I confess – I love a good comeback story. I always root for the underdog – the one facing the impossible odds. That holds true in sports and in life. One of my favorite football movies, “Facing the Giants” is inspiring precisely because the underdog team has to overcome many obstacles as they pursue success on the field. Another favorite movie, “October Sky,” tells the true story of four high school boys from a poor mining community in West Virginia, who eventually win the national science fair, but only after experiencing set back after set back, each one bringing their project seemingly to an end. But each time, the boys regroup and began again. One of the boys even had to drop out of school in order to work in the mines, because his dad had been injured in a mining accident and couldn’t work for a time. Nothing was in their favor, their school had no resources to help them, and yet they persisted and eventually prevailed, winning the National Science Fair in 1960.
By today’s standards these boys were victims – born into poverty, no prospects except to work in the mines as their fathers did, a disadvantaged school with no funds for things more affluent schools would naturally have, such as fully equipped science labs. But they didn’t see themselves as victims of anything nor of anybody. Instead they relied on themselves and their own curious minds and ingenuity. Consequently, not only were they not victims, they were victors in every sense of the word. Because they were winners in the science fair, they were able to get scholarships to college and choose for themselves their future careers. They persevered. They overcame. They became victors.
Overcomers. Indomitable overcomers. Such people were the pilgrims who sailed by ship across the sea for the opportunity to build a better life than the one they left behind. Odds were not in their favor that they would survive their voyage. After all, travel by boat in the 1600’s was not on luxury cruise liners like we have today. It was perilous. It was risky. And if they survived the voyage, they would still have to learn how to survive in the New World. That first winter, forty-five of the one-hundred two passengers from the Mayflower did not survive. The journey was risky, the destination was full of danger, risks and the unknown. Yet still, people came to settle in this land, now our country. The hardships they faced were many and they were continuous. But they did not think they were victims. They persevered. They overcame. They became victors.
Overcomers. Indomitable overcomers. Such people were the pioneers, who headed west in covered wagons into unknown territory until they eventually reached the Pacific Ocean. Well, some of them anyway. This was not the tourist travel of today, the travel of people on vacation. This was travel that involved great risk and many hardships, due to weather, the terrain itself, illness and the problem of finding food to sustain them. (there were no restaurants, fast food or otherwise along their route from which they could order up some food – there were no B&B’s or hotels either) Many pioneers died before they ever reached their intended destinations. Yet still, they set out on the journey west. The hardships they faced were many and they were continuous. But they did not consider themselves victims of anything nor of anybody. They persevered. They overcame. They were victors.
Overcomers. Indomitable overcomers. Such people were the patriots of the Revolutionary War. Willing to fight for the freedoms they had come to this New World to obtain, they risked everything for freedom’s sake. They were oppressed by the British government, oppressed in their status as subjects of the crown, subjects of the current King of England. The British Crown’s rule was strong and far reaching. Their navy, the most powerful in the world at that time. Likewise, British wealth, resources and military might were unmatched. How could poor, unorganized colonists stand up to such a force? – the very force to whom they paid taxes, the very force that had kept them successfully subdued and subservient since their inception. It would not be easy and victory was not certain by any means. But the patriots did not consider themselves victims of anything nor of anybody. They persevered. They overcame. They became victors.
Overcomers. Indomitable overcomers. Such people are our modern day astronauts. They choose to take on great risks when they train and prepare for space flight. The risks are real, as the Space Shuttle Challenger reminded us all in 1986, when it broke apart just seventy-three seconds into flight, killing all seven crew members. The space program did not die, but it would not be the last time that astronauts lost their lives in the pursuit of space exploration. Seventeen years later, in 2003, all seven crew members of the Space Shuttle Columbia were killed when the shuttle disintegrated as it reentered earth’s atmosphere. These crew members were not victims. They pursued and realized their dreams, including exploring space. They persevered to attain their personal goals. They overcame. They were victors – not victims.
Overcomers. Indomitable overcomers. Wilma Rudolph was one such woman. She was one of twenty-two children and she suffered from polio and scarlet fever as a child. Because of this, she wore a leg brace. By today’s standards Wilma would be considered a victim. Fortunately, Wilma did not consider herself a victim. Wilma became a runner. At the Rome Olympics, in 1960, Wilma became the first American woman to win three gold medals in one Olympics. She held the title of “fastest woman in the world.” Wilma persevered. Wilma overcame her obstacles. Wilma was a victor – not a victim.
I think of those that stormed the beaches of Normandy during World War two. Many of them lost their lives, but they did not think of themselves as victims. They would not want us to remember them as victims either, but as the victorious heroes that they were and remain so to this day. Likewise, the Tuskegee Airmen leave behind a legacy of courage, dedication and service to this country and to the world – a world which their efforts and actions helped to make free once again. We all owe them a huge debt of gratitude for their service. Society at that time may have considered them victims but they saw themselves as victors. And indeed their accomplishments, valor and example for others to follow proved them right. They persevered under difficult, dangerous circumstances. They overcame. They were always victors – never victims. They proved that to the watching world.
There are so many individual stories to tell of valor and of victory, that I could never tell them all. One of my favorites, though, is that of Dr. Carol Swain. She was one of twelve children and grew up in poverty, dropping out of high school in the ninth grade. Poor, black, uneducated and a woman, Dr. Swain was, by our culture’s current definition – a victim. Married, divorced and with three children, Dr. Swain obtained her GED, then an associate degree, then a B.A. in Criminal Justice, then a Master’s in political science, followed by a Ph.D. in political science and finally a Master of Legal Studies from Yale Law School. This looks more like the life of a victor than a victim to me. How about you? In an interview Dr. Swain shared something I found very interesting and relevant to today’s culture. In one of her many college classes she was taught that she was an oppressed victim and would therefore never be able to achieve certain things in life. Fortunately for her, at the time she was informed of her victim status, she had already achieved all those things plus more, despite the label they wanted her to wear. (Labels can be so limiting, so confining, so final, if we accept them and wear them as our excuse for everything that we do or don’t do in life.) But Dr. Swain had not been told she was a victim from a young age, so she proceeded to live the life of a victor. And she succeeded despite numerous hardships and obstacles that she had to overcome along her way to victory. Dr. Swain persevered despite her disadvantaged beginning in life. Dr. Swain overcame. Dr. Swain is a victor – not a victim.
We each one face many difficulties, hardships, setbacks, tough times of every kind in our lives. That is the human condition on this earth. Justice Clarence Thomas summed it up in these words,
“Regardless of race, everybody faces adversity and must choose whether to buckle down and surmount it, shaping his own fate, or to blame the outcome on powerful forces that make him ineluctably a victim – forces that only a mighty government can master. The Framers’ Constitution presupposes citizens of the first kind. Without them, and a culture that nurtures them, no free nation can long endure. . . . there is no governmental solution to black America’s problems – . . . In this equal opportunity nation, black citizens must forge their own fate, like all other Americans. Where there’s a will, there’s a way.”
So many stories of overcomers! America is full of these individual and collective stories of overcoming adversity to achieve success. It is a shame that these are not the voices we are hearing and heeding today. At present, it seems to be the voices of the victims that are taking center stage. Why these are today’s role models, I do not know. We used to celebrate the person who triumphs over hardships and setbacks to emerge victorious. Now it is a competition to be the most oppressed, the most victimized, and therefore the most entitled. There is no valor in victimhood. There is no value in victimhood. There is no honor in blaming others, circumstances, everything and everyone but yourself for what you are doing or not doing with the life you’ve been given.
Have we gone from a nation of indomitable overcomers to one of oppressed victims? It seems everyone wants to claim victim status nowadays. Obstacles in life have never before been the end point – obstacles are the things we rise above and overcome on our way to victory. What is success without the struggle? Nothing. The difficulties that must be overcome define the achievement. The apostle Paul had something to say about this in Romans chapter eight. He was talking about Christ followers being more than conquerors. Ironically, that is the opposite of what Karl Marx would say. He said that “religion is the opium of the people”, a crutch for weak people and nothing more.
However, the life of a Christ follower demands just the opposite of a weak, victim mentality. Following after Jesus is not for the faint of heart. It requires hard core dedication and determination. This life demands standing firm and laying down your life, speaking up when others remain silent and holding your tongue when others have lost their grip on their tongues. It involves overcoming evil with good, hate with love, darkness with light and lies with the Truth. Jesus told us clearly what to expect when He said,
“In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)
I am following the One who has overcome all things, even death. Even though He was crucified on a cross, Jesus was not a victim, but arose the Victor on the third day, defeating death. (without the struggle, where is the victory?) Jesus calls me to live life as an overcomer, not as a victim. Paul says in Romans 8:35-39,
“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? . . . No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us (me, you) from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (italics mine)
“but despite all this, (trouble, hardship, persecution, famine, nakedness, danger, sword) overwhelming victory is ours (mine, yours) through Christ who loved us enough to die for us.” (Romans 8:37 Living Bible translation – parenthesis mine)
Overwhelming victory is mine in Christ! I am told I am more than a conqueror as a follower of Jesus Christ. My Heavenly Father does not intend for me to live as a victim but as a victor. Today I am free to choose which path I will pursue, which label I will wear. I will face many obstacles, that is a certainty. We all have many hardships, hurts and hurdles on our personal paths in this life. But we can take heart, knowing Jesus said He has already overcome the world.
So I will take heart and continue to fight the good fight. I will choose to live as a victor, not a victim. And I will remember a favorite quote,
“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle you know nothing about.” The victor fights the battle – the victim refuses to engage.
sincerely, Grace Day