Finding My Bravery

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At first glance, I don’t look brave. Not today, anyway.

I’m sitting in sweatpants, my hair pulled up into a messy knot, drinking coffee, and listening to jazz music… and I’m writing about being brave.

There’s been a huge pendulum swing lately from following status quo and staying safe, to being brave and finding your own adventure and just doing the damn thing.

I AM TOTALLY FOR THIS. SO, SO, SO FOR IT.

But I think that mentality can leave those of us who enjoy slow days in sweatpants wondering what we’re missing. Or what we’re doing wrong. Or how we could, or should, be living differently.

I think bravery looks different for everyone. Bravery is in the “yes” and the “no.” It can be in sitting still or in climbing a mountain until you’re sure that’s how you’re going to die (you’re really sure). Bravery can be in surrounding yourself with noise and chaos or finding a quiet moment, diffusing those essential oils, and letting the world keep spinning while you refuse to get caught up in a single thing.

Bravery makes us healthy. Bravery keeps us sane. Bravery is looking fear in the face and saying, “Screw you.”

In some cases, bravery is looking straight into the eyes of a society that tells you what you should be and saying, “You don’t get to tell me my value anymore.”

At the end of last year, I was talking to a friend who told me about something her church does – you pick a word that will characterize the next year of your life. It’s not the same as a New Year’s resolution, she explained. It’s more like something you know you can be, or are, or want to be. Then it’s living each day with that word in mind.

I don’t go to her church. I don’t even live in the same state. But I knew, immediately, what my word would be.

BRAVE.

Guys. It is April as I write this, and I am almost undone by the number of opportunities I’ve had to be brave this year. I’m not saying I’ve always been brave. But I’m getting there.

I’ve been on staff at a non-profit/missions organization for 5 years. In Normal People Time, 5 years can seem like a drop in the bucket. In Ministry Time, it’s a freaking eternity. Let me be clear: I love my community, and I’ve had incredible moments and seasons here, but working well over 50 hours every week for that long had left me empty. I was afraid to ask for a sabbatical because of the emphasis on working hard, pulling your weight, and having a good work ethic. I equated exhaustion and the need for rest with failure.

I finally summoned the bravery to ask for an extended season of rest. I wish I could say that my leaders were all like, “Do it. We will figure out the logistics later. Your health matters more than agendas.” But they took almost two months to get back to me (it was the holiday season, so I get it). I was having panic attacks at work every day. I was living inside of a withered and confused “yes,” when I should have stood firmly on “no.” I said I was submitting to my leadership by being at work and managing a full schedule, even though I was clearly just afraid to say, “I actually can’t do this anymore. My health matters and I can barely remember what a full breath in my lungs feels like.”

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I think it’s safe to say that I only half-assed the bravery on this one. But it was my first attempt. I had to get my bearings.

They finally granted me a sabbatical, so I decided I had to do something that was refreshing for me. I needed adventure, a change of scenery. I booked a trip to four different countries; I would be visiting friends in the Middle East and Europe. I had always wanted to travel by myself internationally, so I decided to jump in the deep end by flying to Jordan alone.

I didn’t book the flights without thinking it through. I think bravery can involve some thought process. It doesn’t have to be a brazen disregard for reality. Even as I booked the flights, I was thinking, “Well. That’s money that is about to be gone. Holy shit, I’m really doing this. OH MY GOSH I AM GOING ALONE. Oh geez.” Then the what-ifs flooded in, but it didn’t matter. Even though I was afraid, I was going to do the damn thing.

And I did.

I flew to Jordan, Belgium, Norway, and Northern Ireland alone. In that order. I met friends in each country. But along the way I camped in the desert (that was cold as EFF) with Bedouins. I tried cross-country skiing for the first time. I ate foods that I couldn’t really identify. I climbed a mountain (yep, the one that I just knew was going to kill me). I met new people. I let old friends get a little farther into my heart.

Beginning in Belgium, I also had to face the fact that my father was probably dying.

He went into the hospital the day that I explored Brussels and had the best waffle in the history of creation. I contacted my stepmother, who told me I didn’t need to get home right away. He was critical, but my presence wasn’t going to do any good. I also knew my dad would roll his eyes, and maybe even ridicule me, if he knew I was preoccupied by his health issues.

I’m so glad I stuck it out. That trip was everything I needed. When I was climbing the mountain in Northern Ireland, my fingers numb and toes soaking (because climbing a snowy mountain in running shoes is, like, super smart), my quads shaking, and my will crumbling all around me, all I could think of was my dad. I fought back tears and I thought of him lying in a hospital bed, in a coma, unable to move.

I said a quick prayer for him. I said a few words of gratitude that my body would even let me be on that mountain. I listened to my friend behind me yelling, “THIS WAS YOUR IDEA. WE ARE NOT QUITTING. YOU DID NOT DRAG ME UP HERE TO QUIT.” I said multiple times that I knew I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t go on.

Then I did it. We both did. We got to the top of the mountain.

We would both say it was one of the most physically difficult things we’ve ever done, but we did it. The view was incredible. The workout. The memories. The laughter. It was all worth it. And all because we pushed through. I looked at my fear and what I thought I was capable of, and I took it to the next level.

As my trip drew to a close, the gravity of my father’s condition began to pull more intensely on my heart. I flew back to Orlando, then drove up to NC the next morning. I didn’t want to make the trip. I didn’t want to see him. I didn’t want to drive 9 hours. I wanted to ignore it all, in hopes that everything would magically become normal again.

Seeing him in the hospital was awful. He was morbidly obese, lying in a giant hospital bed with tubes everywhere, keeping him alive. I held his hand and spoke to him. I begged him to wake up.

But he didn’t.

For the next week, my brother and I (with other family) cleaned my dad’s house and tried to help my stepmom however we could. The whole time, my father’s condition stayed about the same, and we tried several things to try to keep him alive. I didn’t really cry that week. Was I being brave by powering through? I don’t know. Maybe. Maybe not. But I was doing what I knew needed to be done, in spite of the ache in my heart.

We finally had to accept that my father had no quality of life. The doctors had done everything they could, and as a family we had to decide to take him off of life support. No one should have to make that decision. Standing in that sterile room, holding my aunt’s arm, with giant tears running down my face, I kept muttering, “Oh God. Oh God,” as I watched my father take his final breath. I could have avoided seeing the horrific undoing of a life, but I couldn’t imagine standing in another room, knowing my father was dying a few feet away.

Bravery can sometimes mean letting someone go, and watching as they leave.

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This year I’ve grinned like an idiot, anticipating some of the most magical moments I’ve ever had, I’ve been contemplating a major life change, unsure if ministry is the right place for me anymore, and I’ve lost my father.

And it is only April. Only. Freaking. April.

A dear friend is flying me to her home in Hawaii next month, for a whole month. For two of those weeks, she will be gone on vacation (which is beyond me, since she already lives in paradise), and I’ll be staying in her house alone, watching her dogs. She wants me to be free to rest, figure out my life, and really find my bravery. Full disclosure: I’m afraid to stay alone on an island where I know no one. I’m afraid of all the silence I might find. I’m afraid of what I might discover about myself, the world, what I need.

But I’m doing it anyway.

I’m going. I’m going to process what I’ve seen, what I’ve experienced. I’m going to look at my life and get real. Ask some tough questions. What am I really afraid of? What if I don’t pursue my dreams? What do I love?

I’m going to remember the intensity of my emotions on that mountain. Even though I could see the top, I didn’t want to take another step. Ever. Then I’m going to remember that I could, and I did.

I’m going to remember my father, taking the grief in waves, and I’m going to let bravery set in. I’ll cry, and I’ll feel that heaviness in my soul that stems from the inability to change what has happened. But I’ll feel what I need to feel, knowing that facing the pain will make me stronger. Braver.

I am going to make decisions that are bold and maybe a little crazy, but I’m going to chase those dreams. I will relegate fear to a friend I once had, who betrayed me when I was most vulnerable.

Bravery happens in moments of saying “yes” to crazy adventures or saying “no” to being around people when you know the healthy thing is to be alone with your thoughts. Neither is wrong. Stop comparing yourself to someone else. If you’re going to conquer a whole litany of fears by jumping out of an airplane, then live that dream. If Netflix, fat pants, and coffee are what you need today, then you do you.

Bravery is standing up for yourself and asking for what you need.

Bravery is waking up in the morning and doing exactly what you were created to do, because the world needs you.

We need you. We need your brand of bravery. Mine too. Now let’s do the damn thing.

Images from: Rankin

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Thank you so much for this badass article, Steph!


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