Strengthen me, oh Lord


By Judith Costello

My kids have posters near their beds that say: “I can do all things…” Do you know that quote from St. Paul? (Philippians 4:13). It’s probably the most often quoted Bible verse ever.

But it sometimes takes meeting a special person to put those words in perspective. The person who did that for me is Elsie. I have actually known her for several years. But she carries her crosses in silence. I had no idea the struggles and grace she has experienced.

Then one day I asked a few questions. And such a story that came forth! I know Elsie because she is raising her two grandchildren, alone, on a fixed income. What I didn’t know was how that came to be. It began a long time ago.

Elsie was given away 61 years ago when she was a baby. She was supposed to be raised by a great-great-grandmother. But that grandmother died and Elsie was passed around in the family and eventually placed in foster care. It was a hard childhood. She never finished eighth grade.


When a young man came along with an offer, Elsie jumped at the chance to get married. She was 15 years old. But she soon discovered this marriage wasn’t a reprieve. Her husband was abusive and became addicted to drugs and alcohol.

The couple had five children. But as they grew, the children identified with their father and exhibited similar problems with addictions. Only one of the children finished high school.  

Elsie became the guardian for two grandchildren when their mother was arrested. Meanwhile, her ex-husband was stabbed to death in a drug-related incident.

What has transformed Elsie to become the strong, generous caretaker she is today is? Prayer.

She turned to God in desperation when she suddenly found herself with an 8-month-old and a 3-year-old to raise. She was 52 years old. The baby was so sick he could have died had Elsie not stepped in. Both children had developmental delays.

Praying the rosary three times a day helps her feel comforted by God’s presence. She has found help for the kids, who have been with her for nine years now.

Elsie says she had some “bad habits.” Humbly she says, “I went to confession and asked Father to ask the Holy Spirit to help me stop smoking.” Father did. The Holy Spirit did. She stopped smoking without the usual drawn-out problems.

“I went to confession and asked Father to ask the Holy Spirit to help me stop drinking.” She didn’t drink excessively but she wanted to stop. She stopped without any difficulty.

Elsie grew up in a tiny town, in poor circumstances. She never dreamed she would own a home of her own. But prayer helped there, too. Through a federal program, she was able to move the grandchildren into a brand new home.

Most people might be angry at their grown children for making bad choices which led them to drugs and jail. But Elsie prays they will get the help they need. She passes no judgments on them. Instead, she is grateful when the boys’ mother makes contact. She nurtures the love between Mom and the children.

So now when I read the words: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me,” I think of Elsie. Strength comes when we pray and put our trust in God.

(Judith Costello is a freelance writer who grew up in Davenport and now lives in rural New Mexico. Her Web site is

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