Refreshing Hearts One Sentence At A Time
Lately the word “Brave” has been floating around in the recesses of my mind. It’s wafting about like a speck of dust on a sunbeam, or a balloon in an air-conditioning draft. It’s bumping about, touching on memories, last looks, final hugs, sunrises, cups of coffee, and the thumping of feet on the pavement at the park. Do I consider myself brave? Nah. Not on any given day.
I saw the movie Brave. I kind of thought the protagonist was a little rebellious and the floaty-glowy-ball-light-fairies were a tad unrealistic. In my daily life, there are absolutely no floaty-glowy-ball-light-fairies hovering about, tempting me to follow them. That would actually make things quite a bit easier than they are. Instead, I related more to the mother character in the movie, and understand feeling more bear than bonnie lass.
Is “brave” a warrior, a champion, who fights to the death in arenas when there is no other choice than to thrust defiant fists into the air? Is being brave challenging “fate”? Is being brave a puffing out of the chest, a brandishing of the sword? Is it brave to just open your eyes in the morning and consider getting out of bed?
The dictionary first puts the word Brave in the adjective category. It is: 1) possessing or exhibiting courage or courageous endurance; 2) making a fine appearance. Then as a noun it is 1) a brave person, 2) a warrior, especially among North American Indian tribes; and 3) a bully; a boast or challenge. As a verb used with objects, it means 1) to meet or face courageously: to brave misfortunes; 2) to defy; challenge; dare, and 3) to make splendid.
Stick with me here.
1. bold, intrepid, daring, dauntless, heroic. Brave, courageous, valiant, fearless, gallant refer to confident bearing in the face of difficulties or dangers. ‘Brave’ is the most comprehensive: it is especially used of that confident fortitude or daring that actively faces and endures anything threatening. ‘Courageous’ implies a higher or nobler kind of bravery, especially as resulting from an inborn quality of mind or spirit that faces or endures perils or difficulties without fear and even with enthusiasm. ‘Valiant’ implies a correspondence between an inner courageousness and external deeds, particularly of physical strength or endurance. ‘Fearless’ implies unflinching spirit and coolness in the face of danger. ‘Gallant’ implies a chivalrous, impetuous, or dashing bravery.
Is picking up my husband’s socks and underwear from the closet floor considered brave? I venture to say yes. Is killing a spider, when there’s no one else around to kill it, brave? Again, it is a two-armed mortal against an eight-limbed demon, and hence therefore deserves the label of dauntless.
What if there’s a fear of something greater, of a severe earth shift, of loss? What if there is an ongoing season of goodbyes and what's left is rather sadness than gumption? What if the heavy is also dark?
“It is awfully hard to be brave, when you're only a Very Small Animal.”
- A. A. Milne (Winnie-The-Pooh)
In these shifting sands, I often feel like a Very Small Animal, just one pinpoint among the many, many stars. The reality is that I am not invincible, dreams shift and shatter, and yellow-brick roads sometimes lead to dead ends. Sometimes life is a quick drop, a sudden stop. And what do we do? We can look up into the blue sky and wonder who is watching. We can glance over our shoulders to see if anybody saw when we fell down and skinned our knees. We can wipe away that glimmer of a tear because there just isn’t time right now.
I have always liked the movie Elizabethtown. It is the story of a man whose great invention at a shoe company craters and he is fired; while he rigs a contraption to commit suicide, his sister calls to inform him that his father had a heart attack and died. Yeah yeah, it sounds sad, whatever. This is the platform from which he falls, however, and the audience takes the journey with him, facing failure and its wretched aftermath, burial, crazy extended family, intense sorrow, regret, new love, and fresh beginnings.
“You have five minutes to wallow in the delicious misery,” Claire Colburn says in a note to Drew Baylor. “Enjoy it, embrace it, discard ...and proceed.”
“Sadness is easier because it's surrender. I say, make time to dance alone with one hand waving free.”
I think the writers of this story understood sadness and its toll. We see Drew dancing under a grove of shade trees after scattering some of his dad’s ashes along the road. He cries; sometimes you can dance and cry at the same time, and it’s more about being in the moment than searching for triumph.
And one quote Claire gives to Drew, which sits on a back shelf of my mind for those difficult days when I really don’t want to do the laundry but the closet is stinky so it’s either my nose or my sanity, and sometimes my nose wins…..
Claire says, “We are intrepid. We carry on.”
When I first heard that word in the film, and taking the context of that moment, for some reason I assumed the word ‘intrepid,’ meant something like ‘long-suffering’ or some glorious, persevering, walking word. You know -- a word that has to do with walking long distances. I know; my vocabulary should be better. Sometimes it is. But today as I looked up synonyms with ‘brave,’ there appeared the word, ‘intrepid.’ Ah, then. Intrepid means ‘fearless and bold.’ Plucky. Dauntless. Resolute.
We are intrepid. We carry on.
Is a person just brave when he needs to be? How does bravery – courage – makes itself present and perfect? Does it count to be brave if you really don’t want to be? What if you have the opportunity to walk away and live, when walking toward the object of fear could mean death or intense loneliness? What if you have to make the decision on your own?
“David also said to Solomon his son, ‘Be strong and courageous, and do the work. Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the LORD God, my God, is with you. He will not fail you or forsake you.’”
1 Chronicles 28:20
That one sums about all of it up. It works for any problem, any situation. God will not fail or leave. Be strong, be courageous, do the work.
How do I know if it’s supposed to be my work? What if I’m just putting that pressure on myself?
I don’t know.
“Even cowards can endure hardship; only the brave can endure suspense.”
~ Mignon McLaughlin
“Living by faith includes the call to something greater than cowardly self-preservation.”
~ J.R.R. Tolkien
“We have to be braver than we think we can be, because God is constantly calling us to be more than we are.”
~ Madeleine L'Engle
“Our fate lives in us. You only have to be brave enough to see it.”
~ Pixar’s “Brave”
I don’t know or attribute much to ‘fate’ and its friends. But there is a journey, a path, a web, a plotline, through which we travel while on this earth. What I’m starting to see is that the more difficult the landscape, the more I see of my true self. I see the selfish flippancy, the materialistic cravings, the immature belief. I see the shaking flesh, the whimpering muscles. Through the emptying out there is an instigation of firmness within me; as the complaining sifts out like powdery flour, a more solid hand forms a tangible faith. You see, I am petty, I am weak. I am late, I am clumsy, I am dubious. But the God who made me has me here to learn more about his security. He is secure, he is Always. He is intrepid.
But I don’t always know his plan, and that kind of makes my heart four-cups-of-coffee jittery.
“Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”
~ Winston Churchill
“Bran thought about it. 'Can a man still be brave if he's afraid?'
'That is the only time a man can be brave,' his father told him.”
~ George R.R. Martin, A Game of Thrones
“Before I knew you, I thought brave was not being afraid. You've taught me that bravery is being terrified and doing it anyway.”
~ Laurell K. Hamilton, Blood Noir
So, maybe, sticking around counts as bravery. Not everyone sticks around.
“I think laughter may be a form of courage. As humans we sometimes stand tall and look into the sun and laugh, and I think we are never more brave than when we do that.”
- Linda Ellerbee
Let’s refer back to the synonyms of brave: “‘Courageous’ implies a higher or nobler kind of bravery, especially as resulting from an inborn quality of mind or spirit that faces or endures perils or difficulties without fear and even with enthusiasm.”
Facing the changes in life, just by walking through them, counts as bravery. Humans are flawed, containing an inborn quality of mind and spirit that will endure peril and difficulty. Can we face our flaws without fear? Can we face the cold winter, the bare tree branches and hardened earth? Can we face this with enthusiasm? What if our biggest challenge lies within us?
“It is easy to be brave from a safe distance.”
Claire: “You want to be really great? Then have the courage to fail big and stick around. Make them wonder why you're still smiling. That's true greatness to me.”
“Why are you downcast, O my soul?
Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God,
for I will yet praise him,
my Savior and my God.”
He is the Everlasting, the hope and the healer. If our God is for us, then who can stop us?
As a child of the King, there is no logical, physical, or mental reason not to be brave. His spirit is in me. He rescues me every morning, every sunset, every spider, every sprained ankle, every bruised ego. He makes me courageous, if only I will let him make me fearless. It’s my choice to give in to the sadness or ask him for a little more strength.
“And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.” ~ Philippians 4:19
His riches are more than just padded bank accounts, stacks of gold bars, and stock market dividends. His riches are strength for the weary, comfort, fullness of heart, mercy, seeing Him, peace, and inheriting the kingdom of heaven. His gifts are close hugs, warm beds, gut-clutching laughter, cloudless skies, and the soft whispering of the stars.
His reward is his presence.
I think I can be brave so long as he’s holding my hand. Then I can make time to dance along with my other hand waving free.
<http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/brave?s=t> (3 Sept 2012)
My husband, daughter, a good friend, and I were eating dinner at the newest Chinese restaurant in town. There was the obligatory fortune cookie at the end of the meal, as we wiped the teriyaki sauce off our lips and broke into those delightful cardboard-esque treats. The friendly server handed my daughter her own cookie and I helped open the package. After cracking it open, I pulled out the paper strip to read what hers said. “Do not fear failure,” it said. The sentence actually made me pause, because I think that is something I definitely want to teach my Little M, and myself as well. I was going to keep it and maybe put it in her baby scrapbook, when she suddenly stuck it in her mouth and then spit it onto the floor. Oh well.
See, I’m at a point where there are a few branches coming up in my pathway, and there’s a quiet, unsettled, and apprehensive voice in the back of my mind who continually cautions, “Are you sure you want to do that?” Whether the choice is picking out which shirt to wear, buying a book, or asking my husband to take out the garbage, the voice is always there. She’s gotten quieter over the years, but sometimes starts to disturb the peace upstairs. And with the ideas of buying a house, changes in our family life, and furthering action on my passions, all beginning to stir into the pot, she’s really started to affect the amount of adrenaline pulsing through my veins at any given time.
“What if --,” she begins to say.
“Hush,” I reply.
“What about --,” she falters, her hands waving about in the air.
“We have already thought about that, and I don’t want to worry right now,” I answer, shaking my head.
“But what will people think?!” she asks, slapping her cheek, her eyes widening.
“I don’t have time for you right now, I need to figure out what’s for dinner,” I say, turning my back on her, and turning up the television.
“Fine,” she yells, stomping into the bedroom. “But I’ll be back in eight minutes to discuss this with you then!”
I’m someone who you can say errs on the side of caution. I’m clumsy enough, I’m self-conscious enough, I’ve had enough real-life-tv-sitcom moments to have learned a lesson or two.
1) Don’t talk about your waiter at the restaurant, especially when he could be standing right behind you as you insult his order-taking techniques.
2) Maybe don’t let two guys argue about you at midnight in front of an apartment complex? Go inside first.
3) Watch your steps in unfamiliar territory. And familiar territory.
Along with that cautionary, somewhat slow-moving persona you can imagine, add to it a certain obsessive compulsiveness and introversion that, if it weren’t for my lack of impeccable housekeeping skills, could easily become a light case of agoraphobia. Fortunately, I’m terrible at dusting and love to go outdoors for the fresh air. I do realize this post makes me seem a little bit crazy. Nonstandard. Anomalous. Peculiar.
And so it goes.
I was sitting at church the other day I saw a tiny spider on the floor by my feet. I thought, “I didn’t see that spider when I sat down or I wouldn’t have sat here.” Then that made me think about all the things I CANNOT see around me, like bitten-off fingernails or dust mites or skin flakes. Yeah. Gross. But then it also kind of made me think, you know, there’s really a lot more that all of us cannot see. There is a spiritual world around us we don’t usually notice. If we could actually see those life-sized spiders before they were next to us, some anger, frustrations, and trip-ups would just be so much easier to avoid.
Next, the thought came that, honestly, our dim eyes see so very little. We have our own insufficient perspectives, our own petty fears and emasculations. We accept feeble attempts and shaky knees, and to have any fear at all almost seems to fear everything. And that’s not how it’s supposed to be.
“You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world… We know that we live in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in him and he in God. And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him. In this way, love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment, because in this world we are like him. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.”
1 John 4:4; 13-18
A quick search on BibleGateway brings up 83 verses for the search, “do not be afraid.” That’s crazy, those.
Sometimes, fearing creepy spiders is the easier reaction. Sometimes, when the bombs begin dropping around you, forgetting that you’ve won the battle seems more believable. When the mortar bursts and shrapnel scrapes across your heart, it’s easier to give in to the darkness. But we aren’t supposed to let the shadows win. The children of God have overcome, are complete, and we discard fear.
And failure, well, it seems that God cares about our acts, our hearts, and that we dwell in him; that we obey his commands, that we seek purity in him. I don’t touch on the category of “purity” very often; that might have something to do with my aversion to chores. But what seems to be the majority of what is considered success for a Christ-follower is to be joyful, loving, kind, gentle, and good. It doesn’t matter what kind of shelter you reside in, if you have three perfect children, or thousands of followers on Twitter. Although it would be rad to have a booth dedicated to my art at Comic Con. But no, that’s not really the goal. That’s not what keeps you going when the storm begins to whirl.
We seek God and his presence, seek our dreams, seek our desires. We test our desires against his Word and look for guidance. But when it comes to wisdom with finances, wondering when the spark plugs should be changed, replacing carpets, or recovering from surgery, and when we can get to the store to buy groceries….
I wish all of this wasn’t so hard. I wish that families stayed in the same places, rejection wasn’t an issue, and that we could more easily hold on to an eternal perspective. But our humanity gets in the way… our mold, our dust, and that gripping tightness in the chest. We walk, as with feet slugging through thick, deep mud. We can’t always see the sun. We have the promises that shield our faces and pull us up out of the mire, declaring a hope and a future, and that we will walk in high places with a shield and salvation.
“I took you from the ends of the earth,
from its farthest corners I called you.
I said, ‘You are my servant’;
I have chosen you and have not rejected you.
So do not fear, for I am with you;
do not be dismayed, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you;
I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”
We cling to this, brushing off the falling ashes, walking through the thunder, and seeking shelter. If our God is with us, we do not fail. When God completes us, we are closer to his heart; and we cannot be in any better place.
It’s very likely that along the way we will be idiotic, silly, and forgetful. We will literally fall, twist our ankles, club ourselves in the head with the car door because the carport is rusted and there’s a waterfall right outside the passenger side... we will cry out when our children refuse to obey, and hoard chocolate bars in a hidden cupboard. We will fail to maintain perfection on this earth, to be on time, to budget correctly, and to find the good in others. And what do we do then?
“The poor and needy search for water, but there is none; their tongues are parched with thirst. But I the Lord will answer them; I, the God of Israel, will not forsake them. I will make rivers flow on barren heights, and springs within the valleys. I will turn the desert into pools of water, and the parched ground into springs. I will put in the desert the cedar and the acacia, the myrtle and the olive. I will set pines in the wasteland, the fir and the cypress together, so that people may see and know, may consider and understand, that the hand of the Lord has done this, that the Holy One of Israel has created it.”
“I will lead the blind by ways they have not known, along unfamiliar paths I will guide them; I will turn the darkness into light before them and make the rough places smooth.”
We have to stick with Him, because he’s got this. We have to trust him to forgive our inner failures, we have to give up our stubbornness, and we have to choose to leave behind My Way Of Doing It. And he will work out the kinks, even if it hurts a little, even if we thought they were okay to have around.
There are many ways to tell a story, and there are many types of stories to be told. Legend and autobiography, tragedy, comedy, and the popular hero tale are an industry that encompass literature, art, film, and our children’s toy shelves. In the hero plot, the protagonist must face a challenge or series of obstacles in order to change his destiny. The hero usually starts off as a character forced into making a decision. Then the stakes are raised. Quite often there is a great loss for the hero; Spider Man was only Peter Parker until his Uncle Ben was killed; Batman watched his parents suffer and die at the hands of a thief; Elizabeth Bennet didn’t give a rip for Darcy until her sister ran off; Katniss took her sister’s place in a battle to the death. Even Jesus, in a real-life example, had to allow his work to be completed: “Jesus commanded Peter, ‘Put your sword away! Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me?’”
So what do we expect?
Personally I do not consider myself a hero. I was proud of myself for being able to do 35 girlie pushups the other day; I got one basket away from being caught up on the laundry. Hoo haa. This is not really exciting. But my story, and your story, are important. You are your own protagonist. What is your challenge, your series of obstacles?
What will you lose?
And can you overcome?
The reward is much greater when the loss has a noble purpose.
On this blue planet we are drifting closer to eternity every moment, so don’t let the moments go to waste.
“In You, O Lord, I have taken refuge;
Let me never be ashamed;
In Your righteousness deliver me.
Incline Your ear to me, rescue me quickly;
Be to me a rock of strength,
A stronghold to save me.
For You are my rock and my fortress;
For Your name’s sake You will lead me and guide me…
For You are my strength.
Into Your hand I commit my spirit;
You have ransomed me, O Lord, God of truth...
I trust in the Lord.
I will rejoice and be glad in Your lovingkindness,
Because You have seen my affliction;
You have known the troubles of my soul,
And You have not given me over into the hand of the enemy;
You have set my feet in a large place.”
I battle with myself over a lot of shortcomings. I contemplate contentment and consider the falling stars and I see my incapacity to react in the right way so often. My toddler gets so frustrated at the littlest upset when she attempts to try something -- linking together toy trains, putting on her shoes, eating broccoli with her fork; she screams, her face turns red, she sometimes throws her fork or knocks over the project at hand. And am I like that? When I don’t get my way, when my schedule is disrupted, when I feel like I’m failing? Sometimes yes.
But we don’t look back. We don’t throw ourselves onto our beds and give up. Not today, anyway. Into his hands we commit; we commit to letting ourselves be molded, letting our stories be shaped, letting our pathways be wrought as they may. Maybe the pathway is financial success or new houses or shiny cars or full cupboards or smiling hugs from friends. Maybe there is loss or upset expectations, but we don’t fear it, and we kick the spiders out of the way. Maybe this is read in a small room or on a small screen, but He has set your feet in a large place. It’s wide open, soft green grasses, with large, leafy trees in the distance; small yellow flowers flutter around your feet in the soft breeze, while two birds soar overhead, the sunshine beaming down on your shoulders. You are chosen; you are strong; you are in the hands of a very capable Author.
But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. (1 Corinthians 1:9)
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