by Lisa Nelson
“But He said to me, ‘ My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’” (II Cor. 12:9)
My high school basketball coach used to tell us, “Success comes in ‘cans.’” Unfortunately, it ended up taking me several years beyond high school to buy into this philosophy – to open one of those “cans,” at least where athletics was concerned. As I sit here now, past a quarter century marking my graduation from high school, my mindset has changed dramatically. As a teacher, coach, and even as a parent failure is no longer something I easily tolerate or accept. It isn’t surprising then, that the concept of failure became just as intolerable in my own life, and ultimately in my recovery from a stroke. Few things irritate and infuriate me more than the phrase, I can’t. It is not so much the words I can’t that bother me as much as it is the attitude behind the words. At best it is an excuse not to try, and at worst it reveals an attitude of defeat.
I suppose the shift in my thinking began when I started coaching basketball myself. I was quite familiar with the view from the bench, but my responsibilities and ultimately my mentality, shifted in a whole new direction. I was blessed to spend my basketball coaching career in a very successful program filled with gifted young women. My experience was further enhanced when I was given the opportunity to learn from a widely respected head coach. Andy Akin, a.k.a. “Coach Akin,” who was not just a gifted motivator and a terrific teacher, he was an incredible friend.
I believe Andy’s success came from teaching the girls how to simply play the game. Our players didn’t have playbooks filled with dozens of strategies to learn. Instead, Andy taught them the fundamental skills and principles of the game itself. Our girls learned how to think for themselves and make the needed adjustments in any play they encountered. The confidence our players developed can’t be emphasized enough. I didn’t fully appreciate Andy’s skill in developing confidence until I stepped back from the game. I regret having missed such a great opportunity to learn more.
I told you about Coach Akin, to let you know how my own experience with success factored into my recovery process. There were some seasons we had better athletes than others, but no matter the skill level of our players, it seemed we found a way to win more often than we lost.
I became accustomed to winning and discovered I enjoyed it – a lot. The flip side is that I learned to hate losing. Don’t misunderstand, Andy didn’t have or teach a win at all cost mentality. He certainly had a mentality of wanting to win, but not at the expense of breaking rules or risking injuries or playing dirty or anything like that. Though we prepared, practiced, and played hard, he also taught our players to accept sometimes you don’t win, and that’s part of the game, too. Though none of us ever enjoyed losing, we understood and accepted it on occasion as long as we played hard, and we learned something about ourselves that would help us improve as a team.
Without a doubt, what I learned from my coaching experience motivated me during my recovery. In fact, one of my first visitors in ICU was Coach Akin. Not unexpectedly, he delivered a heavy dose of encouragement. As a result, I was determined to compete. Failure was simply not an option.
Over the course of the next thirty-six days in the hospital, and even in the weeks, months and years that have followed, you can’t has not become any more of an acceptable answer to me than it was in the beginning. It didn’t matter if it was delivered by a doctor, a nurse, a physical therapist or my husband. I hated being told I couldn’t do something, even when I understood that the reality of my limitations was the reason why. Every time I heard it, I became more determined to prove I could. There is nothing inherently wrong with a can do attitude, and for the most part, it has served me well and prompted me to work hard at my recovery. However, the mindset of I can and I will could have been a dangerous one if I had continued to believe I could do anything if I just worked hard enough, or if I believed that I was solely responsible for my own success or failure.
I know for sure my burden was (and is) way too heavy for me to bear alone, and I am thankful every day that I’ve never had to bear it alone. I read a quote recently I believe echoes the same idea. It reads, “To have God on our side doesn’t mean sailing on a boat with no storms. It means having a boat no storm can sink.” Undoubtedly, my boat would be sitting on the ocean floor right now if I had been forced to power it only by my own strength.
Because I’ve learned this, I don’t always have the same response to you can’t as I had before. I’ve learned that it’s okay to admit I can’t. It doesn’t make me any less of a person. Conversely, it’s often to the benefit of others when I do admit that I can’t. In his second letter to the church of Corinth, Paul says that “in our weakness, (His power) is made strong.” (II Corinthians 12:9) In a way, our weakness is preferable to our strength, because the weaker I admit to being, the more I allow others to see God’s strength. I now know that there are times when I can’t, but we (God and I, through Christ) absolutely can (see Phil. 4:13)! I’ve learned to accept my weaknesses and limitations are merely opportunities for Him to show off. And what a show He can put on when we let Him (see Psalm 40:5)! I’ve also learned to sit back and enjoy the show a little more, especially now that I’ve learned I no longer bear the burden of producing it!