I've never thought of myself as a very strong person. I don't tend to gravitate toward feats of athleticism. When I was in school I was generally regarded as one of the weaker folks, so that naturally garnered the attention of bullies and folks who used strength to their advantage. I regarded myself as a weakling, even though that wasn't true. When I started playing drums I hit them pretty hard. I conditioned myself over the years with constant, daily practice. I remember someone from high school remarking many years later, after moving some rather heavy equipment, that I was stronger than I looked. I took that as a compliment.
But strength isn't just about how much you lift. It can also mean how much yo endure and how little you bend during adversity. One time I went to one of those corner Karate / Martial Arts places because I thought that I wanted to do martial arts. I wanted to get better with my focus and do so with athleticism. They lead me through the dojo and showed me the various equipment, and we did some sparring. Then the person leading me around threw a punch at my face. He didn't connect, but it was one of those moves that was designed to put you off guard or make you flinch. I'd been juggling for many years prior to that, so getting hit in the face by a stray implement was not foreign to me. I'm usually pretty aware of things coming my way, and I knew that if he connected that "bad things" would happen. So I didn't move a muscle. I just stood there (looking slightly annoyed, all told) while he pulled back. I think he was taken aback that I didn't behave how he wanted me to behave. I didn't end up joining (they were asking me for a time commitment that my on-call job didn't allow) but I left there with a renewrd confidence that I had all of the strength that I needed.
(Focus? Notsomuch, but that's a different topic for a different blog post.)
When my parents were moving from their house there was a lot of stuff to move. My mom has the ability to pack things very tightly, so she can make some heavy boxes with little effort. Also they had a lot of very heavy things in the garage that needed moving. I dutifully moved a lot of it. My parents were astounded at what I could move. I think they remembered that kid in elementary school that wasn't terribly athletic and hadn't realized that I'd gone beyond that. I'd gained more with drumming and juggling that toned myself to where I could move a lot of those things without needing much help.
I'm on round 11 of my 12 chemo treatments for stage 4 rectal cancer. I'll admit, when i got my diagnosis I was a wreck. I felt groundless and shaken. I didn't know if I was up to the task. When my oncologist recommended chemo treatments we didn't have much time to plan; it was scheduled for the next day. I didn't even have time to get the Lidocaine that folks recommend for numbing the site. So I had to go in there cold. But with some help from a amazing nurse (Hi, Joseph!) I was able to find my strength again. I have been doing well with this journey against cancer. There's still more road to cover (at the moment they're talking about maintenance doses after round 12, but it's too soon to tell). Initially I thought I couldn't make it through this. Cancer is scary, but I have summoned my strength, courage, and fearlessness to not let it overtake me as much as possible.
Strength isn't just about physical prowess, it's also how you carry yourself in adversity. It's the courage to stand up to whatever is trying to knock you down and give it that mild look of annoyance when you don't budge. It's the ability to withstand whatever discomfort you are facing and be OK with it. It's changing the things you can change and graciously accepting the things that you can't change (yet). It's also about relaxing into the adversity of our daily lives and giving it space.
I used to think I wasn't strong. No more. I have strength. Sure, it's not visibly there like some garish bodybuilder, but it's there, waiting to be tapped when I need it. Just don't ask me to flex.