Courage Requires Vulnerability

 

It’s a funny thing. 

If you’ve never faced anything very frightening, it’s easy to think that those who do and march on through are somehow immune to fear.

But nothing could be further from the truth.

Courage is not the absence of fear but the mastery of it.  

courage is resistance to fear

Yet you cannot master something you deny.  You cannot resist that which you claim doesn’t exist.

Child loss is frightening. 

So frightening that those not forced to walk this road usually choose to pretend (in practice if not in words) that it simply isn’t part of the world they live in.

It’s so frightening that most bereaved parents experience a period of time we would describe as “being numb” and “shock”.

It was probably six months until my heart truly understood the fact that Dominic was not coming back.

Ever. 

It was frightening on so many levels-I had to face the fact I was not in control, had to face the fact my life was never going to be what I had envisioned it to be, face the fact that my surviving children would be shaped by grief in ways neither I nor they could anticipate, face the fact that I would live out my years carrying this heavy burden, and face the fact that no matter how hard I wished things were different, they were never going to be different-my child was dead.

sometimes even to live is an act of courage

And when the numbness began to wear off and fear creep into my heart, I had to choose: Was I going to embrace and experience this awful, devastating fear or was I going to try to deny it, distract myself from it or try to dismiss it as inconsequential?

Facing fear requires facing my own weakness.

Facing fear means becoming vulnerable-admitting that I am hurting, admitting that I cannot do this on my own, admitting that maybe, just maybe, I can’t climb this mountain without help.

cant get to courage without walking through vulnerability

Choosing vulnerability was its own challenge.

What if others mocked me?  What if no one helped me?  What if I just wasn’t up to the task?

courage starts with showing up and letting ourselves be seen brene brown

I decided that NOT facing fear was not an option.  As long as it lurked in the shadows I would be its prisoner.  

So I turned and looked it square in the eyes.  And I found, with God’s enabling help, I could master that fear. 

Two verses became my touchstone:

When struck by fear,
    I let go, depending securely upon You alone.
   In God—whose word I praise—
    in God I place my trust. I shall not let fear come in,
    for what can measly men do to me? 

Psalm 56:3-4 VOICE

When I admitted my weakness, His strength was sufficient.

strength made perfect in weakness ant

Choosing vulnerability and facing fear opens the door for God to show His power in and through me. 

Child loss is still scary.  

I’m still afraid.

But the Lord gives me strength to master the fear.  

courage doesn't always roar male liion

 

 

Sterkte: The Empowering Strength of God in Me

Yesterday was four years since the day we buried Dominic.  I can barely comprehend it. It’s a terrible thing for a mama’s heart to watch the seasons change and think, “I need to change the flowers on Dominic’s grave.”

But I do it.

It’s one of the last things I can do for this child of my heart.

Sterkte. 

I didn’t even know this word when we buried Dominic.  

But I wish I had.  

Because “sterkte” expresses precisely the supernatural strength and courage that filled my heart, mind and body as I stood for the hours of visitation, sang the worship songs, listened to friends, family and our shepherd/pastor give a message and invitation to a packed sanctuary, then filed out ahead of my son’s casket.

Sterkte literally translates “strength” or “power” but culturally means much more.

It means bravery, strength, fortitude and endurance in the face of fear and insurmountable odds through the empowering strength of God in me.

The morning of Dominic’s funeral-nine long days after his accident-I posted this on Facebook:

“Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will be joyful in God my Savior.” 
~Habakkuk 3: 17-18

dom on mountaintop

Years before, in another dry but hardly tragic season, God had imprinted those verses on my heart.  Even if-even if- there was no way through but through, I was determined to trust God and to lean in and hold onto hope.  

I had no idea how that choice would be tested in the coming days, weeks, months. 

I had no idea that even now, four years later, I would have to hold on just as hard, wake each morning and make that choice once again, refuse the whispers of the enemy of my soul that spread seeds of doubt and confusion.

But in my own strength, all the determination in the world would be for nothing. 

I am not strong enough or brave enough to stand.  

It’s sterkte that held me up that day four years ago when my son’s body was lowered into the ground and dirt shoveled on top.  It’s sterkte that keeps me upright today when tsunami waves of grief still wash over me and sobs escape.  It’s sterkte that gives me strength to hold onto hope and lean into truth and keep marching bravely into a future that may yet hold more heartache.

Habakkuk committed to praise God no matter what happened.  

He understood sterkte.  It was his lifeline. 

After his declaration of purpose, he gives the reason why: 

The Lord God is my Strength, my personal bravery, and my invincible army; He makes my feet like hinds’ feet and will make me to walk [not to stand still in terror, but to walk] and make [spiritual] progress upon my high places [of trouble, suffering, or responsibility]!

~Habakkuk 3:19

The Lord God is my Strength.

The Lord God is my personal bravery.

The Lord God is my invincible army. 

He is the reason I’m still standing.

melanie feet crocs and driveway step

“Lord, Renew My Strength!”

 

I was pregnant or nursing for nearly a decade.  

With four children under six, I have no idea how I managed to get anything done, much less EVERYTHING done.  

dominic and siblings little children at nannys

Some days I didn’t.  But most days I muddled through.

But I was so. so. tired.

Every morning started with a prayer, “God, give me what I need for today.  Give me strength for today.  I won’t ask for tomorrow.  Just for today.”

As life accelerated to that frenzy only parents of teens can understand-one here, another there, cars everywhere-my body was rebelling.  My joints screamed, “No!  Let’s just stay right here for a day (or a week!).”

That wasn’t an option, so I leaned in and prayed again, “God, renew my energy.  Give me strength.  If You aren’t going to cure me, help me learn to live well with my limitations.”

I thought my middle-aged years would give me a bit of rest.  A time to catch my breath.

I was wrong.  

Dominic’s death plunged me into emotional, physical, mental and spiritual exhaustion I could never have imagined.  I did not know you could be so tired and still breathe.  

I found myself begging God once again for strength.

Now it is my daily prayer.

And He is faithful to do as He has promised.

Nearly four years and I have gotten out of bed every. single. morning. 

I do what needs to be done.  

I’m still standing. 

Don’t you know? Haven’t you heard?
    The Eternal, the Everlasting God,
The Creator of the whole world, never gets tired or weary.
    His wisdom is beyond understanding.
     God strengthens the weary
    and gives vitality to those worn down by age and care.
     Young people will get tired;
    strapping young men will stumble and fall.
     But those who trust in the Eternal One will regain their strength.
    They will soar on wings as eagles.
They will run—never winded, never weary.
    They will walk—never tired, never faint.

Isaiah 40:28-31 VOICE

 

 

 

You are Braver than You Think

Child loss is not the only devastating life circumstance that can make a person want to hide in bed.  

Every single day, broken hearts, broken bodies and limping spirits open their eyes to the dawn and choose to get up and get going.

If that is you, I want you to know this: 

You are strong.

You are brave.  

You are not invisible.  

braver stronger smarterYou may never be recognized in this life for the heroic struggle you face every day but it counts.

Endurance is triumph.  

Perseverance is conquest.  

Choosing brave in the face of fear is victory.  

fear is what we feel brave is what we do

Repost: Trust After Loss: Appropriate God’s Strength

My friend and fellow bereaved mom, Margaret Franklin, Ryan’s mom, shared a beautiful Dutch word with me “Sterkte” (pronounced STAIRK-tah).

It literally translates “strength” or “power” but culturally means much more.  It means bravery, strength, fortitude and endurance in the face of fear and insumountable odds through the empowering strength of God in me.

Not MY strength, but HIS.

Read the rest here:  Trust After Loss: Appropriate God’s Strength

NO One is “Strong Enough”

I’m kind of an overachiever. 

I grew up in a family where the motto was “You can do whatever you want to do if you want to do it badly enough”.

If you promised to go somewhere, do something, make something, provide something-well you better go, do, make or provide.

NO excuses allowed.

That kind of work ethic does set you apart and help you get ahead.

But it can also set you up for ultimate, catastrophic failure. 

Because there will come a moment in every life when events beyond your control overwhelm your heart and prevent you from going, doing, making, providing.

And if your self-worth is built upon a foundation of never letting anyone down, never asking for help, never being needy-well, then you go from feeling worthy to feeling worthless in a heartbeat.

Before Dominic ran ahead to heaven I had short seasons of helplessness due to illness.  Those few days and weeks were hard but I knew that I would soon return to the woman I was before and could resume the work that was essential to my feeling worthy of love and respect.

These last years since his departure have proven to be an extended period of helplessness and brokenness that continue to prevent me from doing, doing, doing.

And worse, that have required me to ask for help-over and over and over again.

But you know what I’m learning?  I’m learning that my worth is not based on what I can give.  

I do not have to earn love.  If what I’m getting from others is because of what I do for them, then it’s not real love.

I do not have to justify my existence by working myself to death.  If that is the only reason people want me around, then it’s a lousy one.

I’m also learning that refusing help is pride.  Pure and simple.

I can wrap it up in any excuse I want, but the root is self-importance and insistence that I can “do it myself” like a defiant two-year-old.

NO ONE can do it all themselves.

We ALL need help.

Asking for it and receiving it gracefully is strength, not weakness.

you are never strong enough that you dont need help

 

 

Trust After Loss: Appropriate God’s Strength

My friend and fellow bereaved mom, Margaret Franklin, Ryan’s mom, shared a beautiful Dutch word with me “Sterkte” (pronounced STAIRK-tah).

It literally translates “strength” or “power” but culturally means much more.  It means bravery, strength, fortitude and endurance in the face of fear and insumountable odds through the empowering strength of God in me.

Not MY strength, but HIS.

It’s the strength Isaiah meant when he wrote:

But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.

Isaiah 40:31 KJV

This is what it means to appropriate God’s strength:  

I have to exhale my doubts, inhale His truth and then allow His Spirit to weave that truth into armor so that I am strong for battle.

armor-of-god

There were twelve spies that scouted out the Promised Land.

All twelve had experienced the parting of the Red Sea, all twelve had seen the pillar of fire by night and cloud by day,  all twelve saw God conquer the Egyptians.  But ten of them never allowed that experience to go further than head knowledge.

Only Caleb and Joshua embraced that truth and allowed God to use it to change their hearts.  Those two were willing to fight the giants because they knew it would be God fighting for them and through them and they did not have to depend on their own strength for victory.

That’s what “sterkte” is-it’s inviting God’s power to dwell inside me so that I am strong for battle in HIS strength.   It’s letting His Spirit speak courage to my heart so I have the endurance to live this life NONE of us chose.

In my own strength I am doomed.  In His strength I am guaranteed enduring to the end.

When I was searching for a verse to help explain sterkte-because it is such a lovely and succinct expression of how hearts can and do endure this awful pain, the dark nights of doubt and yet remain strong in this journey-I found it in Habakkuk.

It’s a tiny book tucked into the back of the Old Testament and begins with the prophet asking God questions:

“Do You know what Your priests and leaders are doing?  Are You going to DO something?”

And God says, “Yep.  Going to use the Babylonians to wipe them out.”

Habakkuk answers, THAT’S Your plan???”

God responds, “Yes-but see, I’m going to be sending a Messiah to make all this right.  I’m doing something you can’t understand.  I’m working my plan for history and eternity.”

Habakkuk ends his book with these verses:

16 I heard and my [whole inner self] trembled; my lips quivered at the sound. Rottenness enters into my bones and under me [down to my feet]; I tremble. I will wait quietly for the day of trouble and distress when there shall come up against [my] people him who is about to invade and oppress them.

17 Though the fig tree does not blossom and there is no fruit on the vines, [though] the product of the olive fails and the fields yield no food, though the flock is cut off from the fold and there are no cattle in the stalls,

18 Yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will exult in the [victorious] God of my salvation!

19 The Lord God is my Strength, my personal bravery, and my invincible army; He makes my feet like hinds’ feet and will make me to walk [not to stand still in terror, but to walk] and make [spiritual] progress upon my high places [of trouble, suffering, or responsibility]!

Habakkuk 3:16-19

Nothing changed!

Bad stuff was coming!

But Habakkuk appropriated God’s strength for himself and knew that would be enough to see him through. 

He was broken but trusting.

There is no shame in being broken.

Here’s the deal:  God loves the broken.  Christ came for the broken.  It’s the broken and breathless who long for the Spirit to blow llife across their wounded hearts.

It’s the hopeless and fearful that run faster to the safety of their Shepherd.

It’s the worried and weary who are thankful for a Burden-bearer.

Hallelu-Yah!

This is NOT a once and done kind of thing- I m here to testify that it is most certainly NOT.  I am assaulted repeatedly by pain and doubt.  I circle back around and revisit places I thought had healed over and over and over.  A sound, a sight or a memory can bring me back to Day One in a heartbeat.

So what does faith really look like?

Is it always a never-ending, wild “Hallalujah!”?

I don’t think so.

I think faith is essentially this:  turning my face toward the God I love even when (especially when!) I’ve stopped expecting an answer and maybe even when my heart has despaired of help.

I would argue that faith is precisely that step forward into the dark unknown, onto the broken road, lifting the unbearable heaviness as an offering and trusting that

God sees,

that He hears

and that He will not abandon me.

Each time I doubt I am quicker to acknowledge the pain and admit my doubt– I take my questions to God.  My mind is more likely to access TRUTH and my heart is more inclined to appropriate God’s strength, my personal bravery, my invincible army.

hebrews-11_1.jpg

I used to think that Hebrews 11:1 was essentially a personal verse-my faith confirmed to ME that God was working.  But now I see it in a different light.  I think it is a corporate verse leading my heart to emulate lives that exemplified enduring faith-that “great cloud of witnesses” cheering us on from Heaven.

I did not choose this life but it is the one I’ve been given.  My prayer in this Valley for myself and all of us who are broken is this:

“God to mold me and make me into the masterpiece You designed me to be as a testimony to the fact that You are who You say You are.”

I long for my faith to be evidence to a doubting world that there is MORE than the eye can see.  I want my endurance to be an invitation for others to join me in pursuing what lasts for eternity and not just for this short mortal life.

Full redemption will have to wait for Heaven, but God is working even now to bring some redemption from my pain. 

He [Christ] said not, ‘Thou shalt not be tempested, thou shalt not be trevailed, thou shalt not be dis-eased,’ but He said, ‘Thou shalt not be overcome.’

Julian of Norwich

courage and perseverance