God Pours Greatness Into My Weakness



Recently I’ve been challenged by the word “acceptable.” It sounds gentle, but it has proven to be challenging. For many years, I’ve wanted to participate in justice work—righting wrongs right and raising-up valleys. But the people who make change happen are so strong and I don’t feel very strong these days. Somewhere along the way, I succumbed to a notion that is not very Jesus-like: the strong inherit the earth, not the meek.

How can I be acceptable when I’m weakened? But God tells me over and over again that I am. I am acceptable exactly as I am, even with some pretty serious limitations. It’s a hard idea for me to grasp because deep down, I am ashamed of my allergies. I am ashamed of the way their severity makes me weak. I am ashamed that I haven’t been able to find healing for my son and he is so very limited by his allergies. Surely this is not acceptable?

As I thought about acceptability and world-changing, William Wilberforce kept bobbing to the top of my thoughts. I admire him so, and was almost afraid to poke around behind the facts. So often the strong personalities that shake the status quo wreak havoc in the process. Wilberforce and the Clapham Sect challenged the biggest slavery machine imaginable and broke it. Behind the scenes of his very well documented life, I found much to love, and one surprise that hit me right between the eyes.

I love that Wilberforce put his children first, even ahead of his hugely important work. He didn’t try to forge ahead alone, but stayed within a group. For 18 years they prayed, raised children together, and handed out pamphlets to raise public awareness before their work bore fruit. I am encouraged to know that Wilberforce sought out a mentor: the wretched and lovely John Newton. (Newton himself carried the weight of his experiences as a slave trader to his grave and penned the hymn Amazing Grace.)

I was surprised to learn that Wilberforce was never physically well. He developed ulcerative colitis at a young age, accompanied by severe pain, and then severe scoliosis. He had to wear an iron brace just to hold up his head and look others in the eye. Yet, he forged ahead to break the evil of his age–an evil that had a whole navy and a worldwide system behind it.

What a challenge to me.

Right now, post ER visits with my son, not sleeping well or breathing well, trying to cover all the bases, and dealing with black mold in an asthmatic house–right now, reading this story is a challenge in the midst of my personal turmoil.

So, I’m acceptable. What now?

During a recent tough morning, I decided to hold onto that word and trust that God had something for me in this time. Instead of striving, I prayed, cleaned the kitchen, and watched a rerun of Downton Abbey. Instead of trying to sleep better or eat better or exercise more I put the whole mess into the hands of the One who accepts me.

My son came home. Instead of jumping into his normal activities, he made me a strong cup of coffee and said, “Sit down with me for a moment, Mom. I want to tell you about a poem that moved me at school today.” He read the words of Langston Hughes, about sitting down at the table, about being equal and beautiful, and claiming it. I sat, spellbound. My son and I sat together, beautiful in our frailty.

I looked at him and wondered about this child’s future. Usually I’m thinking about how can I help him be strong enough to deal with food that could kill him, and air and mold and doctors that can be so unhelpful. Instead, I had this wondrous thought: what amazing thing, what amazing grace, might be birthed into the world through this wonderful soul? Even if I can’t cure any of these things that plague him, how might God use him? That moment breathed glory. Instead of grieving the low lung numbers and lack of progress and the broken sleep, I sat amazed at his spirit.

Today, wherever you are sitting down, and whomever you are with, I wish you hope in your frailty and courage in the possibilities that are still yours. Like Wilberforce and like my sweet son God’s possibility may come not in ending every difficulty, but in pouring greatness right through frailty. What a shift!

Accepting my own frailty, and being challenged by a man with a damaged body has made me feel that something large is brooding. Maybe that means something visibly big, or maybe it means opening myself to more moments like that moment at the table. Perhaps it will be more moments that breathe eternity, moments that testify.

As all my hopes for greater health have been progressively snuffed out, one by one … I hear amazing grace, that sweet, sweet sound, singing over us, right in the midst of all our frailty.

So, dear friends in adversity, who is your hero? Is there someone who inspires you? If you could change one huge thing, what would it be? Who would you choose to walk the path of challenge with you?