn’t wait for anyone to help me nurse myself back to health. I would take care of my own bandages, and I would do whatever I had to do to make sure I got better. As I walked just a few steps at a time, I told myself that even though I didn’t feel strong and courageous, that in fact I was. Later, as I could walk further, and start to bend and be more flexible, I kept telling myself that I was indeed strong and courageous. Soon, I started to believe it.
For a while I felt sadness whenever I thought about that time. Sometimes, reaching for ham in the fridge triggered that memory for me and made me sad. But then, some years later, people began to call me ‘strong‘ and ‘courageous‘. I insisted that I wasn’t. I brushed it off with, ‘Oh no, I’m just doing what I have to do.’ It’s only now with hindsight that I am seeing a correlation between what happened those few days in 2011, and how I was later able to be strong and courageous to face the greatest losses in my life. Yes, I am strong and courageous, even though it isn’t in my nature to be so. I am those things because ‘His grace is sufficient for me, and His power is made perfect in weakness…for when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Cor 12:9-11).
I cannot will myself to be strong and courageous; but if God says it’s possible for me to be so, and promises to make me so, then Amen! May it be so!
In Judges 6 & 7, an angel appears to Gideon and calls him ‘mighty warrior’. Gideon’s response was to repeat back to the angel the identity that he had picked up in the years leading up to that moment. Gideon defined himself by the words spoken over him and his clan: we are the weakest, and I am the least of them all.
To be honest with you, if I were to respond like Gideon did, I would have called myself ‘docile‘ because that was the identity I walked in; but when I got an inkling that I could be quite the opposite of what I thought myself to be, I pursued it.
Gideon became the very thing that God had called him to be even though at first Gideon couldn’t see the characteristics of strength and leadership within himself. Thinking about Gideon from so many centuries ago, and myself with my ‘ham in the fridge’ story, the common denominator I see is a God who loves us so much and sees in us beautiful attributes that we don’t see until He shows them to us.
Some of you haven’t ever had life- giving words spoken over you. You are accustomed to the words that tear you down, that tell you you aren’t enough and never will be, so that when you hear a verse like Joshua 1:9, you do like I did for years before that operation: you memorize the verse and think that it’s not for you, it’s got to be for someone else, or, they’re just words.
So, what would it look like if you began to look at your own life, everything you are going through, and began to speak these words over your life: I am strong and courageous. I am not afraid nor dismayed, for the Lord my God is with me wherever I go. What if you whispered those words to yourself over and over, wrote them down and put them where you could see them. Speak of affirmation! This is real affirmation, and at some point you will start to believe it too.
What is the ‘ham in the fridge’ in your life that you’re standing in front of, staring at, feeling self pity over, wondering how you’ll ever turn it into a sandwich, something that is good for you? These words, ‘Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or dismayed’ aren’t words for people who are already strong and fearless. They’re for people like us.
There are so many good words in the Bible that God uses to describe us. These include: beautiful, beloved, chosen, dearly loved, good.
What words might God be speaking over your life that you have not been willing to receive because you don’t believe them to be true for you? Do you think you can commit to start speaking these words over your life? The beautiful thing about this process is that you don’t have to believe the words to start speaking them – you just have to believe the Source of the words.
©Debbie Mendoza, October 2019
Also by this author: JoyHope – A Christian Daily Devotional. Ebook available on Amazon.