I think being tough is a good thing.

Typically, people think of being tough as the football player who's very strong, or the cop who doesn't take any stuff from people, or the school yard bully.

I think tough is the teenager with excruciating back pain every day who still goes to school, and plays sports. The mother who drops off her baby at day care and goes to work even though every ounce of her being would rather be with the child. The son who deals with an inconsistent parent who may or may not show up to pick him up from football practice. The strong man who deals with a chronic illness. His wife who hears about his pains, daily. The daughter of an elderly father with senility. The wife who deals with loneliness and frustration with kids, but smiles when her husband is going to go out with a friend on Friday night. Being scared, but pressing on. Enduring things, bearing things, and not letting them crush you.

I think tough is being able to withstand physical or mental discomfort. To be able to face a challenge with grace. To make others happy, ignoring your own immediate desires - not like a sick wacko, but ignoring your own immediate desires when necessary. To be compassionate to others, and kind, even though it causes you inconvenience or difficulty. To hear and share in the heartbreak of others, even though it makes you cry inside. Digging deep, and finding strength somehow in that magical place where you find more strength, even though it seems all strength is gone. To do your duty, even though it means taking unruly children to a long family birthday party in a house with a lot of fragile nick nacks, or sitting through an Easter Vigil service because it's a small sacrifice compared to what our Savior endured.

My husband is tough. I know of a lot of other people who are tough as well. And they are tough with tenderness, the most important part of all. It means an open heart instead of a hard one, and being vulnerable in the face of potential harm.

My girlfriend Angie is tough. She cared for her five brothers as her own children, because no one else would. She supported the family on her salary as a Baskin Robbins ice cream scooper at the age of 13. She and I would bravely face 120 hungry Lutherans and get food on the fellowship hall counter in 15 minutes or less. At a party, I bark orders at her hard and she prods me for more.

I've never been able to withstand physical pain well. Wah wah wah, complain, complain. But I can face a mental challenge pretty well. Physical exhaustion, emotional aggravation, and hearing inane complaints - yet still smile. Someday I'll be more physically tough. That's the day I'll be back down to my newlywed weight, and maybe running 5 or 10Ks. Or at least respectably be able to finish my treadmill test at the cardiologist. And have a headache or a sore muscle and still go about life as usual.

In the meantime, I'll continue to endure what I can, talking to people though I'm shy, host guests with grace, attend boring events or long church services with kids, and hope for God's help in physical toughness, combined with tenderness, in the future.