The word “courage” means different things to different people. In fact, the word conjures up dozens of different images in my own mind: a fireman who runs into a burning building while everyone else tries to escape; a teacher who shields her terrified students with a gunman on the loose inside her school; a whistle-blower; a missionary in hostile territory; a football player who stands up for himself when he’s bullied by teammates; a woman who faces her attacker in court after she’s been assaulted. Courage can take many forms; but at its very core, courage requires character and strength. Courage is NOT the absence of fear, but the choice to move ahead DESPITE our fear.
I recently watched the movie Lone Survivor about a failed Navy SEAL operation in Afghanistan that resulted in the deaths of 19 members of our military. It would have been amazing and thought-provoking if it was solely a movie. The fact that Marcus Lutrell actually lived through the experience, the fact that it’s TRUE, makes the story even more powerful and gut-wrenching. After reading the book and seeing it depicted on screen, my heart remains heavy for the heroes we’ve lost as a nation. But I’m proud of the men and women who serve, and I’m eternally grateful for their sacrifices. The ultimate act of courage is putting your own life on the line to save someone else, the willingness to trade your life for another’s. The majority of us will never be required to make that choice, so wrapping my mind around that type of courage is hard to do.
Closer to home, I see other examples of courage just as inspiring. One of my mom’s best friends just lost her husband six months after he was diagnosed with cancer. He bravely faced treatment and a complicated surgery despite very slim odds in his favor. Now that he’s gone to heaven, his wife carries on – teaching English, taking care of her two daughters, putting one foot in front of the other even when the grief is debilitating. One of my best friends in the world is starting over after her husband cheated on her and decided he doesn’t want to be married to her anymore. The pain, humiliation, and fear of the unknown threaten to overwhelm her. She feels like she’s drowning even as she struggles to answer the question of “Why me?” She doesn’t deserve a story like this, not when she’s devoted her whole life to him and their family. No one would blame her if she freaked out or checked out for awhile, but she’s doing the exact opposite. She faces every day with grace and dignity, even when it hurts like hell. Her courage gets her out of bed every morning; her courage compels her to care for her two little boys, to be their anchor even as their world is torn apart.
My story has always kept me off the beaten path. Ten years ago, if you outlined the mountains I’d have to climb and conquer along this journey, I never would have believed you. And I might’ve been paralyzed by fear. Choosing to pursue our dreams is never easy, especially when the pursuit comes with a cost. But anything worth having is worth sacrificing for. Courage is never blind; it can see very clearly what lies ahead. I knew my 2013 would be a lonely path. Leaving behind my house, my church, my friends, and my routine to move to a brand new place and start all over again was anything but easy. More times than I care to admit I nearly succumbed to the fear and convinced myself I couldn’t do it. The loneliness was palpable at times; the tears real. I wish I could say I never second-guessed my decisions, but that wouldn’t be true. More than once, I wondered if I would’ve been better off staying where I was, without the added risks and sacrifices. Thankfully, my faith in God plus the support and prayers of family and friends gave me just enough courage to keep moving forward, no matter how scary or overwhelming the road.
There is a school of thought that teaches fear as weakness, but I disagree wholeheartedly. Fear is a very real part of life, whether physical, emotional, mental or spiritual. Courage is staring your fears in the face and refusing to allow them to get the best of you. Courage is fighting back; courage is doing what needs to be done. Courage is never giving up, no matter how you feel. The concept of courage is different for everyone, but the choice to be strong and courageous is not singular or unique. Each of us faces that choice over and over…and every time we choose courage, we grow a little bit stronger.