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When your knees buckle

I remember a trip our family made to see the Vulcan statue in Birmingham.  It must have been sometime in the late 60’s since the elevator (installed in ’71), wasn’t operational.  I would have been about ten years old. 

Vulcan was the name of the Roman god of fire who was often pictured with a blacksmith hammer.  That statue was commissioned by the Birmingham Chamber of Commerce and created by the sculptor Giuseppe Moretti in 1904 out of iron ore mined from nearby Red Mountain.  All 21 pieces of it were then shipped to St. Louis World’s Fair by train and assembled there as part of a campaign to call attention to Birmingham’s prominence in the steel industry. 

Since the 1930’s, the Vulcan has been at its current location atop Red Mountain.  The statue itself is 56 feet in height and sits on a pedestal that is 123 feet high.  It’s the second largest statue in the country; behind of course, the Statue of Liberty.  Probably the most pertinent fact for this story is that there are 157 steps from the ground to the observation deck. 

It was Birmingham on a summer day so it was hot and humid.  We had walked around and looked up at the statue from all angles.  My parents were ready to go.  As I remember, so were three of the four children.  For some reason I had it in my mind that I wanted to go up to the observation deck and I was as adamant about it as you dared to be in those days --- adamant enough that my parents gave in.

Somehow Mom drew the short straw.  She trudged up those 157 steps with me (did I mention the tower wasn’t air conditioned?).  When I arrived at the entrance to the deck, I froze.  I was able to see how high we were and my arms instinctively threw outward grabbing both sides of the entrance way.  I had discovered I was afraid of heights!  Previous to this, the highest I’d ever been was maybe fifteen feet up in one of our trees.  That didn’t phase me at all but this had me weak kneed and wobbly.

Mom was up a few moments later and asked me I was doing --- I was stiff as a board, white as a ghost, and holding on to the doorway for dear life.  I told her I was no longer interested in going out of the observation deck.  She did what any loving, nurturing mother would do.  She told me I was the one responsible for her walking up all of those steps and one way or another I was going out on that deck.  Mom was 5’ 10” and had been a physical education major so I swallowed my fear and went out on the deck. I remember peeking over the wall that went around the deck and seeing my father, my two brothers, and my sister.  They looked tiny.  Okay, I told Mom --- I’m ready to go back down.  She made me stay out there a little longer (probably so she could get her breath for the trip back down).

I had started out strong and brave and then my knees buckled.  It’s not an uncommon picture in the Scripture --- Peter bravely fighting in the garden and then denying Christ in the courtyard; David slaying Goliath only to later plot the murder of one of his mighty men because the king had caved into sexual lust; or Abraham expressing absolute faith in God’s promises only to lie on two occasions about his relationship with Sarah. It reminds us that no matter how strong we are (or we think we might be), the reality is we are oh-so-vulnerable.  

But vulnerability doesn’t have to lead to giving in or breaking down.  Paul said that he found strength in weakness (2 Corinthians 12:10).  If you read what he has to say there, you’ll see that weakness refers to any situation that made him conscious of his limited ability and God’s omnipotence.  And as many have done before and after him, Paul came to realize that recognizing his vulnerability made him a stronger person, not a weaker one, because it caused him to look to God and rely upon Him more. This is an important aspect of what it means to “be strong in the Lord and in His mighty power” (Ephesians 6:10). 

Think about this the next times your knees buckle.

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