“Brave,” by Sara Bareilles is our favorite song right now. We turn it up loud and sing it at the top of our lungs, and when it’s done they shout, “Again!” and I comply because I love it, too. And because usually I’m busy on the phone and the music is playing so they don’t eavesdrop or interrupt or some combination of the two. And because I remember doing that with my mom, blasting Huey Lewis and the News, Doobie Brothers, and later Newsboys, Geoff Moore, Audio Adrenaline and other WOW 1996 classics.
I started a blog post on courage on June 6, 2015. I didn’t get beyond the title, but it had become a word I was clinging to, one I desperately wanted to define not just in words but in life. In the midst of trying to figure out why I was hiding and what it meant to be free, that word beckoned me like an open door. I’ve defined it so many ways in my short 30 years: It takes courage to be the new girl. To jump off of cliffs and to travel alone across the world. To follow my dreams. To leave home. To speak on behalf of the oppressed. To be an activist.
It takes courage to come home. To raise a child alone. To start a business.
It takes courage to give it all up. To entrust your imperfect, sinful self to someone imperfect and sinful. To build a life together filled with life and death, chaos and calm.
I considered myself pretty courageous.
But suddenly that courage felt pretty shallow as I looked in the mirror, unsure of who I’d become. Somewhere along the way I stopped talking. Stopped writing. Stopped being the things I always thought made me me. I tiptoed around my life, unsure of my place, my purpose, even my perspective on much of anything.
Then I discovered people who wrote about courage. Their definitions drew me back to the life I used to know, to the parts of me that felt free to explore and adventure and risk and speak up without caring what anyone else thought.
But that courage lost its appeal. Because now I have people and responsibilities and a life and I can’t just leave it all behind and start something new. Not just can’t, don’t want to. That wouldn’t be me any more.
I know in Christian circles we mock the elusive search for self and so I’ve hid in the background afraid to admit the truth: I’m not sure who I am.
We mock because we know Disney mostly gets the answer wrong. “Finding myself” is less like Cinderella and more like Finding Nemo. I’m not finding the princess inside of me that was always there, I’m just on a journey that feels like it’s never going to end, only to realize that it’s the sum of the journey that equals me.
“Me” is ever-changing, praise God, because this work that He’s begun is only the beginning. But how am I to live in the meantime? Embracing the image of God in me while knowing how marred it is? Embracing that which makes me me while knowing that life is not some play acted out in which I’m the main character. The story is not ultimately about me.
This is where courage comes in, and why I’ve been stuck here for awhile. I knew how to be courageous in a different life, but that’s not the courage required of me today. And as I’ve made my own definition, I’ve started to wonder if this had been my definition all along, what difference that might have made.
I’m headed on a new adventure: one I have dreamt of since I was a child and yet which feels incredibly foreign to me. I’m packing up my camera and computer, my love for Scripture and for teaching and for oppressed women and I’m heading halfway across the world. And I am terrified. Only, not for the reasons you might think. I’m not scared of terrorism or persecution or death. I’m ready for death. Give me Jesus.
I’m scared it will be wonderful.
I’m scared I will remember my dreams. That I will rediscover those parts of me that I’ve buried. That suddenly I will rediscover the world behind a camera lens, and I will overflow with words describing the beauty and fear and the lives of people made in the image of God. That I will remember the excitement and the exhaustion of travel and adventure.
Somewhere over the last few years, my fears have gotten louder. I don’t want to feel afraid, so I choose not to feel. But Brene Brown says you can’t numb one feeling without numbing all of them. If I refuse to feel fear or sadness or rejection or pain, I also refuse to feel joy, excitement, intimacy, connection.
It turns out, courage means feeling them all. Courage means inviting Jesus into the pain and uncertainty and possibility of disappointment. Courage means knowing Jesus makes me okay whether I am accepted or rejected, in Nepal or Fargo, writing books or wiping noses.
Maybe this trip is the culmination of all of these months of wrestling with my fears. It’s the opportunity to be courageous, not by traveling across the world, but by coming home again. It’s the opportunity to bravely allow these pieces of myself to re-enter the scene. To welcome them gently and not run from them, but also to see that they are not what they used to be. Freedom to be myself does not mean reclaiming some foreign self I used to be.
Because Jesus makes beautiful things out of the dust.
I am the sum of the journey. These years have not been wasted but fruitful. The wilderness is where dependence grows; the hidden years are the ones marked by deepening roots. The fruit is yet to be seen. This trip is just one stop along the way. I cannot anticipate what it means for the journey and the uncertainty is terrifying. And, usually, if I can’t figure it out, I choose to put it away.
But today I pray for grace to lean into the uncertainty. To trust that the God who places me in the wilderness is the one who gives the growth.
To trust that the God who gives trips across the world is also the one who gives babies who keep us close to home.
To trust that the God who made me to love culture and color and people and beauty and words has not made a mistake in placing me where I am.
Courage looks like facing my fears. Not by following my dreams, but by holding them with open hands. Not by bravely living before others, but by standing confidently coram Deo–before God’s face–resting in His grace lavished upon me not because I am brave, but because in Christ, I am His.