(The following story and photo are shared with permission from my daughter and her husband)
“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” Philippians 4:13
For a while I had some very negative feelings about this verse. In May 2013, my youngest daughter had graduated from high school and turned 18 the same week. She came home one day after graduation with a forbidden tattoo. At that time, no one else in our family had one. I was working as a Career Services Officer at a career college and was routinely instructing my grads to cover up their tattoos when they went for interviews because many employers would not hire someone with a tattoo, no matter how qualified they might be. My daughter knew EXACTLY how I felt about her being tattooed since she had expressed interest in having one months before.
Jenna had never openly defied us, so this was truly a hurtful and disappointing event when she returned home from this covert operation and pulled me aside to show it to me. You may have already guessed what the tattoo was…the scripture verse “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me”. I wanted to say “even disobey your parents, apparently!” but I didn’t. I just went to my room to put myself in time-out since I no longer could put HER in one. Initially I felt like this verse was used as a weapon against my parental authority. I’ve gradually made the transition of ‘reeling from it’ to ‘dealing with it’ to ‘embracing it’.
From my perspective, it started out feeling like defiance, but over the years, I’ve seen that tattoo blossom into encouragement for us. She didn’t do it to spite me and the verse she chose has gotten her through some very difficult situations. Jenna ran Division I Cross Country and Track for 4 years in college, she eloped just months after graduating from college which quickly thrust her into full-on adulthood, they had their first child nearly a year and a half later, and then soon after that she had a difficult, high-risk pregnancy that ended up with twin boys being born 10 weeks early in 2020. They were in the NICU for all of those 70 days.
When Jenna was delivering her first baby, she invited me to be there with her and her husband. It was not an easy delivery, and the verse etched in ink on her leg comforted me, knowing that Jenna relied on the strength of Jesus Christ to do whatever was hard in her life. She then had many challenges in the first month of motherhood, and at the end of that month I had to leave her in North Carolina and head back to Alaska. I knew my “baby” would be ok because she was doing this hard job of parenting with the strength Christ would give her as she leaned into Him for it.
A year and a half later she and her husband brought two more little ones into the world and their entrance was fraught with hardship. The twins were only about 2.5 pounds each and had lots of health issues because of being so premature. In the hospital they had tubes and wires coming out of everywhere and at one point, one of the boys had to be transported to a hospital that specialized in a particular area. They were going back and forth between hospitals in Charlotte to be with their newborns, home to be with their one-year-old, and Matt was also working full-time, which included weekend travel. It’s a blurry nightmare that we all went through together, but Jenna was amazing throughout that time. She had a fierce trust in the Lord that made her steady and strong. Because she almost always wears running shorts, I could often see her tattoo on her leg reminding me that the Lord was strengthening her…and us.
I know this verse is not a band-aid you can slap on a difficult situation. We as Christians can find ourselves to be very weak and need to seek the strength from Christ our savior. We can’t just quote this verse or etch it into our skin and hope it works like a magic spell. Our inner spirit must be joined with Christ’s and in tune with him to truly do “all things” with Him and through Him.
I don’t think this verse means we can do anything we want…like be a horse-racing jockey when we’re 6’5” or an NFL football star when we haven’t even been picked for a college team. It means that whatever I am called to do or to go through, God is going to get me through it, as long as I am connected to Him like a branch on a vine. John 15:5 says “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.”
Philippians 4:13 is a verse sandwiched in a dialogue from Paul to the church in Philippi about contentment. Sometimes things are going very well for him and sometimes they are not. He talks about learning contentment whatever his situation is…and because he is growing in this aspect of his faith, he can do everything he is called to through contentment in Christ and the strength He provides. Regardless of the outward circumstances, his inner strength is mobilized to endure and to press on through his faith.
The topic for this article was prompted by a sweet friend who texted me Sunday evening to let me know how deeply she is struggling with the early stages in her fight against cancer. Her last sentence said “I worry about not being able to do everything”. It was likely not a coincidence that she texted while I was trying to break my writer’s block by reviewing my journal writings from 2013 about how one CAN do everything. My friend who has such hard things to go through right now can choose to extract her strength from Jesus who loves her deeply and cares so much for her as she battles cancer. He knows her pain and weakness. He will strengthen her to do whatever needs to be done, as long as she seeks a truly connected relationship to Him.
I’m still a little sad about someone etching a permanent mark onto the beautiful skin of my baby girl but knowing that she chose something so meaningful as Philippians 4:13 helps me to relax about the part I don’t like and to embrace the part I do like. She aligns herself with the word of God so much that she wanted to have a scripture verse as her chosen tattoo to declare her independence as an adult and her dependence on God from that moment on throughout her life. In the end, as long as she truly lives by the verse, it will be a testament to the strengthening power of Christ. May the way she lives out her faith always reflect the beauty of her personal relationship with Jesus.