Sunday, October 29, 2017
A WNBA Player, Philippians 4:13 and Me - What do we have in common?
"Tamika, come inside. It's time for dinner!"
The three-year-old who would later become a basketball star in high school and go on to play for the University of Tennessee and eventually in the WNBA, was not ignoring her father. She didn't hear him. Shortly afterwards, Tamika Catchings was diagnosed with significant hearing loss and fitted with hearing aids.
Until she was seven, the aids were not a deterrent to everyday life. However, when she started second grade, someone made fun of her speech, her hearing aids and her twice-weekly departure from the classroom for speech therapy. She felt different and often walked home crying at the end of school.
Tamika Catchings, the featured speaker at St. Luke's United Methodist Church one Sunday morning in late summer, began her message with the above story.
The scripture she used was Philippians 4:13 - "I can do everything through him who gives me strength." She described the challenges she faced in elementary school, moving four times before she was seven, including a year in Italy where her father played for an Italian professional basketball team; her parents' divorce when she was in the sixth grade; adjusting to life with a hearing loss, especially after she threw her hearing aids into a grassy field one day on the way home from school.
Each time, she wove in the verse from Philippians, that she can do all things through him who gives her strength.
Her parents couldn't afford to purchase another set of aids, so she had to sit in the front row of the classroom and concentrate intensely while the teacher spoke. She became a proficient lip-reader. Despite these difficulties, she excelled in academics through junior high and high school, and on the basketball court as well. God gave her strength.
When she was in the seventh grade, she told her parents she wanted to play in the NBA (there was no WNBA at that time). They replied, "If anyone can, you can!" She believed them and took on the words of Philippians 4:13. Despite her hearing loss, and occasional injuries, she focused on how God could help in all parts of her life. "I can do all things" encouraged her daily, enabling her to reach seemingly insurmountable goals.
My Experience with Philippians 4:13
Reflecting on Tamika Catching's story later Sunday afternoon brought back a time when this scripture carried me through a series of difficult days in January 2013.
My father died on Friday, January 11 of that year. Shortly after Mike and I arrived in Columbus, Ohio, for his funeral the following Tuesday, my mother entered hospice care, the night of my father's visitation.
On the way to my father's funeral, Mike and I decided to stop by the nursing home to check on my mother. When we entered the facility, I asked for a chaplain to come to her room, as I felt the need of spiritual support along this uncharted path.
I walked down the hallway as if I were walking into a lion's den, not knowing what to expect due to the complex, dysfunctional relationship I shared with my parents. With each step, I kept breathing deeply God'swords, "I can do everything through him who gives me strength."
The Presence of God Gives Strength
God's presence came quickly preparing me for what I would encounter.
We found my mother agitated, thrashing from side-to-side in bed and moaning as if in pain. I pulled a chair to her side and put my hand on her left shoulder just as the chaplain appeared. The nurse in charge of her care said, "I'll go get a shot with some medication to calm her."
Even though her eyes were closed, I started talking close to her ear, knowing she could hear until the end. I told her it was fine for her to leave, to join my father, her father and her three siblings. Then I spent time talking about her mother, who died from diphtheria when my mother was seven. I believed most of my mother's emotional difficulties in life came from the loss of her mother and subsequent lack of nurturing.
"Your mother is waiting to hug you, and hold you, Mother," I said. "You will be with your mother forever.
Gradually, I could feel the tension in my mother's shoulder lessen as I talked. She stopped thrashing and moaning, and by the time the nurse returned, I told her the shot wasn't necessary. She could see for herself the change in my mother's demeanor.
The chaplain said a prayer, and as we left to attend my father's funeral, he said, "You sure must come from a loving family."
Strength in Being Misunderstood
"Oh, my!" I thought. I remembered my longing for a mother who was emotionally present that began when I was six or seven. She was not there for me. She could not provide strength and did not provide protection when I needed it most. No, I did not come from a loving family; I am, however, strengthened by a loving God.
I walked to the car, grateful to provide what my mother needed during the last hours of her life. I would never have been able to do this on my own; I needed God's strength and direction. With God, I could offer comfort. With God, I can do all things, but only because God gives me strength.
She died less than four hours later.
Tamika Catchings and Me
Although our situations were different, Tamika Catchings and I found strength beyond our own capabilities to face the experiences and challenges that life brought. I am so grateful God heard the cry of my heart and provided so generously on a day that was filled with complicated and complex emotions.
We can do all things through God, who will strengthen us in a range of situations, from giving a teen the vision to join the WNBA to a woman sitting at her mother's side, offering comfort to someone who was unable to offer comfort to her own child.
This is God's promise. This is God's strength.
For Your Reflection
1. Challenging experiences come from all parts of life - our families, our work, our church, dealing with our own sinful nature. What scripture has provided strength to you?
2. Describe a time when you have needed extraordinary strength.
Prayer: Thank you, God, for becoming real to us when we feel weak or when we struggle. We have assurance you will provide for our needs and you do! For the ways you care for us, we are always grateful. Help us remember that you are ever ready to help, no mater what is happening in our lives. Amen.