I remember one of the first “big” choices I ever had to make. (And now looking back, I think, “Oh if that was truly the hardest choice I would have to make nowadays! I miss those days!). I was merely an eighth grader, yet so grown up in my mind at the time. It was the end of the school year, and I was playing percussion for the band and running for the track team. As I approached high school, it was obvious I would not be able to participate in both activities because of all the time required for practice after classes. Thus, I had a choice to make.
Decision-making is not in my skill set. Ask…well…anyone.
As I stressed over this decision, fate would have it that the high school cross-country coach was my history teacher at the junior high. When he put the sign-up sheet for cross-country on his desk that spring, he more or less told me I didn’t have a choice but to sign up.
You must know that as a kid, I was not athletic. I was kind of chubby, very shy and not good at any kind of organized sport. There were only two reasons I joined track: one reason was because I loved running the mile in sixth grade. I figured I might as well keep running if I enjoyed it. And the second reason was to stick it to the man. I might have been slow but they couldn’t make cuts to the track team! HA! Take that! I could officially play a sport.
But imagine my surprise the high school coach said he wanted me on the team. Me. The girl who came plodding up the hill at the end of practice, my junior high coach already waiting at the top on his bike. He was ready to head home after all the other runners had been picked up by their parents. He never made me feel bad. He was always encouraging. But I didn’t contribute much to the team, at least not in points.
Then there was the high school band teacher, who wanted me to participate in marching band my freshman year. He wanted me to quit cross –country, stay in band, and “actually do something important in high school.” (Looking back, I still hate that he said that to me).
There was no possible way I could participate in both because of the time commitment. So I had to choose between two things I loved: music and running.
I remember laying on the couch, in our living room, crying to my parents about everything I’d miss by quitting either band or cross country. I didn’t notice but I am sure my parents exchanged eye rolls.
Needless to say, I agonized. But finally I settled on cross-country. I felt it was a better fit for my personality, which included large portions of being active and loving the outdoors. And in the end, it turned out to be one of the best choices I ever made, even though I did have moments where I felt I was missing out by not playing the drums in the marching band at ball games or playing solos at the competitions. However, I became the runner and athlete I never, ever thought I could be, and that has done wonders for me my entire life.
And honestly? If I had chosen band, I’d most likely be saying the very same things.
I’ve never been good at making choices. Ever. About anything. I waffle and I wonder and I change my mind. I can’t decide on my style, on how my house is decorated, on how I spend my time, and so on and so forth. Heaven help my husband, who dreads asking me what movie I want to watch or where we should eat dinner.
Shadows of this fear has followed me my whole life. Rooted in my fear is the possibility I will somehow choose the wrong path. I am afraid one will leave me miserable while the other will bring out the absolute best in me and will result in my ultimate happiness.
I still feel it today sometimes. For some reason, it’s been a difficult lesson for me to learn that regardless of my choices, there will be hard days. There will come times I wish I had chosen differently. There will be days I try to peer down the other path I could’ve chosen and swear I think I see a happier, more fulfilled version of myself.
It’s so tempting to project all those other lives we could have lived, isn’t it? I hope that’s not just me. But let’s be honest. Nobody really knows what life could have been had we chosen differently.
The key to peace, I have mistakenly thought all these years, was to choose correctly enough that I don’t experience trials. Having constant peace indicates I’m in the perfect place for me. And when that peace and rest never came? When God didn’t remove the trials I was sure He sent me to indicate I was in the wrong place? My heart would sink, sure it was a sign I was certainly in the wrong place and on the wrong path.
Lord, please let my kid sleep…just for a night. God, please take away this anxiety. Lord, please let Cody and I agree on this issue and stop fighting. Lord, please protect my kids and let them be ok. God please let me feel happy and secure. Take these trials away. Take these trials away. Take these trials away. Please. If you are God, make it go away.
I always saw trials as an indication I was doing something wrong. But it’s becoming clear to me that instead, maybe I’ve been praying wrong. I have been begging God to remove trials in a world where trials are quite often the very fabric of our lives. They define us most. They are, unfortunately, unavoidable. They are the meat and the climax of our stories. They make up our character.
In a world where childhood cancer exists…where incurable, painful genetic diseases have no cure…where war is a daily reality for millions…where widows and orphans and victims exist in every single society…where it’s difficult not to struggle with anxiety or depression….where one minute we’re all ok and the next our worlds are falling apart….where even nature lashes out at us randomly in the form of storms and earthquakes and fires…where we seem to be surrounded by land mines of tragedies, ones which cause us to hug our families closer and pray, Thank God that’s not me, God please don’t ever let it be me….who am I to ask God to take away my trials? Who am I to ask God for the easy path? Why would He do it for me and not everyone else walking through difficult times?
No. It’s been wrong this whole time. While praying for peace and rest and answers and miracles is not wrong or bad, and God
does sometimes answer the way we want, I have the growing feeling God wants me to pray for something else.
Courage. I can’t remember the last time, or if I have ever, prayed for courage.
Courage to face it all, knowing it does not all end here. Courage to trust my choices and my story and how it will all shape me as a person. Courage to believe God is using every single piece, good and bad. Courage to shine my light. Courage to share my stories, my gifts, my love. Courage to trust I am fully loved by God. Courage to step directly into my path, into the storms, with the knowledge it will change me but it will be ok. Courage to write. Courage to love my husband and kids imperfectly but fiercely. Courage to be thankful for all of it. Courage to thank God for who the trials are shaping me into. Courage to know there will be more trials, most likely, when this one is done, and to keep walking anyways.
It doesn’t always take courage to take a risky step. Sometimes it takes even more courage to stay put right where you are while the winds rage. It takes courage to commit to the choices we made and own them, knowing other trials await us on any other path we might be tempted to steal away to.
This weekend, my pastor preached a sermon about having the courage to be who God made us to be. One line that stuck out to me Sunday morning was, “We settle for less because we aren’t willing to breathe, to struggle.”
I’ve never liked that in between space, any kind of grey area. I want things clearly defined, I want boxes, I want a checked off to-do list. I want to know I did the right thing always. I don’t want to wonder, doubt, fear, struggle or second-guess. I don’t want to get pushed around by my emotions. I don’t want to make mistakes.
Based on that, you could conclude I do not want to be a human being. Well. That’s not an option.
I cannot ask to be exempt from the tough parts of humanity or from the broken parts of the world. But I can ask for the courage to be a shining part of it.
I am choosing this year to settle in. I am choosing to risk and to be myself unapologetically in world that constantly casts fear into our hearts. For me, those risks include: pursuing a freelance writing career; posting more blogs (which equals being more vulnerable); taking more opportunities I may normally pass up because, “Well, see, I have kids;” spending more time with my family by choosing a less beaten path; being open to dreaming big about the future; and living each day to the fullest with my family and friends, trusting God will help me absorb my mistakes with his grace and help us to keep on living anyways.
What do you need courage for today? It’s ours for the taking. This truth has breathed lots of life into my days lately, and I hope it does the same for you.
“For God did not give us a spirit of timidity (a lack of self-assurance, courage or bravery), but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline.”
-2 Timothy 1:7 (NIV)
“God doesn’t want us to be shy with his gifts, but bold and loving and sensible.”
-2 Timothy 1:7 (The Message)
“Lord, I crawled across the barrenness to you with my empty cup, uncertain in asking any small drop of refreshment. If only I had known you beter. I’d have come running with a bucket.”